|An anti-Fisk poster hung by activists in a Pilsen Thrift store.|
“And every morning was a requiemNOTE: The following is the last in a series of four stories about the environmental and health impact of coal fired power plants on densely-populated, low income Chicago communities. It's called "Battle in the Barrio: the Struggle in Chicago's Pilsen Neighborhood Against Pollution." The series is a journalistic project that culminated in a master's thesis for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
or the feast day of a martyr -
the priest in black or red,
cortege of traffic, headlights
funneling through incense
under viaducts. While my surplice
settled around me like smoke
my father rode the blue spark
of a streetcar to the foundry
where, in the dark mornings,
the cracks of carbonized windows
flowed with the blood of stained glass.”
- Excerpt from “Autobiography,” a poem by Stuart Dybek, a Pilsen native and a 2007 recipient of the MacArthur “genius grant.”
Part One: Four Sisters, One Rare Disorder
Part Two: Old Problems, New Attention
Part Three: The People VS the Bottom Line
Part Four: Hopelessness and Hope in Pilsen
Visualization - Is there injustice in Pilsen?
Visualization - Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood struggles with pollution
If you have the time, Maria Torres has stories.
Since she became a community organizer a decade ago, helping gather signatures for petitions and lately rallying support for the Clean Power Ordinance, she’s collected quite a few.
Mostly, they involve people who’ve suddenly come down with asthma, respiratory illnesses, rare forms of cancer, lupus and other medical abnormalities.
“I have a family that lives right in front of the Perez school,” she said. “Her son was just diagnosed with asthma, and has to use an inhaler. And he’s real little. You feel for them, because they tell you how hard it is for her son to use the inhaler. It’s really hard for him because he’s a little kid and he doesn’t know how to. He just developed it, and didn’t have it before. I feel for them, I really feel for them. And it scares me.”
In addition to the verb “scares,” as in, “it scares me,” and “freaks,” as in “it freaks me out,” she frequently uses the adjectives “spooky” and “weird” to describe the magnitude of health problems she’s heard of while knocking on doors as a community organizer in Pilsen.
There’s the story she heard about an 80-year old woman, who lives on Morgan between 18th and 19th streets, not far from the Fisk plant, and got a routine X-ray for breathing problems.
The doctors asked the woman’s daughter, who took her mother in to be examined, if the mother was a regular smoker.
“She’s never smoked a day in her life,” Torres said. “But her lungs were all black.”