Óscar Sánchez is a community organizer from the East Side who announced his candidacy for 10th Ward Alderperson on August 11. When he decided to run, sitting 10th Ward Alderperson Susan Sadlowski Garza was expected to run for her third term, but in September, Garza said she was retiring.
Sánchez is known for organizing mutual aid, working with community groups like the Southeast Environmental Task Force, and participating in the hunger strike against General Iron. So far, Sánchez’s only opponent is Ana Guajardo (who the Weekly also interviewed in this issue). Sánchez said he has raised more than $20,000 in campaign funds.
The municipal election will take place on February 28, 2023.
What motivated you to run for 10th Ward Alderperson? What’s your background and experience?
The experiences I’ve gone through and the sacrifices my community endured where governments at all levels did not do what they could or should to support residents compel me to run for Alderman of the 10th ward.
I spent recent years building resources, relationships, and power for and with my community. I co-founded the Southeast Youth Alliance to change our community vision to what we the people could imagine. I also co-founded the Southeast Response Collective, a mutual aid network that collected and distributed food and helped the community to access COVID testing and essential services at the onset of the pandemic. My co-governance work continued in my role as Director of Youth and Restorative Justice Programming for Alliance of the Southeast (ASE) where I shared leadership with CPS students to redefine safety in our schools through a process that reinvested over $3.2 million into support services in Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
As a community we organized for our survival everyday during the pandemic, which led to the formation of the Stop General Iron Campaign, a coalition of groups and individuals that fought against a notorious toxic metal shredder that was seeking a permit across from two CPS schools. As residents, we saw city zoning policies allowing dumping into poor communities of color playing out once again. We encountered a difficult web of complexities with the city and mayor’s office. But what stuck with me the most was the response from within my own community.
Students, teachers, parents, and environmental leaders stood together to demand clean air and water. All of this collective struggle and organizing, which culminated with a thirty-day hunger strike, finally pressured [Lightfoot’s administration] to deny the permit for General Iron. What I learned was that people who went through this experience are what our representation must look like. This is what compels me to run for Alderman.
What roots or connection do you have to the 10th ward?
My family migrated to Chicago from Mexico, and like many other families, sought to pursue better economic opportunities. My parents bought a home and settled in Hegewisch, where I attended Henry Clay Elementary and graduated from George Washington High School.
I come from very humble beginnings, grew up in the 10th ward and have been rooted in social justice work from a very young age. The hardship of poverty created tremendous uncertainty in my life and so I made a commitment to improving my community.
As an Urban Planner for the Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF), I fight for sustainable development, clean jobs, and environmental and economic justice.
Living in the 10th ward is where I have roots and where I hope to have children who will also call the southeast side their home.
What are the biggest issues residents are facing in the Southeast Side that you hope to address?
The Southeast Side, like so many other communities across the Rust Belt, faces economic, political, and social deterioration and destabilization. Therefore, we have issues of public safety, related to economic insecurity and housing insecurity. There are food and transit apartheids with very few public services to address the root of the issues. In order to address these issues we must create co-governance so we all have a stake in outcomes. Co-governance and organizing are essential to building power and uniting our communities.
What kind of interactions or working relationships have you had with outgoing Alderperson Sue Garza?
Alderwoman Sue Garza, champion of labor and education movements, came into office in response to rooting out corruption in City Hall. Sue fought with the community in our fight to rid the Southeast Side of the piles of petcoke that once dotted the Calumet River and blew across our communities. But as the fight with General Iron intensified, rather than putting the health and wellbeing of 10th ward residents first, she prioritized the needs of a notorious polluter and refused to meet with the community. This was a reminder that the bar has been set too low for too long—we are deserving of leadership that will continuously fight for our right to live in a neighborhood in which we are safe to work, play and learn.
How will your organizing background contribute to the ward if you’re elected?
