Soros Fellowship Awarded to UCIMC’s James Kilgore for Electronic Monitoring Campaign

July 25, 2017


We are proud to announce that James Kilgore has been awarded the prestigious Open Society Foundation Soros Justice Fellowship for 2017-18. Building on work supported by Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center (UCIMC) for the last three years, James’s Open Society Fellowship will focus on developing a national campaign on the use of electronic monitoring (EM) in the criminal legal system. Kilgore has been researching electronic monitoring since spending a year on a monitor as a condition of his own parole in 2009-10.

This project comes at a critical time when many jurisdictions are moving towards the use of electronic monitoring as a strategy for decarceration, often with draconian conditions of house arrest. James’s work will mobilize a nationwide network to develop a set of guidelines for electronic monitoring which will center the rights of those on the monitor and contest unjust EM policies such as user fees and unregulated collection of location tracking data.

“Without policy and organizing intervention in the use of electronic monitoring now, the dream of decarceration could turn into a nightmare. The way EM is deployed could lead to greater freedom and community connections, or could increase surveillance and control while putting it out of sight, limiting freedom of movement throughout poor communities,” said Danielle Chynoweth, co-founder of UCIMC and former Organizing Director at the Center for Media Justice.

This project is co-hosted by the Center for Media Justice, a racial justice organizing hub that champions the media and technology rights communities of color and America’s poor, and the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center, a local base-building organizing with a ten-year history in supporting effective criminal justice reform campaigns. These organizations collaborate through the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net), a national network of 100+ groups working together to amplify the voices of impacted communities to win communication rights and power by influencing policy and shifting culture.

A project of Open Society Foundations, Soros Justice Fellowships fund outstanding individuals to undertake projects that advance reform, spur debate, and catalyze change on a range of issues facing the U.S. criminal justice system.

In addition to his work on electronic monitors, James has played a leading role in local social justice campaigns as the Co-Director of FirstFollowers reentry program and a founding member of Build Programs, Not Jails. He is also the author of five books, including the highly acclaimed Understanding Mass Incarceration: A People’s Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time. James played a key role in UCIMC’s work in the 2014-15 campaign for Prison Phone Justice.


Contact: Brian Dolinar

Program Director

Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center

202 S. Broadway Ave.

Urbana, IL 61801

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The Water Project: Examining our relationship with our most precious resource

Performing The Water Project at the IMC

Nancy Dietrich is a resident of Urbana who became an environmentalist because she likes to breathe clean air and drink clean water.

“Destruction of water resources and of forest catchments and aquifers is a form of terrorism. Denying poor people access to water by privatizing water distribution or polluting wells and rivers is also terrorism.”
~Vandana Shiva, Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution and Profit

Water is essential for all living things. It is also a convenient dumping ground for waste, and a commodity to be bought and sold. With these three themes in mind, the ensemble of Kate Insolia, Efadul Huq, Maddie Terlap, Madelyn Childress, Rosanne Brighton, Katie Fenton, Yu-Yun Hsieh and Latrelle Bright met once, sometimes twice, a week over the course of several months to learn, discuss, collaborate, create and then perform The Water Project, the latest theatrical performance directed by local theater maker Latrelle Bright.  Katie Fenton served as dramaturge and Yu-Yun Hsieh as sound designer for the performance.

According to her website,, “through research, devising and development, six local folk immersed themselves in water issues and created this performance from their findings and rumination, infusing sound, poetry, movement and song.” Phase one of the project consisted of research and learning: the group met to watch documentaries, discuss articles on water issues, and listen to invited guests. Phase two was the development phase. Using an age-old technique called “devised theater,” the ensemble began to collaborate on the piece itself:  writing poetry & prose, creating movement pieces, and sharing their creations with the group for feedback, where the pieces were finessed and finalized by the entire ensemble. Phase three was rehearsal and performance.

Latrelle conceived of The Water Project as a way to raise awareness of the numerous water issues that confront our society today, to meet with like-minded people who care about these issues, and to find a way to merge the academic with the artistic.  Latrelle studied musical theater at the Boston Conservatory, and has also studied at the International University in San Diego and Florida State University.  She became interested in environmental issues as an undergraduate, but felt that there was a culture around the environmental movement that didn’t include people like her. This project has given her a way to meet and create with others who don’t necessarily fit into the usual environmental movement mold.

“When creating this piece, I felt like–this is community; this is democracy. In other theater performances I’ve been involved with, there is a hierarchy, which is typical in theater.  Instead of top-down, this was side-by-side,” she reflects. This was one element that led to The Water Project debuting at the IMC. “I knew the IMC folk would appreciate it. If it would have been held at a more traditional theater, people would have expected traditional theater,” she says.

Efadul Huq, one of the performers in The Water Project, became interested in the project because it sounded fun and engaging. Efadul is a PhD student in the U of I’s Urban and Regional Planning program, and has a background in creative writing. In summarizing how the performance was created, he emphasized the importance of learning together, as well as how the piece was improvised over time.

