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January 31, 2014

MLK Day of Action in Chicago

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By J.C. Kibbey, Illinois Sierra Club Volunteer Activist

To celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy this year, the Illinois Sierra Club joined for the first time with community organizations and churches from around Chicago for a huge public meeting on pressing social issues.

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Prior to the gathering, over 100 Sierra Club members met for lunch to discuss our issues and our movement before bussing together to the meeting, called "Hope in an Age of Crisis: Reclaiming Dr. King's Radical Vision of Economic Justice."

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Above, activists at the lunchtime meeting. Below, Sierra Club organizer Christine Nannicelli leads a discussion about the interconnectedness of the environment with other issues of justice.

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We then joined the more than 2,400 people who packed into St. Michael's Church on Chicago's south side.

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Together, we demanded action on corporate taxes, fair wages, mass incarceration, and for the first time at this event, we demanded strong action to protect our environment. Local, state and federal elected officials were invited to hear our platform and answer yes or no for their support on each issue. Governor Quinn, represented by his Chief of Staff, committed to:

• Implement President Obama's climate action plan by aggressively enforcing new 
   EPA carbon standards for existing power plants

• Create jobs and move Illinois towards a clean energy economy by ensuring the state
   meets its Renewable Portfolio Standard of 25 percent by 2025

• Reduce carbon emissions and save residents money by releasing funds for
   weatherization projects in low-income communities

• Strengthen newly passed state regulations on fracking

The governor's commitment to take action on these crucial issues was a big political victory and a step forward for Illinois' commitment to the environment.

Below, Illinois Sierra Club Director Jack Darin addresses the crowd at St. Michael's.

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We also had a chance for us to stand with our allies and remind the world that the fight for environmental justice is fundamentally a fight for social justice that follows in the footsteps of Dr. King. It's understood that we are fighting to protect our air, water, and wildlife, but just as important, we are fighting to protect our families and our communities. Modern-day robber barons in the fossil fuel industry rake in record profits by destroying our planet -- and the least fortunate among us are hit hardest by that destruction.

Finally, this event was an opportunity for us to grow as an organization. We made new allies and strengthened our relationships with existing ones. Our staff and volunteers stepped up, left their comfort zones, grew as leaders, and made sure we did our part to make the meeting an overwhelming success. We saw a large and diverse group of new faces from every corner of the city and the state.

We're proud to have been part of this groundbreaking event, but now we need to look to the future: providing more opportunities for the first-timers to get involved; growing our volunteer and leadership capacity; finding the next political opportunity; strengthening relationships with our new allies, expanding our coalition, and building an even stronger environmental movement.

MLK-Day-of-Action-ChicagoIllinois Sierra Club volunteer J.C. Kibby talks with fellow activists prior to boarding the bus to St. Michael's Church.


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