Having a strong organizing background is fundamental for elected officials. My work has intersected with aspects of improving the health, safety, and quality of life in our communities. In my current work I have built a network of organizations and community residents to address the pressing issues of sustainable economic development along the Calumet River.
I have fought and advocated for equitable policies, programs, investments, and representation for the hardest hit neighborhoods in the 10th ward. As a community organizer, my work has been rooted in addressing community needs. And if elected, my primary role is to be a public servant, while continuing to connect, build trust, and work with residents of the 10th ward to improve the quality of all our lives. We must be organized and we must use our organizing skills to build our power and unite our communities.
As (one of) the farthest area(s) from City Hall, how would you help your constituents feel included in government?
I have been working as the Community Planning Manager with the SETF, creating awareness and building on the expertise of community members on issues pertaining to zoning, land use, and community decision-making. Participatory Budgeting and Planning will be an important part of co-governing, if elected. My experience as a community organizer has helped to bring City Hall to my community so that folks understand their power and the obligation City Hall has to every community in the city.
How would you address the diminished public transportation services as they relate to the 10th ward?
With the expansion of the Red Line passing 95th Street we have an opportunity to reconnect our ward to the rest of the city.
Twenty-four hour public transportation is a necessity missing for 10th ward residents. Many residents working third shift in service jobs cleaning downtown offices need to be able to get to work. I will push for a Metra/CTA partnership so commuters can transfer from Metra to CTA without extra charges. I am committed to fighting for increased investments in CTA and ensuring clean, safe, and reliable public transportation so we have a city that is accessible to every ward. We need free public transportation for students, people with disabilities, and elders to ensure there is access for all. Lastly, investing in public transportation and shifting towards the electrification of buses will reduce dependence on carbon-emitting vehicles, which is paramount in our fight for clean air.
How do you plan to address environmental issues that have affected the area?
I plan to introduce the first Cumulative Environmental Impacts Ordinance within my first 100 days in office to prioritize the health and well-being of our residents and end sacrifice zones. I will work to restore the Department of the Environment and implement policies to shift us to a green economy with green jobs that pay liveable wages.
I will advocate for coordinated capital planning in water infrastructure investments throughout the city to expedite the removal of lead service lines, expand green stormwater infrastructure, and expedite the installation of water meters. I will work with state and city agencies to address the flooding due to climate change.
The impact of environmental racism has created some of the worst health outcomes for 10th ward residents compared to the rest of the city. Residents are overburdened by pollution. As a result, we suffer some of the highest rates of respiratory illnesses in the entire city. Access to universal healthcare is vital.
What are your thoughts about the current immigration crisis and how would you respond to that as alderperson?
United States immigration policy is built on racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy, and has only become more restrictive in recent years.
It is positive that Chicago enacted a Welcoming City Ordinance, however, it does not go far enough in providing resources to asylum seekers. Chicago must invest more resources to ensure that there are sufficient bilingual teachers, social workers, and therapists in our schools to support families seeking asylum. We must back our sanctuary city ordinance with meaningful services and funding to become a true sanctuary city that can welcome and support all immigrants and refugees.
The 10th ward is home to vibrant immigrant communities from Latin America, Africa, Jamaica, and Haiti. Thousands of Black residents arrived here [post-WWII] as their families fled the Jim Crow South and settled in this region only to encounter racism, violence, and housing discrimination.
Given the legacy of racism and white supremacy in the 10th ward, all residents must unite to fight for justice. I will work to build unity and solidarity among immigrant communities because our unity will impact the future. A united and organized community is a powerful community and this is what we need if we are going to reach the goals we have set for ourselves.
Correction, October 6, 2022: Post publication, this story was updated to reflect the campaign’s most current fundraising amount.
Francisco Ramírez Pinedo is a freelance web developer and a contributing editor for the Weekly based in South Chicago, covering labor, tech/cybersecurity, politics, immigration, arts, and design. He last wrote for Best of the South Side 2022.