I started my professional life as an environmental activist, in Northeast, not because of a class I took, or because it would look good on my resume, but because my neighborhood was choking on pollution. Every day it’s clear to me that cleaning up our local environment is a social justice issue.
For example, the Mississippi River is one of Ward One’s greatest amenities. I remember when it was an embarrassment, a toxic dump. But we’ve worked hard as a community to treat it well, to clean it up, to improve access to it, and to celebrate it. It’s symbol of our successes, and also a symbol of the work we have yet to do: despite our best efforts, our community is still surrounded by a legacy of past industries and generational pollution. We’ll continue to fight, but we should all be proud of some real successes:
Remediation of multiple polluted properties be redeveloping them for positive uses including: affordable housing and commercial space
Implementing cutting edge interventions to improve water quality, producing millions of gallons of clean water to the river and aquifer that otherwise would be polluted
Putting regulatory pressure on Northern Metals to force its removal
Completing neighborhood air monitoring projects that have brought staggering revelations about the impacts of pollution in our community
Putting pressure on GAF to reduce industrial air pollution from its operation
Planting trees under whose shade we adults, may never sit
On the Eastside, we’ve made amazing improvements to our quality of life in a pretty short time. New businesses and cultural centers open every month. But, in every instance where we’ve moved forward and made improvements, we’ve had a lot of mess to clean up first. That is also part of our legacy, and while we need to acknowledge our successes, we also have to keep our eyes on bigger goals and harder fights.