Written by Andrea of Cullom Ave. December 14, 2020
Someone died on “my” stretch of the River this morning.
I believe it was the guy who had been sleeping in this tent.
This tent was the 2nd to show up under the bridge. It was set up pretty precariously, on an angle on the bank. There was another guy living there longer, in a gray tent set up well, hidden under the bridge. He seemed to have a pretty good system set up. There was one morning his shopping cart up top was full of firewood. The next morning he had a campfire going.
Other mornings I sometimes smelled a fire I couldn’t see. I think those fires were smaller. They smelled like they were built with wood he found, not “proper” firewood.
Yesterday morning, the first morning this orange tent was there, there was a campfire again. For the first time, there were voices coming from that fire. The way there should be around a campfire.
Today, the orange tent was at the water’s edge, on its side like this. I had worried it would slide. I had also worried it would draw attention – it was to the side of the bridge instead of directly under it, and orange. So when I saw the blue lights of cop cars, and then several people walking up from the water, I was sad to see what I knew would be inevitable – cops moving the guys along. They’d become too visible.
I was wrong. A man had died.
The cops didn’t like me talking to the other guy – the guy I think was there for longer and had the systems set up. They definitely wanted me to move along.
Their body language was a little less suspicious when I talked directly to them.
* Did someone go in the water?
* [[ slight nod ]]
* Have they been rescued yet?
* [[ slight shake of the head ]]
* Are they still in the water?
* [[slight shake of the head ]] “He’s deceased.”
I told the other guy I was sorry about his buddy. That I’d seen him in the mornings and I was rooting for him.
The cop clearly wanted me to move on.
I thought about going back with a cup of coffee and a blanket. The other guy was sitting on the ground wearing what looked like a pair of scrubs. Not warm enough for below freezing temperatures – especially if you’re in shock or if you’re damp yourself. I really wanted the cops to have given him a blanket.
I didn’t go back because I figured they would be gone by the time I got there.
Later on my walk I saw a muskrat hanging out on the tree that fell several weeks ago, while a couple seagulls called over head. I was reminded that the world keeps going.
And then I was reminded how easily we say that when we don’t know someone. Even if we’ve seen them every morning. And how impossibly hard it is to say that when it’s someone dear to us instead of a stranger.
And I thought of the nearly 300,000 strangers who have died in this country from COVID. People who are strangers – almost 300,000 deaths that I can feel bad about, and almost immediately wax philosophical about the circle of life or the turning of the seasons.
I expect very few people will show up to mourn the death of the man who died in “my” river this morning.
My point is simply this. There are too many people who have not gotten the deaths they deserved, and whose lives won’t be mourned the way they should. Their deaths aren’t less tragic, their lives not less deserving of mourning, because they’re homeless or because they’re part of a pandemic with numbers too big to get our hearts or our brains around.
A man died on “my” section of the river this morning. May he rest in peace.
Dear neighbors, A caring community responds to suffering.
Andrea wrote this piece, we thank her and are grateful.
Other riverbank neighbors left flowers at the bridge and shared stories of brothers and friends who fell into homelessness. How we tried to help, often for years and decades, painful witness to suffering.
As a community, Riverbank Neighbors have a longtime history of working for social justice and peace as well as environmental issues.
The more that class inequities make some callous, the more we double down and refuse to be separated from the refugees, asylum seekers, homeless, and dis-empowered. They are our brothers, our mothers, our kin, our human family.
Lets lead towards a better world.
You are invited to visit our social justice page, where we have collected information about how to help the plight of the homeless and measures which contribute to prevent homelessness, like the eviction moratorium and mortgage assistance and places to donate.
No! to Racism! Gather at the River today, Friday June 26th 5pm. Dear Riverbank Neighbors and friends, As you may have heard, we are organizing our response to the racist flyers, defaced Black Lives Matter signs, and graffiti that appeared in recent days on the riverbank path and neighborhood. The event will be 5pm today at Berteau and the river. Alderman Matt Martin will join us. Rain or shine. Bring placards and/or umbrellas with messages emblazoned.