“This was my first time doing devised theater,” he said. “Latrelle gave us exercises and prompts about the topic of water for us to think about. Then we created pieces and brought them back to the group, and the group would make comments and changes. It was different; more dynamic than regular theater.” Latrelle notes that devised theater is an old form of theater, and it comes naturally to us: children, for example, perform devised theater. “Even though you can get a degree in it, you don’t have to have a Master’s degree to be human,” she says. “Creating theater with people in community, with folks who don’t necessarily have training in theater,” was a powerful experience for Latrelle in directing and performing in this piece.

As the slogan goes, the personal is political. One of the goals of The Water Project was to think about, and get audiences to think about, how we access water and how water becomes a tool of domination depending on who controls access to it. “I wanted to work with Latrelle on this project because I knew it would be political; it wouldn’t just be ‘let’s celebrate how wonderful water is.’” Efadul says. And it did not disappoint in that way.  Many examples of the political aspects of water are evident in the performance, including a piece called Resistance: Flint, MI (see sidebar).

Overall, upon reflecting on the question, “Why a piece about water?”, Latrelle responds, “because we don’t think about it enough. Many organizations are engaged in water issues.  I hope we’ve planted another seed. There are so many issues to care about, but water is essential to everything.” And Efadul reflects, “there are so many things that divide us, but water connects us; it grounds us. [The Water Project] helps us reflect on our shared problems, and how it connects us all. Water is life.”

Latrelle states that there may be room in the piece for further development, specifically to focus on solutions; on ways that people are making access to water work for them. Perhaps a second act is in the works? Stay tuned.

For more information about Latrelle Bright and The Water Project, check out her website at:

Latrelle Bright, Director/Performer

For sidebar/box:

Resistance:  Flint, MI
Written by Katie Fenton
Performed by Kate Insolia

There was once, no
There is one now, a mother

The woman whose eye lashes were falling out?
Did you hear about her?
She took a jug of water, brown, all brown from her tap, to the city council.
The same water that was eating away machine parts in another part of town.

And guess what the officials told her?
It met the federal standards of 15 ppb.
And they toasted each other with crystal glasses full of water, crystal clear.

The world of alternative facts did not begin yesterday.
It was already here among the rulers everyone had trusted

Do you know how it feels to watch your 3-year-old always sick?
To not see him grow?
You start putting a gallon of water by the bathroom sink for brushing baby teeth.
You put crates of water all around kitchen, making a small home even smaller.
You send your children to shower at friends’ houses or take a bath with bottled water…
You do not know anymore what is caution and what is paranoia…

And the fact is, the water tested at 400 ppb when flushed.
When following the protocol set out by officials at a town hall.

And so sometimes resistance takes the shape of a 37-year-old staying up all night
teaching herself science of water testing while her children sleep.
Gathering information and gathering allies.
Experts in their field.
Who had never seen lead levels this high.
Levels so high the the water coming out of her faucet qualified as toxic waste.

Because the fact is, the water tested at 13,200 ppb when tested immediately.

Sometimes resistance means breaking down experimental protocols, timing of samples, instruments of control, and records of minerals to explain to yourself why one of your twins is smaller than the other one…

Sometimes resistance is constantly calling city officials, the EPA, the DEQ, the CLU, calling and calling until you find someone who will listen. Unleashing a chain of investigations that would last months. Years.

Sometimes resistance is staring through the night at the trail of injustices needled through generations, through our very DNA.




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Restoring Life’s Mutual Economy

by George Hardebeck

Success has been sold as taking as much as we can, as fast and long as we can, replacing Life’s true green for printed green. Economy, as separate from ecology, is a grand delusion to suit the great addicts seeking

their continual flow of sick fixes – endorphins flying to a rage on Wall Street, promoting their belligerence through ‘mainstream’ corporate 6 Mogul Media, at any cost – 1000’s of species weekly at 100 to 10,000 times the normal extinction rate. 100 times the normal temperature,would place us as more successfully consumed than Venus, while most of us, even in ‘the green movement’, are not talking about this. Why?

Addicts must have more. Wendingo, a term by our Eastern Indigenous, qualifies monsters that must have more until they consume even their own bodies. These Wendigoag at the helm – snake oil salesmen and closet kings, now flushed out from behind the curtain – are waging havoc throughout the realm.

Not so driven, most of the rest of us go along as trained, complicit in our complacency, especially among the loyalist Pax Americana. The Pax Roma were those at the center and top of the economic empire in Rome, who,doing… well enough…would not end the system, while this dis-ease could consume all lives beyond, within reach, as with Pax Britannia. Loyalists to the empire sing our song of independence likeyouth still seeking to hold onto an irresponsible freedom, forgetting our return to inter-dependability,denying how mutual society depends upon responsible freedom -as fur traders learned when marrying into Indigenous cultural elders and hosts, here, bearing our American Revolution, French, Russian and so on.

