The annual Goldman Prize is an exceptionally important honor, celebrating the extraordinary commitment of grassroots environmental leaders who stand for the integrity and dignity of citizens and communities. The annual announcement of awards is something that people who care about democracy and the health of our nation look forward to every year.
This year, I found it invigorating to see the award go to Kimberly Wasserman Nieto, who is one of the most committed and determined leaders in the long fight waged in my city to close Chicago’s Fisk and Crawford coal plants.
For more than 15 years, she battled the Crawford Generating Station—an ancient, polluting coal plant that loomed over her Little Village neighborhood, spewing particulate matter and contaminants into the community. After noting health problems in her neighbors and her own family, she stepped up, organized, spoke out, and did the steady, hard work necessary to meet the threats to her family and community.
It was the work of the neighborhood groups, like the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) where she works and the Pilsen Environmental Rights & Reform Organization (PERRO), which created the political will that eventually forced the plant closures. Their community-based environmental justice advocacy created the moral center that drew in other allies like the Respiratory Health Association of Metro Chicago, the Sierra Club, ELPC, and NRDC.
Today, not even a half-year removed from the plant closures, and Chicago’s skies are beginning to show a noticeable lightened pollution load, offering the entire city a dividend from the hard work that Kimberly Wasserman Nieto represents so ably.
The work in the neighborhood is not over, with a long legacy of lead contamination and other burdens to address. But it is clear that LVEJO will be even more effective with their newly minted enviro-rock star helping to lead the way.