Riverbank Neighbors has a history of activism around social justice issues. We show up at the protests, we organize, we participate in coalitions. We are more motivated than ever. Many in our neighborhood are activists, devoting much of their time, showing up at court rooms for those wrongly convicted (google Burge torture Homan if unfamiliar), showing up at BLM events, donating to support these causes, and working on these justice issues in other tangible ways. Lets do more. Usually we do our social justice organizing and activism in other organizations, but since this hit our community right in the heart, we are responding from our hearts. Please join us in taking a stand against white supremacy and for community. Alderman Martin’s message is attached below. This is a socially distanced event with masks.
The heat has been turned up, the daylight hours stretched out, the nights cool but short. This Saturday brings the Summer Solstice, normally a time when Riverbank Neighbors gather together to celebrate our Earth, our community, our work. But things are not normal. How can we share this common worldwide moment? Maybe a quiet early morning walk by the river? Maybe bring your clarinet or flute, your cello or harp, find a solitary space and play. Play for the children and the old folk, the lonely and the heart broken, play for the hope that we build into each day’s work, for the end of day, the arrival of night, the promise of a new day. When we carry the difficulties of this time, hot and heavy, and the hope for gentle rain and cool breeze, consider the snapping turtle that labored her way up the bank on Wednesday, found a spot into Amy and Paul’s front yard of , lifted her nose to the air, and dug out a bowl in which to lay her leathery eggs. She stopped every few moments to rest. She was working hard. If turtles could sweat, she would be sweating. Instead she would just stop and rest, her baggy skin covering powerful muscular legs. She finished her work, smelled for the river and pushed through the tall plants, under the fence, down the bank, over the rocks, and, one final pause, and tipped into the water. She surfaced briefly, maybe to say good bye to us? Or to the clutch of eggs that she entrusted to fate (and Amy). Our dinosaur friend, beautiful, powerful, without doubt.
Thanks to all that have labored at a distance to repair the two lower paths, dug out trails, watered plants, set up new fencing, painted and mounted new signage, hauled rocks and soils, built new storm drainage, pulled weeds and trimmed back the too aggressive plants. We have been thanked and graced by the appearance and songs of frogs, turtles, beaver and muskrats, night herons, indigo buntings, orioles, scarlet tanagers. Our need for company and contact, touch, builds, yet we remain cautious and careful to protect each other. Please wear your masks, keep your distance, wash your hands. We are awaiting delivery of wood chips. Once they arrive we can re-chip the paths and re-open, as one way paths. Chipping can be done at any time, so that we don’t bunch up. Stay atuned! Pete —
Dear Riverbank Neighbors, (msg from Jules) I hope you are well and safe. Two messages below: 1. The weekend on the riverbank 2. National Day of Action; We join the calls of our brothers and sisters across the city and the country for #JusticeforGeorgeFloyd#JusticeforBreonnaTaylor details below 1. Dear neighbors, this weekend a few riverbank neighbors will be working on the riverbank, following strict covid distancing protocols at various times. We will wear masks and appreciate if all visitors follow the rules and keep us all safe and healthy. Many people are enjoying the beauty of the river path and treasuring it more than ever, On the other hand, many of our neighbors are really upset about rude, destructive, and dangerous behavior. We are making more signs, have closed parts of the path, and may do more. We have neighbors who have serious health issues and we want to protect them. and their ability to go for a walk safely in the beauty of nature. Please help.
2. Riverbank Neighbors organizers and members have a long history of organizing and participating in protest for social justice and environmental causes.
Riverbank Neighbors: Please help us by reading the Riverbank Rules below. Dare we say that this is mandatory reading? If you’ve been walking the path all your life, or if you are new, either way, as we work to prevent the spread of COVID-19, none of this is obvious. Please tell people about the new rules and firmly but gently ask them to follow them. Nobody should be afraid to walk the path.