We began to fall back into the pyramidal scheme about as soon as we thought we were breaking free, blind to the lesser nature of this sick construct. Like the alcoholic family, this dysfunctional system can have it’sheroes, scapegoats, lost children and mascots. Imperialism learned that keeping all compartmentalized in blocks and tiers, could keep us busy at each other’s throats, lest we rise to oust the self-centered bullydom -like the family maturing to put the addict into treatment – to end abuse and all begin recovery.

Our very brains may have grown to be human, some science considers, when expanding linguistics for rallying together to oust bigly apes beating chests on the knoll. The River Dance style of Irish dance seems was made more rigid, as the Brits and Scots protestant loyalists, who scalped and massacred them on the way in, had the native Catholic Irish keep their hands by their sides andfaces forward to not be plotting, and passing notes, if they wanted to restore their suppressed culture. Keeping Irish Catholics tiered lower than Presbyterian Scot loyalists kept the Imperialist’s money world going around, even to the tune of selling nine times the potatoes that they forced the Irish to monocrop, needed for the Irish to survive the infamous famine – another round of genocide.

We’ve seen uprisings like the Bacon Rebellion of the 1600’s on the East coast, quelled by the greed leading elites coughing up some of their spoils to lift the whites to separate them from the blacks a tier – as the Koch’s just supported congress to put repealing Obamacare on hold, realizing loosing some of their pirated booty could keep us pouring the gold down their gullets.Sex, race, color, creed, species, party… any schism – it’s all good, as long as we are divided for conquer.

Movements are in the works for our re-turn, with players like YES Magazine, and The Bioneers connecting our fragmented dots of wellbeing, re-linking Life’s web, connecting the Amazon’s richly Indigenous with Pennsylvania farmers fighting corporate pig farms, aided by the work of Mari Margil and Thomas Linzey of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). When the CELDF of Pennsylvania joined their skills with the wisdom of the Indigenous of the Amazon struggling against big oil, Ecuador’s revised national constitution bore the Community Rights / Rights of Nature Movement, and networks, into a global movement to rejoin

Life’s own revolutions, realigned. Looking into why their not-for-profit firm, with The People of PA, had so little recourse against corporations writing permits granted by the state, CELDF uncovered how an imperial construct was formed as the architectural structure of our federal constitution, for rule by the opulent -by James Madison, with the help of George Washington and friends behind closed doors-much like the failed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Placing property and commerce at the core and top of this pyramidal construct, corporations and banks, any large estate owners – all agencies of such, joined in as leaders of nation over state, over local community, over The People and all Life. So, CELDF found they could write constitutions to obstruct and dismantle this unjust federal source code, our national DNA that deceptively concocted our new American neo-imperial dream – which is for most a nightmare. Other founders of our constitution, would not ratify it without driving in our Bill of Rights for We The People. Still, without mutual economy, there is no mutual society.

Hundreds of communities using CELDF, nationally and worldwide, now organize to rewrite constitutions, placing peoples, community and nature, above corporations, property and commerce. New Hampshire, Colorado and Oregon are on it. Bolivia changed core laws, after Ecuador. Nepal joined in and brought Rights for Climate into the conversation; India for rights to heritage seed… and so many more. There are great talks and conversations on line for learning more of this transformative movement that seems, in many ways, more powerfully devising the change we all need than the Paris climate talks. We The People 2.0, The Second American Revolution is a film portraying this movement being shown in theaters to homes – as we are sharing locally, with discussion among related groups and individuals.

Even while such work is core, handing us the key and showing us the door, we need to do our homework to envision what we may move into across the threshold. Otherwise, we may be again prodded by violence, and seduced by monetary faux value to fall into another abusive form – while all Life calls us to restorative justice, in reconciliation ecology – Michael Rosenzweig’s term from Win Win Ecology, and in Restoration Economy, which Storm Cunningham’s book of this title shared would be the greatest part of our economy by 2010. A clue to renewing our vision, to reject ‘trickle-down reaganomics’ by those at the ‘top’ of this imperial pyramidal model spun, is realizing how We The People trickle down to our public and commercial servants; as is recognizing that with Life as the source of all we share, economically and trade, that we need to live Life on her terms, meekly again, sharing and caring for all beings – All Our Relations, as her own.

Stay tuned with the Independent Media Center, as we seek to support panel discussion for reforming our natural, mutual economy, realigning in Life’s movement, ongoing – revived in her revolutions.


(George Hardebeck hosts WannaBe Cafe, his radio show at out of the Independent Media Center, where he hosts a table for such conversation on Thursday nights, and another such space with Makerspace on some Wednesdays, as a 12- step group called Earth Anonymous/ACDC-Adult Children of Dysfunctional Culture, to move sharing, listening and discernment into an eco-cultural arts guild to change practices.)



