Organizers and advocates kicked off the rally Let’s Get the Lead Out, Chicago! with a familiar chant of “This is what democracy looks like!” As I looked out at the crowd in front of me and behind me chanting in unison, I couldn’t help but think, This really is what democracy looks like: people freely coming together to raise awareness about an issue that deeply impacts them in the hopes of making change.
The backdrop for the rally was Chicago’s historic city hall. The event brought together people and organizations from across the Chicagoland area and helped the coalition build stronger relationships with each other in a new way.
Speakers included environmental justice and community groups like Bridges//Puentes, Faith in Place, Illinois PIRG, LVEJO (Little Village Environmental Justice Organization), and Southeast Environmental Task Force, which all spoke about the impacts that lead in drinking water has on their communities. In addition, we were joined by other distinguished guests like Angela Tovar, the chief sustainability officer for Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson; Illinois State Senator Ram Villivalam; and Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jackson Potter. Alaina Harkness, the executive director for Current Water, spoke about how lead pipe replacement could revitalize workforce development. Finally, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 5 Administrator Debra Shore reinforced the agency’s commitment to a strong, updated Lead and Copper Rule this fall.
Everyone at the event was there because we were all united by the goal of getting lead pipes out of Chicago, which has the most lead service lines of any city in the country.
It was clear at the rally that Chicagoans are not only ready to get the lead out but also ready and willing to roll up their sleeves to get the job done.
The event happened just after the release of a major documentary series by ABC called “Our America: Trouble on Tap.” The 46-minute first episode explored the crisis of safe drinking water in this country and available solutions, featuring many city and community voices along with frontline partners like Senator Cory Booker and EPA Administrator Michael Regan. The series focuses on Chicago and Newark, New Jersey, two cities where NRDC is actively engaged on the ground to replace the lead pipes that deliver drinking water to millions of homes.
All of these efforts are leading to the anticipated release of the EPA’s updated Lead and Copper Rule (LCR). (For a refresher on the LCR and what needs to be fixed, check out my colleague Erik Olson’s blog here). TL;DR: A new LCR can help us accelerate lead pipe removal with greater equity for Black, Latine, and low-income communities. Our hope is that the new rule will also reinforce the Biden administration’s commitment to getting all of the lead pipes out within 10 years.
The attendees at the rally were definitely fired up and ready to get the lead out, which was even more evident when my colleague Chakena Perry took the podium. She lifted up many of the messages shared earlier in the day about the negative impacts that lead in drinking water has on Black and Latine communities and reinforced how addressing this problem could build a strong workforce while also bolstering Chicago’s economy. “We can do this together,” Perry emphasized.
The Let’s Get the Lead Out, Chicago! rally demonstrated that there is clear momentum and solidarity among Chicagoans. We want safe drinking water—and we can’t wait decades to make this vision a reality.