If we have more complaints we will have to close the path entirely for the rest of the stay at home order.
In order to prevent the spread of COVID-19:-Only go to the riverpath if you are willing to wait your turn and go slow, yielding, and social distancing more than 6 feet (people on the path would prefer much more). If you have a dog, it must be well behaved and on a regular length leash.
Important Details: -To prevent spread of the virus, it is vitally important not to enter the path unless you are certain you can social distance. Do not enter if there are aleady people coming your way, please yield to them. -To prevent destroying all the work Riverbank Neighbors have done, it is vitally important to stay on the path and not to create a situation where you might feel you need to step off the path because of overcrowding. -Lastly, Reigning in dogs: Dogs must be on a regular length leash. Don’t bring your dog on the path at all if your dog will growl and lunge at your neighbors. (that should go without saying, but sadly, it doesn’t). And please don’t get close enough to others that your dog might jump up on them (social distancing, good manners, being aware of others with possible health conditions). People who walk the path have written us describing reasons they need dog owners to be more thoughtful, sometimes giving reasons, like being unsteady and worrying a dog might knock them down, people recovering from cancer and barely being able to walk but being forced to deal with dogs jumping on them, people who’ve been bit in the past, and people with small children trying to avoid a bad situation. Sometimes its hard to empathize when your experience has been all good, but we need these rules to protect us because dog bites happen. Please help us to let people feel and be safe on the path again.
And we also want to ask that you all keep our sisters and brothers at the Englewood Veterans Garden in your thoughts and hearts. Our friend and fellow garden organizer, Cordia Pugh tells us of multiple community members and relatives who have died of Covid or who are in the hospital. Their community has been hit hard. Our hearts go out to them. Cordia Pugh co-led the city-wide community gardening workshops with us. They are also a Neighborspace garden. Our friend, Robin Cline from Neighborspace told me this week that many in community gardens across the city have been hit hard by the virus, few gardens are being able to start tending their gardens. When the stay at home order is safe, and we can safely go visit, we will bring a gift from our gardens to theirs. If you would like to contribute, please let us know.
Many thanks to all of you for your thoughtfulness, for writing to us, for your sign making, for the gardening and riverbank work.
A quick note here to acknowledge that many have been out working on the riverbank this week, repairing wall, planting, making fences, making signs- especially of note this week: Felix, Jeremy, Mike M, Inger, Holly S, Elizabeth G-B and family, and, of course, Pete. – all with masks and proper Covid safety protocol. Thanks to all. Be safe and have a beautiful day. -Jules (rules co-written with Pete Leki)
RIVERBANK NEIGHBORS I biked by the closed off loop path at Cullom. I saw two hipsters below, one standing on the retaining wall, one scrabbled up the bank digging up plants. At first I thought it was Holly, weeding. Then realized, No, it was no one I knew. I asked the woman what she was doing. “Foraging leeks!” she replied ingenuously. “First of all, I said, this path is closed to repair the damaged bank that you are climbing on. Second, these plantings are protected and were created by the community, and you do not have permission to take them, and Third, you are harvesting day lilies, not leeks. Smell them. They aren’t onions. Don’t eat them.”
The other day we were looking across the river at the Horner natural Area paths and you could mistake it for a dog park. Although there are clear signs at the entries, including ad hoc, home made, beseeching signs, dogs abound. Many, if not most, not even on leash. These places really need park rangers who wander the paths, patrol them and explain why dogs are a problem with ground nesting birds and other wildlife. Natural areas are so few. They are a refuge for migrating species and reptiles and mammals trying re-establish themselves in the Urban Wild. Off leash dogs, even “friendly” ones are a threat to children, who have been bitten, grabbed and freaked out by aggressive (playful) dogs. Please, spread the word. Some people don’t know how tentative these urban natural areas are.