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Solar in Urbana-Champaign

CU is heating up with recent solar activity.  Solar panels are appearing on houses, businesses, churches, and in fields across the county. The dramatic drop in installation costs, along with overlapping federal and local incentives, make this a boom time for solar. The recent IL Future Energy Jobs Act continues requirement for utilities to offer net metering, re-establishes the renewable energy credit market auction, and opens possibilities for community solar farms. Net metering allows customers to feed excess electricity back into the grid, thereby not requiring costly batteries.

UI Solar Farm

Last year saw the startup of the University’s new 4.68-megawatt solar farm on Windsor Road near First Street, which produced 2% of the campus electricity in 2016. The University has a 10-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with the developer, Phoenix Solar, LLC., to deliver all electricity produced directly to the campus grid, and the University will own all the associated Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) and emission credits. While this 18,867 panel, 20.8 acre farm is the largest in the Big Ten, it is only a beginning for the University, which is working on ways to reach the goal of 32% renewable power by 2020. These include power purchase agreements with a local wind farm, plans for solar arrays on suitable campus buildings and parking garages, and potentially another solar farm in the future. A new power purchase agreement with the Rail Splitter Wind Farm north of Lincoln, IL will provide an additional 7% of campus needs from local wind.

Current campus solar installations include rooftop solar panels at the Wassaja Residence Hall and the Business Instructional Facility, ground-mounted panels at the Building Research Council and Allerton Park, and solar thermal tubes helping to heat the pool at ARC.

Homes and Businesses

The Solar Urbana-Champaign 2.0 group buy program is looking to repeat its success from last year, when 81 homes and businesses took advantage of overlapping federal tax and local renewable energy credits. These overlapping incentives looked like they would end last year, but they were renewed, so there is a second chance to take advantage of them. New Prairie Construction in Urbana has been chosen by the Midwest Renewable Energy Association as the prime contractor for the program, based on their experience, qualifications, and price. This volume purchase program is good through August 31, and site assessments are free for anyone in the county.

“Last year’s group buy resulted in over 80 installations of solar on homes and commercial properties all over Champaign County,” said Scott Tess, Environmental Sustainability Manager for the City of Urbana. “It was one of the most successful programs of its kind in the region. We wanted to build upon the strong interest that we know exists here.”

A listing of local info sessions can be found at:


Faith in Place has been leading efforts to get houses of worship involved with solar by hosting workshops and giving expert advice. Several years back, Faith United Methodist in Champaign put up solar thermal tubes to offset their hot water heater. In 2015, First Mennonite of Urbana put on a 9-kilowatt solar PV array. Earlier this year, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Urbana-Champaign put up a large 24 kilowatt array that will offset 70% of their electricity use. They are one of the first churches in the region to utilize a power purchase agreement to pay for the system over time and utilize the federal tax credits. The McKinley Foundation is scheduled to receive a similar array with a PPA structure this summer.

Community Solar Farms

The Future Energy Jobs Act that passed last year included language for community-scale solar farms using a type of virtual net-metering. This would be a PPA type of arrangement where homeowners with shaded roofs can sign a long-term agreement to buy their electricity from a nearby solar farm. Several groups have had informal meet-ups around town to brainstorm what a community solar farm could be. Some discussions have included considering using one of the town’s old landfills or other brownfield spaces. More details of how these programs will be enacted are expected from the Illinois Power Authority  in June.

UUCUC 24kW Solar PPA

As of March 29, 2017, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Urbana-Champaign (UUCUC) has a new 24-kilowatt Solar PV array that will offset about 70% of their annual electric use. The array was installed by Hawk Energy Solutions and Ruyle Mechanical of Peoria and is operated by Hawk-Attollo LLC. The church will purchase all the electricity generated through a power purchase agreement (PPA). This PPA allows the church to pay over time, and the installation to utilize the 30% Federal tax credit, accelerated depreciation, and the Illinois Solar Renewable Energy Credit auction.

There are 81 300-watt panels with Enphase microinverters that cover about three-fourths of the flat roof and are warrantied to last 25+ years. The church recently installed a new white membrane over the old leaking rubber roof. The solar array doesn’t penetrate the membrane, but instead rests on metal feet on rubber mats held down by concrete blocks.

With the power purchase agreement, the church will buy electricity from the solar array at $0.04/kilowatt-hour (kWh) (half the total Ameren rate for supply and delivery). The church has the option to buy out the solar contract in year 7, and the savings from the system is expected to pay for itself around year 12. Factoring in the church’s investments of about $38,000 over 6 years, the effective levelized cost of electricity over 25 years comes out to $0.0475/kWh. This will save over $120,000 over the 25-year lifetime of the system.

