Pin It

The Chicago Reader has published its inaugural 2011 People Issue. The issue doesn’t exactly resemble those “these are the people in your neighborhood” videos you might remember as a kid, featuring the policeman, mailman, or firefighter. No, in Chicago we have “progressed” far beyond those silly old days.

Among the Reader’s recognized neighbors in Chicago this year, we have an “alternative-porn” actress, a criminal-graffiti vandal, and a knock-on-your-door, tell-you-how-to-live-in-your-own-home, nosy-neighbor-environmental-justice organizer.

So what were the criteria for the Reader’s selections? Well, oddly enough, it seems, they don’t know themselves. According to the article, they just kind of wound up with what they got.

“We did not embark on our inaugural People Issue with much of an idea for where we wanted to end up. We didn’t want to seek out the most powerful or influential, or even the up-and-coming….it was all pretty vague.”

But what it apparently all boiled down to, was they just “tracked down the people who, like most of us, work behind the scenes, who populate the underground and the everyday, who are fascinating chiefly because the work they do is . . . real.”

That’s right, the people “like most of us” who do “real” work, like porn, tagging walls, and trying to shut down energy corporations.

Take, for instance, “alternative-porn” actress Phoenix Askani. Askani told the Reader about the “real” work she does, “I know a lot of really intelligent, really strong women in porn who are emotionally stable, they’re mentally stable, they do it because they like to have sex. To loosely quote my friend Jenna Haze, “You know, I like to f**k. And if I can do it safely and make a little money while doing it, why the f**k not? I don’t think that every girl in porn is f**ked-up in the head, by any means. Yeah, a lot of them are freaks sexually, I mean, absolutely. But some of them are just very normal.”

And then there’s Weed Wolf, described by the Reader as a “30-ish, prolific graffiti artist–and vandal.” Weed Wolf doesn’t have a job and says he never plans to get one either; he also doesn’t like to get up before noon.

“I wouldn’t call myself a street artist. I like graffiti and tagging and vandalism.”

He also claims that rumors about him destroying people’s stuff are “exaggerated pretty significantly.”

“I try to avoid people’s own stuff. A lot of the time it’s just a difference of values, I suppose. Like, I don’t really care about some brand-new condo building, so if I tag it and someone decides to get on the Internet and say, “Wah! Someone did graffiti all over my house,” well, you know, they’re calling it their home, but I just see it as some really fancy condo that someone with a lot more money than me gets to go hang out in.”

Of course, what would a tribute to some of Chicago’s “just like most of us” be, without recognizing a community organizer? Like Kimberly Wasserman Nieto, the executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.

“We have initiatives we’ve worked on over the last couple of years. We work on public transit, from the Blue Line to the Pink Line to the reinstatement of the 31st Street bus. We also have a very strong youth program. Our young people are beginning to focus on urban agriculture programs and access to healthy foods, but also looking at the food trends our families currently have, and why they’re unhealthy. The obesity rate in our community is not helped by the fact that we only have one park.”- Nieto

Last year Nieto spoke about “Climate-Justice” at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and explained what her organization does. In the following video, at 8:35-9:13 she explains how her organization has been battling a coal plant, Midwest Generation, and are “….trying to get them to shut down, we have gone after them on a state level, we have gone after them on a federal level, and we are currently going after them on a local level….” She goes on at the 11:49-13:00 mark about working with community members to combat the plant’s argument that they provide energy during peak usage so there won’t be rolling blackouts.

Nieto says “….we get down and dirty, we talk about your lifestyle choices, we talk about the fact that you need to drive three blocks in your car and drop off your kid, we talk about the fact that biking and walking is a better alternative, we talk about the fact of um how much prepackaged food you are buying and what are you feeding your family and your lifestyle choice in general. Are we being nosy neighbors? Probably, but the reality is that this is our community and we are going to fight for it, and if that means we got to get up all up in your business, we are going to that….”

[vsw id=”BLW_Blm8Dh4″ source=”youtube” width=”425″ height=”344″ autoplay=”no”]

So Nieto, who is tired of “depopulation and foreclosed homes” in her community, “just like most of us,” spends her time doing “real” work, like trying to change your personal lifestyle choices–and working to shut down an energy plant that employs 200 people and helps keep the lights on.

These are only three of the Reader’s twenty nine featured Chicagoans in this “People Issue.” There are others featured in the piece, like Jake Nickell, an entrepreneur/founder of Threadless.com, a successful online t-shirt company; Adolfo Mondragon, a public-interest attorney running for state senate and Yale grad; and Laura Ricketts, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs. There’s also a couple of the old “these are the people in your neighborhood types,” like the valet guy, and the fresh-fruit street vendor. But it’s surprising a quick browse through the google machine couldn’t turn up an Iraq war veteran who has started a successful business, a firefighter who has saved someone’s life, or even just an everyday mailman that loves what he does.

But then again, this is Chicago, “the belly of the beast”; maybe the Reader should have just taken a cue from Abraham and, rather than fill up an article with twenty-nine people they happened to aimlessly stumble upon, just shot for ten who are exceptionally worthy of recognition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.