Another other day we watched across at Horner, as a fitness buff decided to streak up the bank, off path, then trudge back down. The streak back up, and repeat, over and over, almost by definition destroying the banks integrity by killing off, trampling, the plants that keep it stable. Pllllease!
Today, we worked on the Cullom Street path (entrance for ONE WAY traffic). We installed a small fence to protect the upper bank, and posted some beautiful new signs created by Elizabeth G.B. and family on Maplewood. See photo attached. Previous beautiful signs created by Nicole, Salim and Deb of Hutchinson, have been blasted away by wind and rain. We need more signs like these for the other loop, and many signs that say: Stay On Path Stay Off Bank Don’t Pick flowers or poach plants Yield to other walkers on the path Stay on the paths, and keep your social distance. Stay off the banks! Do not climb and destroy rare and sensitive plant communities. On the upper paths, look before you go, and let oncoming traffic through before you continue. While we worked, we could hear a dad, across the way, trying to be the best, funnest dad ever, for his, maybe, four year old son. They cut through the brush, making their own paths in the wilderness. At one point, I saw the dad trying furiously to remove a branch from a tree. Finally successful, he used it to stick inside some sort of hole he had found in the bank. Maybe he was fishing for termites. Maybe he was telling his child, “Some kind of animal lives in there, let’s see if we can flush it out!” Next good idea came a few minutes later when the dad and child sat on the rocks by the wetland area. KAPLUNK! KASHLPOOSH!!! “Which one should we throw next. Oh! That one?” Kappplooosh!!! I called across and asked him to please not throw those rocks in. “Why?” he asked. I explained that those rocks were placed there to hold in the bank and that if he threw in 10, and another hundred people threw in ten, there would be no bank left. “OK” he said.
These times have brought many new and inexperienced people into the field. We need to find ways to explain and remind them, if these places are to survive and thrive.
————————————————– Riverbank Neighbors is a community-led organization. The ancient ecosystem was all but wiped out on our land, but now the river path offers a view of natural beauty very rare.. The riverbank in our urban neighborhood has been tranformed by our work, since 1994. Our community leaders are stewards of the ecosystem, with deep ties to the Environmental organizations in the Chicago area, especially the North Branch Restoration Project and Friends of the Chicago River. We gather seeds of precious, rare plants, spread them in nuturing areas, and keep the weeds away. Workdays include maintaining the paths as education and work centered aroud maintaining this example of our ancient native Chicago ecosystem. Many people have helped to create and maintain this 1/4 mile stretch of the Chicago Riverbank. The children of nearby, Waters Elementary, through the Mighty Acorn program with Ecology teacher, Pete Leki, have visited the riverbank here as part of their river studies for many many years. Countless volunteer groups have assisted in these efforts. Many many people have contributed to the beauty and we thank all of them. We seek kindred spirits, who like to garden, rebuild steps, or gather seeds and learn the nuances of the ecosystem. We invite artists, students, and community of all ages to find a place for themselves in our project. Check the calendar to join our riverdays and other events. **check back when the shut down is over** Till then, only our experienced crew will continue, as essential workers, maintaining the riverbank, keeping careful social distance.
Bird report from Sigrid:
Today was really fun. I birded the Horner Park side of the River this morning. I have never seen this many swamp sparrows at one outing before. They were everywhere. We have pretty much the same thing on our side. I had 2 towhees and a brown thrasher at the same time. S Here’s the list:
Canada Goose 16 6 goslings Blue-winged Teal 2 Mallard 7 Mourning Dove 1 Ring-billed Gull 1 Herring Gull 2 Belted Kingfisher 1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 5 Female Northern Flicker 3 Eastern Phoebe 1 Tree Swallow 5 Ruby-crowned Kinglet 5 European Starling 6 Brown Thrasher 1 Hermit Thrush 2 American Robin 14 House Sparrow 2 American Goldfinch 1 Dark-eyed Junco 3 White-throated Sparrow 16 Song Sparrow 5 Swamp Sparrow 15 They’re everywhere Eastern Towhee 1 Red-winged Blackbird 9 Common Grackle 13 Yellow-rumped Warbler 4 Northern Cardinal 2
OLD NEWS BELOW
Riverbank Neighbors has declared a climate emergency. As has our Green Council of the 47th Ward and now, today, the City Council of Chicago. To those who this is a shock, they have some hard realizations ahead, all necessary. To the rest of us, this is like rain (hope) in a time of drought (despair). With this resoltion, we hope, much action will result. As part of this resolution, there is more to communicate, more to listen, more work to do. But also the day to day regular work of Riverbank Neighbors continues.