An initial estimate is that the solar array will generate 32,000 kWh/year and offset 49,600 pounds of CO2 per year, equivalent to 580 trees per year.  In the first month of operation, the panels offset the carbon of 51 trees, and about $300 of utility bills.

An integral part of this system is the real-time energy monitor on the solar production and on the building use. The energy monitor actually has four sub-meters for the four wings of the church. This shows instantaneously how much energy is saved turning lights off or knowing if the air conditioning or dehumidifiers are left running all night.

This project originated through a workshop with Faith in Place, where Cindy Shepherd and Jason Hawksworth presented how the PPA scenario could work for houses of worship. Of the six congregations in attendance, four received solar bids, and at least two of them are installing systems this year.

(Andy Robinson is a Green UU Church and solar project leader)


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Death with Dignity film screening announcement

Free showing of award-winning film:
How to Die in Oregon
A film about death with dignity and choices at the end of life
Saturday, July 8
9:30am- 12:30pm
Urbana Free Library
Sponsored by: Death with Dignity Group of the
Unitarian-Universalist Church
Final Options Illinois
Funeral Consumers Alliance of Champaign County

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March for Support of Immigrants at July 4th Parade

March for Support of Immigrants at July 4th Parade

Tuesday, July 4 at 11 AM1 PM

In an effort to demonstrate local support for immigrants in our community, the C-U Immigration Forum is organizing a huge participation in the July 4th Freedom Parade.

Our goal is to have 500 people march with us in the parade. If you are free to join us, please do so but also help spread the word among family, friends, co-workers and other organizations or faith communities you are active with.

We are encouraging people to sign up so we can track how many folks are participating and also to send out updates about details of the event. Sign up here:

Show up, speak out in your own unique way for the support of local immigrants and the progress of human rights. You can also join us in raising your voice and showing support in other ways:

Join us for a sign-making party on Saturday, July 1st from 2pm-4pm at the University YMCA, 1001 S. Wright Street. This is a kid-friendly event with food and plenty of crafty supplies. Immigration Forum t-shirts are also available. You may order your t-shirt here:

Thanks for your help and support.

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Food Not Bombs offering free vegetarian meals every Saturday at West Side Park

Food Not Bombs is an autonomous community organization that seeks to curb food waste and address food insecurity locally, is serving a free, freshly-cooked vegetarian meal in West Side Park, every Saturday at 6 p.m. All are welcome.

If you’d like to come eat, make a donation, or get involved, please visit us on Facebook, linked above — or send us an email at:






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No Accident: White Cop Shoots Another Black Man in Champaign

The shooting of unarmed Black men by white police in the United States is a story that keeps repeating over and over. The recent case of a local 22-year-old African American man shot in the shoulder by Champaign police officer James Hobson, who is white, is yet another outrageous example. It is a test case for police chief Anthony Cobb, who came into office in the wake of the police killing of Kiwane Carrington.

There has been some coverage of the shooting by the local media, in the News-Gazette and Smile Politely. Still, there has been little effort to dig deeper than the press releases put out by the Champaign police which have provided few details. According to the Champaign police, on Sunday night, June 11, at approximately 10:30 p.m., Officer Hobson stopped Dehari Banks in his car around Fourth Street on the North End. The reason why has not been provided. Banks had a case of driving on a suspended license, but it was pending, and he had not been convicted.

Perhaps scared by the many stories in the news, Banks did not stop his car, pulled into a driveway, ran into the garage door, got out and fled. Hobson ran after him and cornered Banks in a fenced-in area. According to Hobson’s police report, which has not been made available to the public, he drew his gun while coming to a running stop, pointed it, and “accidentally” shot Banks in the shoulder. Banks was unarmed.

One important detail that the news has failed to report is that Banks was not actually charged with anything to have justified his being shot. The News-Gazette listed a history of his offenses, and ran his mug shot, but failed to mention there were no traffic tickets or criminal charges filed against Banks for what happened that night.

Often, the police put “cover charges” on the victim of a police shooting to protect themselves from a potential lawsuit. Without charges, the City of Champaign is open to significant legal liability. No one was killed, so there will be no million dollar law suit. The family can hire an attorney and likely will get a cash settlement from the city.

Whether the decision to not charge Banks was a deliberate move by Chief Cobb, or (less likely) a result of the facts of the incident, the outcome is still uncertain. It remains to be seen whether Cobb will fire Hobson, who is on administrative leave according to the police union contract. Hobson is a rookie cop, joining the force in September 2015. Chief Cobb has called for “patience,” but he has refused to respond to phone calls about the incident.

Of course, anti-Black police violence in the US cannot honestly be described as an accident, but is the product of a fear and anxiety over Black bodies. Indeed, the police killing of 15-year-old Kiwane Carrington in 2009 was also described as an “accident” and Officer Norbitz, who allegedly shot him, cleared of charges.

