By Quinton R. Arthur
The College of Arts and Sciences began the Joseph Loundy Human Rights Project’s Distinguished Environmental Justice Organizer Series. The speaker for the Nov. 11 event was Kimberly Wasserman, Director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO
The packed room full of staff and students welcomed Wasserman as she passionately explained what can be done to improve the environmental conditions of Little Village.
Wasserman has been an advocate for Environmental Justice ever since she help lead a campaign for the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance. The lobbying successfully closed two coal-fired power plants that were harmful to the community and its residents.
Wasserman has helped lead the fight against negative environmental changes in the community. One example she presented is when Hellman Mayonnaise’s distributor, Unilever wanted to increase their productivity. The company, which serves as the sixth largest manufacturer of goods in the U.S., wanted to bring in an additional 500-700 diesel trucks on the site. However, this would prove problematic since there was an elementary school that serviced 1,000 children right across the street.
5,000 of the residents in Little Village are under the age of 5, and many seniors live in the area as well, according to Wasserman. Working on improving the park would be beneficial to many residents in the area. The community has its own food garden, where residents can rent plots to grow their own food.
“We give out food to residents free of charge,” says Wasserman. “We try to prevent people from buying GMO food. Having this gives the community agency in having a healthy lifestyle.”
Wasserman also spoke about juvenile justice in the area. Little Village is home to the Cook County Jail.
“It creates a distorted sense of community for our youth,” stated Wasserman. “On one hand they have to face the pollution and on the other, they have to worry about getting into trouble with the law.”
Little Village, the largest concentration of Mexicans in the Midwest, has over 100,000 residents within a five mile radius, according to LVEJO. Of that number, over half of the residents are under the age of 25.
“We really make an effort to include youth in the planning process,” says Wasserman. “They are very intelligent and we want them to have an active role in changing the state of their community.”
Stephanie DiCrescenzo, a senior International Studies major, experienced the speaker series for the first time, and found the event very interesting.
In wrapping up her discussion, Wasserman said that it is important that people support multiple forms of justice.
“There can be no environmental justice without social justice,” said Wasserman.
Wasserman is a 2013 recipient of the International Goldman Environmental Prize.