So, we invite you to spread the word and join us Managing Small Native Gardens with Controlled Permitted Burns Thursday, February 27, 2020 at 6 PM – 8 PM Dear Friends, Waters School Gardens and Riverbank Neighbors will be holding a workshop:
“Managing Native Gardens in the City: learn how certified crews conduct controlled, permitted burns of small gardens in Chicago.”
Thursday, February 27, 2020 Sulzer Regional Library 6:00 – 8:00
Presentations, Video, and Roundtable to share information about this invaluable restoration tool.
This event was organized by Riverbank Neighbors members and organizers working under the group name, Beyond Today.
by John Bachtell Jan 27, 2004
About 35 community residents and children bearing candles gathered January 24 by the bridge not far from the North Branch of the Chicago River in Raymond Greenwald’s memory and to express outrage that his death had occurred.
Chicago-Raymond Greenwald, a homeless man, froze to death here under a footbridge in River West Park on January 18. His body was discovered by a group of 14 year olds out playing in the snow.
About 35 community residents and children bearing candles gathered January 24 by the bridge not far from the North Branch of the Chicago River in Greenwald’s memory and to express outrage that his death had occurred. “This homeless man is a victim of misplaced federal priorities. President Bush wants to go to Mars, yet we have people hungry and homeless here,” declared Julie Peterson, a leader of Beyond Today, the neighborhood peace group that organized the vigil. “We have spent billions on war in Iraq when our cities and states are in fiscal crisis and cannot afford basic services.” The costofwar.com Website estimates that $98 billion has already been spent on the Iraq war which could have paid for construction of nearly one million new affordable housing units. One of the youth, who discovered the body, Brent Childers, 14, said Greenwald’s death was “not right. They are spending money on different things and not spending enough on the homeless.” Another one of the youth said the city should be building shelters instead of more condos. Julie Dworkin of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless noted that Greenwald was not the only homeless person who had died this winter from the cold. Another man died during the same week when Chicago was hit by snow and sub zero temperatures. He had been living in an abandoned car when his space heater caught fire. Altogether eight people have died from the winter cold. “The Bush administration cuts taxes to the rich while it cuts emergency homeless assistance when the need is growing,” said Dworkin. “Mayor Daley and Gov. Blagojevich have all pledged to end homelessness and we must continue to struggle to make sure they fulfill their promises.” Greenwald’s death came on the heels of the US Conference of Mayors damning report, which showed hunger and homelessness on the rise despite claims by the Bush administration of an economic recovery. The annual Hunger and Homelessness survey noted that requests for emergency food assistance increased by an average of 17 percent over 2002, and emergency shelter assistance increased by 13 percent. The survey also noted cities are being overwhelmed by hunger and homelessness in the face of severe budget crises, which limits their ability to provide emergency assistance. A record 84 percent of cities had to turn away people from homeless shelters because of lack of space. This was up 38 percent over 2002 and the largest in seven years. Sixty-one percent of people requesting emergency food assistance in the cities surveyed held jobs. The report also revealed the crass indifference of the Bush administration when it comes to families and children. Fifty-nine percent of those requesting emergency food assistance were members of families with children. Peterson ended the vigil by urging mass voter registration in anticipation of the 2004 elections and the election of candidates who would address the crisis.
reprinted from Chicago Indymedia and People’s Weekly World.