In 1970, Black resident Edgar Hoults was killed by a Champaign police officer who chased him down, aimed his gun, claimed he slipped, and shot Hoults in the back of the head with a hollow point bullet, killing him instantly. It was claimed Hoults’s death was also an “accident.” The cop who killed him was exonerated by a jury.

More recently, I reported on four Champaign police officers who in December 2016 killed Richard “Richie” Turner, a homeless African American man, in Campustown. None of the police were charged and they are still on the force.

Champaign police keep killing―or trying to kill―Black people.

Some have questioned why Hobson wasn’t wearing a body cam. Across the country, body cams are being presented as a solution to police violence. Yet in cases like, most recently, that of Philando Castile, video footage of police killings has failed to bring justice for Black victims.

According to a source, Banks has been released from the hospital and is recovering.

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Our Mahomet Aquifer

By Jacquelyn Potter, Sierra Club Prairie Group
Jacquelyn Potter is on the Executive Committee of the local Sierra Club, where she is involved in activism with many issues, including water protection, and serves on the Mahomet Aquifer Model group.

Water issues have always been at the forefront of environmental and human rights concerns. This year was eye-opening for many following the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) conflict and its impact upon surface water. However, another critical issue is protection of our vital underground water sources against such threats. Our Mahomet Aquifer, lying right underneath us here in Champaign County and several other counties, supplies over 100 million gallons of water per day to over 500,000 in East Central Illinois.  Just think about that for a minute. Water. Is. Life.

What’s so special about the water from the Mahomet Aquifer? It exceeds other water sources in its purity. When you drink water from the Mahomet Aquifer, you are drinking very ancient water that fell to Earth between 3,000 and 10,000 years ago, well before the contaminants of our recent times. The Mahomet Aquifer is part of the prehistoric Mahomet River Valley, where water flowed upon bedrock and was layered with sand and gravel and buried beneath hundreds of feet of clay, compliments of the glaciers.

One major issue surrounding aquifers is how and where they recharge and how recharge is balanced with withdrawal. This is a complex topic, subject to much ongoing research. Illinois State Geological Survey Carbon-14 analysis shows the water underneath Champaign County is 5,000 to 7,000 years younger than 50 miles west, which reveals the highest amount of recharge is in northern Champaign County. Some researchers believe high withdrawal or over-consumption is a greater threat to the aquifer than contamination, especially in dry years when river flooding (a major source of recharge) doesn’t happen. A report by the Mahomet Aquifer Consortium revealed the highest level of withdrawal from both surface water and aquifer is by far thermoelectric power generation (coal, petro, natural gas and nuclear) with another figure showing it as 74% of total withdrawal: 1,315 million gallons per day. Conversely, the rate of recharge is estimated to be hundreds of millions of gallons per day, a figure thought optimistic by some. Close to half of Illinois’ population depends upon groundwater, and in rural areas, the number is closer to 90%. Therefore, improved conservation and protection of this precious resource is of utmost importance.

Public interest in protecting the Mahomet Aquifer began to increase just over a decade ago. In March of 2007, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) issued a permit to Clinton Landfill to store potentially hazardous waste (e.g. polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs) at the landfill in DeWitt County sitting directly above the Mahomet Aquifer. For several years, this was fought, and finally then-Governor Pat Quinn directed the IEPA to stop approval of PCB waste storage at the landfill. By winter 2012, officials petitioned the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to designate the Mahomet Aquifer a “sole-source aquifer.” Such designation recognizes how vital the aquifer is as a source of water, giving special protection. The USEPA is required to review federally-funded projects located above the aquifer to ensure no danger to our drinking water supply. Over 400 people attended public hearings on sole-source designation, many expressing support for the designation; none were against it. By spring 2014, the USEPA issued preliminary approval of sole-source, and a year later was approved. Although sole-source designation requires EPA review for federally-assisted projects that would potentially contaminate the aquifer, projects funded by state, local or private entities are not subject to review. Therefore, sole-source designation did not affect Clinton Landfill plans, as it is privately funded. However, heightened attention toward aquifer protection did lead to passage of state law, when Representative Carol Ammons and Senator Scott Bennett introduced bills to protect the aquifer. Specifically, materials containing high PCBs and manufactured gas plant waste are prohibited in landfills above the aquifer. The legislation aimed at preventing Clinton Landfill from continuing plans to accept the toxic chemicals. Recently, another bill was approved establishing a Mahomet Aquifer Task Force to study the water source, develop a plan to maintain the quality of the aquifer, identify current and potential contamination threats, identify actions that ensure long-term protection, and make legislative recommendations to protect the aquifer.

