Petcoke vs. Grassroots
These photographs are not my stories, rather they are the stories of activists on the Southeast Side of Chicago, stories of resistance to corporate control of the landscape, stories of change and the awakening of a community to its own power and self- determination about what happens for its inhabitants. The portraits are of activists that I’ve come to know as they fight in various ways through the Coalition to Ban Petcoke and the Green Economic Industrial Corridor committee of the Southeast Environmental Task Force. These portraits do not include all the activists; there are more and their numbers are growing. The aerial photographs are about the polluting industrial landscape, especially the Koch Industries owned KCBX petcoke storage site along the Calumet River, and the British Petroleum refinery at Whiting, Indiana, where petcoke is produced from the waste from crude oil shipped from the Alberta tar sands. And there is a photograph of Big Marsh representing the many marshes in the Calumet region
This has been a two year journey as I have watched the activists delve into legal issues about regulation of petcoke storage, dust monitoring of particulate matter, political involvement in the tenth ward campaign for alderman, which resulted in the election of Sue Garza, who speaks out to ban petcoke, a transformation of power. Now after success with getting BP to quit shipping petcoke to the Koch owned site, the activists are beginning to envision a green industrial corridor in their landscape. There are many hurdles ahead, not least is the lack of money and the lack of conventional political power, but they will persist and they will alter their landscape in ways not yet known.
I said that these photographs are not my story, but that is not true. In some ways, I guess all the photographs I make are my story even if they are not about my story. During the two years since I began visiting the Southeast Side, I have joined the Ban Petcoke group, marched in protests, campaigned for alderwoman, and I have learned as a firsthand witness that climate change is caused by capitalism which creates environmental and social injustice. I am not a local member of this community with its own deep history on the Southeast Side, but in another way, I am a member and we are all members in community as we work to understand the changes we must make to live into the uncertain future together.