A few hundred Illinois environmental, labor and faith leaders hit Chicago's downtown streets Wednesday evening to rally for climate justice and demand that state leaders implement aggressive policies to combat climate change.
The Chicago demonstration was one of nearly 200 similar events held across the country as part of a national day of action spearheaded by the People's Climate Movement, which was behind last year's massive climate change march in New York City that drew some 400,000 people.
The organizers of Wednesday's national day of action hoped to send a clear message to political leaders scheduled to convene for a United Nations climate change conference in Paris this December.
"The goal of these marches was to help send a clear signal that the people of this country are concerned about [the] climate crisis and injustices that are going on," the Rev. Booker Vance with Faith in Place told Progress Illinois at the Chicago rally. "We want to make sure that when our leaders go to Paris that they have a clear sense that the people are behind them. The United States in all other areas wants to be a leader. This is an (area) clearly where we can show our leadership and understanding and compassion for issues of climate justice."
Rallygoers marched from Old St. Patrick's Church, 700 W. Adams, to the Haymarket Memorial, 175 N. Desplaines St., which commemorates the Haymarket Tragedy that took place in Chicago in 1886 during the peak of the American labor movement.
While addressing the crowd at Old St. Patrick's Church, SEIU* Local 1 President Tom Balanoff stressed the importance of labor and environmental groups, in particular, joining forces on climate justice efforts.
"It's been too long that the labor movement and environmental movement, it's been too long, that we haven't come together. And we haven't understood our mutual interest. First of all, our interest in keeping a healthy world for all of us," he said.
"I will tell you that working people throughout this country, and quite frankly for that matter throughout this world, pay the biggest price for an unhealthy environment," Balanoff continued. "While millions of people suffer the worst impacts of pollution and climate change, particularly people of color, a handful of people and a handful of companies are getting rich, they're getting rich and polluting our environment. There's a lot of ways to get rich. That's the wrong way to get rich, brothers and sisters."
At the Haymarket Memorial, McDonald's worker Adriana Alvarez of Cicero spoke about how low-income communities are often hard-hit by pollution, which can impact human health.
"We have to worry about our children's health and our own health, but we can't afford healthcare and health insurance with the wages we make," she said. "That's why low-wage working families and people of color have to do something about this."
Susan Hurley with Chicago Jobs With Justice also addressed the crowd at the Haymarket Memorial. Here are her remarks, plus comments from Balanoff and Cheryl Johnson with People for Community Recovery:
The marchers ended their protest at the Thompson Center, where they called on Gov. Bruce Rauner to support strong clean energy policies that will help Illinois comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan in an "equitable manner."
The Clean Power Plan calls for cutting carbon emissions from existing U.S. power plants to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. States, which are given flexibility under the EPA's regulations to meet carbon standards, have until 2022 to comply with the rules.
"Right now, Illinois has a huge opportunity to invest in our generation through President Obama's Clean Power Plan," said Brooke Adams, with the UChicago Climate Action Network and the IIRON Student Network. "The Clean Power Plan forces fossil fuel companies to take our futures into account, instead of focusing solely on increasing their profits. Everyone in my generation will be affected by climate change, so I call on Gov. Rauner to stand up for young people across Illinois by implementing the Clean Power Plan in a strong and just way."
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