These developments have bearing on the pipeline issue, as it has direct impact on the water sources in Illinois. The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) mostly affects surface water; however, the proposed pipeline expansion by Canadian corporation Enbridge to “twin” the Line 61 pipeline running through Illinois from Canada threatens surface water, but also runs directly over a Mahomet Aquifer recharge area. Central Illinois has become a major route for Canadian Tar Sands crude oil, with Enbridge sending up to 880,000 barrels a day through a pipeline constructed above the Mahomet Aquifer. History shows the question is not if a pipeline will break, but when. Sierra Club looked at Enbridge’s history of spills from years 1999 to 2010, finding it responsible for over 800 spills. The 2010 Enbridge spill in the Kalamazoo River required massive removal of streambed soil (to recover embedded oil). Because the Mahomet Aquifer is a deep aquifer, it is better protected than shallow aquifers; however, it can be contaminated. Therefore, protective measures are important, as it is extremely difficult to clean up contaminated surface water, but it is near impossible to clean up a deep underground aquifer once contaminated. Considering the Enbridge track record, it is extremely negligent to have the pipeline along the trajectory directly crossing Mahomet Aquifer recharge areas, and to allow for expansion along the same trajectory would be bordering on the absurd.

Pipeline deregulation has amounted to a weakening of the environmental review process, which is of utmost concern regarding sensitive areas such as streams or recharge areas, known as HCAs or “high consequence areas.” Some landowners said they were never informed the pipeline would be for Canadian Tar Sands Crude, which is much more pollutive and caustic due to high levels of volatile organic compounds. Doug Hayes, attorney for the Sierra Club, expects to prove the pipeline violates the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. “We have a strong case that the government deliberately segmented the project to avoid an environmental review.” Hayes said oil corporations saw the controversy of Keystone XL and intentionally planned the pipeline through central Illinois “behind closed doors.”

With this in mind, activist groups have been mobilizing in response to the proposed Enbridge pipeline expansion, informing Illinois land owners about the dangers the pipelines pose and the tactics used by the corporations to take their land.  There have been meetings with local and state government. In fall of 2016, local environmental activists and Native American representatives spoke to the Urbana City Council about dangers pipelines pose to surface waters and aquifers. The Urbana City Council responded, drafting a resolution that stressed the need to protect our aquifers. These efforts, along with the addition of the Mahomet Aquifer Task Force, aim at increasing awareness about the potential threats to our aquifers.

A longer-term viewpoint looks at how they are all connected.  That is, in order to best protect the Mahomet Aquifer, there must also be protection for the streams and rivers that recharge it. There is precedence that addresses the importance of this, as demonstrated when the EPA restored Clean Water Act protections for 48,782 miles of streams in Illinois, protecting against development of wetlands, dumping by coal companies, power plants and meat-processing plants. Both surface and underground water sources are depended upon for drinking water by approximately 1,680,948 Illinoisans. If so many are dependent upon the Mahomet Aquifer and surface waters that recharge it, all being vulnerable to overuse and contamination, then how is it the right of the few over the many to over-exploit and pollute? This question is pertinent to both the Dakota Access pipeline as well as the Enbridge pipeline, and we the people of Illinois must decide what kind of future we want for ourselves and our ancient waterways.

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People’s Climate March: History & Views from the Local & D.C. Marches

By Members of Prairie Group of Sierra Club and Food & Water Watch

Origins of the People’s Climate March
By Alice Englebretsen

Alice Englebretsen has been a member of the Sierra Club for many years, and originally got involved by going on national outings. For the last 16 years she has been on the Executive Committee of the Prairie Group of the Illinois Chapter in many capacities. Currently she is Treasurer and Political Chair of the Prairie Group.

The original People’s Climate March (PCM) was called in May 2014 by, the environmental organization founded by writer/activist Bill McKibben, and it was endorsed by over 1,500 organizations, including the Sierra Club.  The march was conceived as a response to the scheduled U.N. Climate Summit of world leaders to take place in New York City on September 21, 2014. The months of organizing and the day itself helped to re-boot the climate movement in this country. The march was attended by over 400,000 people from all walks of life.

The work of the PCM is grounded in a set of core principles:

  • Prioritize leadership of front-line communities, communities of color, low-income communities, workers and others impacted by climate, economic and racial inequity.
  • Use the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing to ground our work.
  • Build a coordinated but decentralized structure that lifts up a common platform and message while being flexible enough to create more opportunities for connection to local issues, ownership and engagement in the movement.
  • Work in a way that helps to strengthen and build the capacity of the local organizing.
  • Develop opportunities for a range of organizations and social movements to work together, and to use our joint efforts to give greater visibility to our common struggle. This includes, but is not limited to, putting people into the streets as we demand policy changes and bold action.

In 2015 the Peoples Climate Movement focused its collective energy on strengthening the climate justice movement at the local level. That October we organized 200 actions in 48 locations, mostly led by front-line communities, unions, faith groups, youth, and people of color organizations. These actions highlighted the on-the-ground realities in their cities, and tied those struggles to the national movement.

