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Fourth person joins hunger strike to protest General Iron

Several elected officials voice support for Southeast Side protesters as the demonstration marks a fifth day.

A protester attends a rally near Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Logan Square home Saturday urging her administration to deny the final permit that will allow General Iron to move from Lincoln Park, a mostly white neighborhood, to the Southeast Side, which has a mostly Latino population.
A protester attends a rally near Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s home in November urging her administration to deny the final permit that will allow a rebranded General Iron to operate on the Southeast Side.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

A fourth person joined a hunger strike protesting the relocation of the metal-shredding operations of General Iron to the Southeast Side from Lincoln Park.

Yesenia Chavez, a member of United Neighbors of the 10th Ward, is joining a high school teacher and two other local organizers to protest the proposed opening of a scrap metal operation at East 116th Street along the Calumet River.

The protesters want Mayor Lori Lightfoot to deny an operating permit because of the potential pollution from the business in a community that already is overburdened with environmental hazards. They say they won’t eat until such action is taken by the city.

“Our community has suffered enough abuse,” Chavez said during a virtual news conference. “We deserve better as do those other communities that have suffered environmental abuse as well around the City of Chicago.”

Chavez, who identified herself as a student at Olive-Harvey College, said her action has a personal aspect as her sister attends school near the new site, which is expected to operate under the rebranded name Southside Recycling.

“This is hitting close to home because my little sister goes to George Washington High School,” Chavez said. “She has asthma. So I’m scared to death what is going to happen to her ... I don’t know how her health is going to be affected.”

Yesenia Chavez joined the hunger strike Monday.
Provided

Three protesters announced their hunger strike last week. Chuck Stark, a science teacher at George Washington High School; Oscar Sanchez, cofounder of Southeast Side Youth Coalition; and Breanna Bertacchi, also a member of United Neighbors of the 10th Ward, began their campaign Thursday.

The three are staging their campaigns at their own residences and have been checking in with each other daily, Bertacchi said.

“It has been a challenge,” Bertacchi said Monday. “We’ve had ups and downs.”

“The news of the hunger strike is worrisome and underscores our commitment to deepen our coordination with the community,” the city said in a statement last week. However, organizers say they have not heard from city officials in recent days.

Several elected officials joined activists to show their support during a virtual news conference Monday.

“It just shows how much work we have left to do when it comes to equality and equity in this city,” said Illinois Sen. Robert Peters, who represents the South Side.

“We’re demanding the attention that the city should have been giving us from the start,” Bertacchi said. “It’s also still at times disheartening to know that it got to this point in the first place.”

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust