Last Wednesday night, a delegation of United Workers leaders, harbor workers and allies set off for Chicago, marking the beginning of our series of Poverty-zone Reality Tours. Through these tours, we are hitting General Growth Properties (GGP) and Cordish targets throughout the country, exposing the human rights abuses at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and connecting the Campaign for Fair Development with grassroots, faith-based, student, labor and human rights organizations across the country.
We gathered together Wednesday to prepare all our materials and supplies, eat dinner and discuss the tour. Loading up the minivan, we were excited to get on the road and start this long journey from Baltimore to Chicago. While we traveled through the night, we passed the time by deciding, as the first tour delegation, to name this series of tours: the Poverty-zone Reality Tours.
We arrived in Chicago early in the morning as the sun was rising behind us. Our first stop was our host, the White Rose Catholic Worker House, an intentional Christian community committed to hospitality, resistance to injustice, and a sustainable way of life. We settled in to our temporary home and prepared for the task ahead of us, a delegation to GGP headquarters and a workshop and presentation at the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) Conference. Even in our exhaustion, we knew we were here on a mission. We pushed sleep aside to practice our parts in the presentation and delegation.
After all this preparation it was back to the van. We headed down to the infamous Cabrini Green Housing Project to meet with Henry Warfield, a Cabrini resident and organizer with the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign. Henry gave us a reality tour and explained the history of the first public housing tower in the country to be demolished. We learned the destruction of Cabrini Green paved the way for the dismantling of public housing throughout the country. Henry shared lessons learned from the organizing struggle to defend their human right to housing. He spoke of their successes and challenges along the way. We compared struggles and shared stories. It was a sobering example of how human rights, public benefits, and sustainability can be sacrificed for the private gain of developers and civic boosters.
Not far from the empty lots and boarded up homes of Cabrini Green, we headed to GGP headquarters located in Chicago’s downtown business district. Our delegation was joined by representatives from ARISE Chicago, an organization that builds partnerships between faith communities and workers fighting for justice.
Last year on Human Rights Day, while we were in Immokalee, Florida for our Fair Food Solidarity Tour, we sent Cordish and GGP a letter outlining workers demands for a Right to Work with Dignity, a Right to Healthcare, and a Right to Education and the responsibility that harbor developers have to ensuring basic human rights standards at their development, click here to read letter. In the nine months since we sent GGP and Cordish the letter, neither has responded to workers’ call for them to come to the table and resolve the human rights abuses taking place. GGP recently celebrated 30 years of Harbor development, calling for a revitalization of the harbor,that continues to perpetuate poverty-zone development and ignore the human costs. So, we thought we would pay GGP a visit just to make sure that they received the letter. We asked to speak with GGP Chairman, John Bucksbaum. He was “not available”. Perhaps CEO, Adam Metz? “Not available”. What about another top executive? Nope. We had come all the way from Baltimore, was there anyone who might be able to come downto receive a packet of information with the letter? NO. So we left our packet of information with the receptionist, hoping it might make it’s way up the chain of command, but knowing that if not, GGP would soon be hearing more from us.
The next day, we took part in the last day of the CCDA Conference, a gathering of thousands of faith leaders and grassroots organizations working with poor communities to redevelop through Christian-based principles, by attending workshops, presenting on the Campaign for Fair Development, and connecting with other grassroots groups. We engaged conference participants by doing interviews in which people spoke about what Fair Development means to them. We had the pleasure of meeting CCDA founder, John Perkins and Board member and long-time CCDA leader, Mary Nelson, who also took part in a video interview.
As the conference came to a close, we said good-bye to Chicago and headed back to Baltimore. On the way home, we reflected on what we learned from the people we met, the struggles we heard about, and the actions we engaged in. We had only scratched the surface, Chicago is a city with a rich organizing tradition that still thrives today. We look forward to returning to continue building relationships with other grassroots, faith-based, student, and labor organizations in the fight for Fair Development.
Next stop on the Poverty-zone Reality Tour!— New York, October 9 and 10.
To learn how you can participate in upcoming Poverty-zone Reality Tours, email email@example.com