In addition to the People’s Climate March in New York City, there were many other communities around the world who also hosted marches.

Alarms went off again when the climate-denying Trump was elected President in 2016, along with a right wing congress. Another People’s Climate March was organized for April 29th, 2017, 100 days after the inauguration, to be held in Washington D.C. In addition, many other communities in the United States and around the world organized marches. In Illinois there were marches held in Chicago, Carbondale, Peoria and Champaign-Urbana.

Bus from Central IL to D.C. Climate March

Hiking Boots on the Ground (in D.C.)
by Rachel Vellenga

Rachel Vellenga is a Sierra Club board member and children’s librarian in Urbana, IL. She enjoys hiking, reading and hanging out with her backyard chickens in her spare time. Her newest flock members are named Rea and Zist.

Equally important to the local marches was getting a large number of demonstrators to show up in D.C. to show politicians how adamant people are about the need to act on climate change. Some traveled on their own and some rode on buses organized by various environmental groups and other non-profits from around the country. An estimated 200,000 people answered the call to the national protest, people of all ages and ethnic groups.

I took a bus organized by the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club. The bus stopped in Peoria, Bloomington/Normal, Champaign/Urbana and Indianapolis. We were at capacity by the time we pulled out of Indianapolis, and drove all night to arrive in D.C. Saturday morning.  The march was very well organized, with parking set aside for buses at RFK Stadium and volunteers to direct us how to get to the starting point. You could text a number on your cellphone to get updates about the march and messages from your fellow bus participants.

We had a few hours to explore before lining up in a predetermined order. Our location was towards the end of the march, and therefore we had to wait some time to get started. But spirits were high, and we were eager to show our support for the planet. The weather was a sweltering 90 degrees in April, a tie with the all-time record set in 1974 (appropriate for the cause – where’s James “Snowball” Inhofe when you need him). Some kids got the entrepreneur spirit and sold bottled water out of old shopping carts for the sweating masses yearning to be free (of climate change).  While I am loath to buy bottled water, I am more loath to pass out on the asphalt in front of Trump Hotel from heat exhaustion (although again… appropriate).

We marched peacefully with a great collection of clever signs, costumes (one brave soul dressed in full polar bear outfit), musical instruments and chants. The biggest reaction came when we passed Trump Hotel, where marchers let our displeasure be heard loud and clear. Food trucks lined the avenue when we finished, and then it was back to our bus for the all-night ride home. We were extremely tired and sweaty and in need of a shower, but confident that we had done our part to show our support for combating climate change.

Rachel & fellow marcher in D.C.

Champaign-Urbana March
By Lois Kain

Lois Kain hooked up with Food and Water Watch in the fall of 2012 for the GMO food labeling fight in Illinois, and has been the volunteer local coordinator since 2013. She went to the NYC march in 2014 and wanted to try to bring that incredible experience to C-U.

When details for the 2017 PCM were being worked out for D.C., organizers around the country expressed desires to hold events in their home towns, so, the idea of sister marches was born. Day by day the map of sister marches and events around the country grew in number. While Chicago would be Illinois’ biggest march (5,000 people hit the streets in a cold rain!), a number of other cities across the state joined in to give Illinois activists an option closer to home. Champaign-Urbana got on the map! Local members of Sierra Club and Food and Water Watch, with the help of student groups Beyond Coal and iMatter, came together to create our event.

The steering committee decided to have not only a march but an Earth fair out in the fresh air and sunshine of Westside Park in Champaign. Music, tabling with local organizations, speakers, a march, and a raffle to raise money for our very own Pollinatarium came together over the months of March and April.

Carol Ammons (State Representative) and Scott Bennett (State Senator) headed up our speaker list. Alice Englebretsen (Sierra Club), Carol Hayes (Prairie Rivers Network), Lan Richart (Eco-Justice Collaborative), and Anna Catalina Rosu (iMatter) added their voices in the call for people to WAKE UP! to the impending catastrophe of our warming planet. Environmental and political party organizations, churches, local green energy companies and the City of Urbana tabled with messages and information for us human inhabitants of Mother Earth of hope, justice, solidarity, and solutions for the social and environmental messes in which we had made for ourselves. Even Flat Rodney hung out with us! Meadowhawk provided the welcoming music and Common Ground Food Co-op and Strawberry Fields-World Harvest donated cool, Earth-loving gift baskets for the raffle.

State Rep. Carol Ammons addresses the crowd at the C-U March

As the date approached, the weather forecast became more and more ominous. We had to decide to change our plans or change the venue. We opted for venue and Grace Lutheran Church was gracious enough to provide the new location on such a short notice.

People from all around East Central Illinois RSVP’d on the sister march website from Danville to Peoria, and Watseka to Mount Vernon. The threatening weather and sudden venue change did not dampen the spirits of 300 Earthlings who came to share their concerns and hopes for the future of our only home, Gaia.

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