Chicago finally caught a weekend break from torrential thunderstorms and poor air quality coming from Canadian forest fires on Saturday, July 22—making it a great day for the Water Justice Fair that Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) and Center for Neighborhood Technology co-hosted at Las Semillas de Justicia Garden.
The event was one of the first post-pandemic in-person gatherings for our two groups. Las Semillas de Justicia Garden was a perfect setting — a space teeming with shade from the fruit trees, vegetables, and flowers of community farmers’ years of labor in Little Village.
Attendees, including young people from the neighborhood, munched on locally sourced crunchy taquitos or had their pick between delicious ice cream selections, prepared Mexican street corn or hot cheetos with cheese. They released their creative juices by filling a poster answering what water justice meant to them, creating water justice buttons, and drawing chalk art, coloring and blowing bubbles.
LVEJO invited attendees to suggest new nicknames for the Collateral Channel, a polluted, stagnant body of water just south of La Villita Park. Some of the creative names suggested included Shrek’s Swamp and Cheek Creek. Residents spoke with LVEJO staff about the Lead Service Line Replacements the City is working on and how the Department of Water Management lead tests worked.
Many raised frustrations with the system, pointing out they receive constant requests to test for lead in the water even though city officials already know there are lead service lines abounding.
On a map, community members plotted where they experienced or identified street and in-home flooding. While walking through the garden, they participated in a mini-flood mitigation demonstration. It showed the importance of ground cover and how, although native plants are super helpful, if there is more concrete and dirt than plants it is just too much flood water to handle. (Download the flyer to see what else they learned).
Attendees could also speak with community partners like ENLACE Chicago to hear about additional resources available in the community.
The event had one of the largest turnouts for the Water Justice team at LVEJO since before the pandemic. Conversations energized both organizers and residents.
The team plans to hold future events this upcoming fall and will brainstorm on how to create activities that further conversations, bring immediate resources to participants, and help them plug into organizing campaigns.