CHICAGO | About 85 environmental activists and Southeast Side residents concerned about potential pollution from a proposed coal gasification plant compared themselves Saturday to labor union organizers killed during a 1937 protest.
A rally at a labor union hall turned into a march to the site of the former Republic Steel plant, where off-duty police using force to control a Memorial Day demonstration fatally wounded 10 protesters. It is there, at 118th Street and Avenue O, that Leucadia wants to built the coal plant.
A memorial honors those killed 74 years ago in the Memorial Day massacre. The activists gathered Saturday saw their protests as being in the same spirit.
"On the spot where, in 1937, our grandparents stood brave to try to end all kinds of injustice, there were 10 men who were slaughtered," said the Rev. Zaki L. Zaki of East Side United Methodist Church, 11000 S. Ewing Ave. "They were on the right side of history.
"We look at our marches and see that we are powerful in numbers," Zaki continued. "We also are on the right side of history because we are fighting not just for what looks good in our eyes, but what is good for everyone."
Across the street is a community center maintained by Zaki's church. Environmental activists coordinated by the Sierra Club used the church property to hold Saturday's rally and march — one of several events held to complain about the potential impact of the Leucadia plant, which would generate electricity using southern Illinois coal.
Company officials have said they are using modern technology that would significantly reduce air pollution. Government officials, including 10th Ward Alderman John Pope, have said that the plant will create jobs for local residents.
But participants in Saturday's rally remained skeptical.
Peggy Salazar, of the Southeast Environmental Task Force, said she wishes local government officials would try to get other types of businesses to locate in the 10th Ward.
"We want clean, green industry," she said. "We do not want our officials to leave us in the 20th century."
Rosa Perea, of the Juan Diego Community Center in the South Chicago neighborhood, agreed.
"They think it is wonderful to dump these things on us," she said. "They don't ever ask us what we want."