Showing posts with label STAND. Show all posts
Showing posts with label STAND. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

RURAL revisited

During the last week of March I returned to Eastern Will County for old times' sake during a recent trip to Illinois to visit my family. I hadn't been back since I moved away in 2005. 
 
As I drove through the so-called airport “footprint,” I couldn't help but remember years of effort by so many to put an end to what most thought was a nightmare from which we couldn't wake up.

It has been so many years since I’ve been involved in the State of Illinois’ effort to build an airport near Peotone, but one glimpse brought back all those old feelings – feelings I haven’t experienced fully since leaving.

I remembered so many meetings, protests, gatherings, picketing, speeches, interviews, and debates, as well as taking countless photographs, writing stories, and walking the fine line between activism and journalism. For so many years local news was often about the airport proposal. That was a difficult balancing act, but I felt such a passion for both, based on the people's right to know. It was a very busy existence, so it is no wonder I now relish my quiet life in a little house in the woods.

I doubt many folks in the area would even remember RURAL, an organization I co-founded with 13 other people in 1986 and organized on Aug. 2, 1988 for the main purpose of fighting the proposed Peotone airport. RURAL stood for Residents United to Retain Agricultural Land, the pre-cursor to the more recent STAND, Shut This Airport Nightmare Down.

The effort to stop the development of an airport is just as relevant today as it was then. Perhaps it is more so because if it was built, all that beautiful, fertile farmland would be decimated. It was my view then and remains my view now that food is a far better purpose than simply more convenient air travel. Replacing a food/farm economy with an out-of-place airport that may or may not be successful so far from the city center, and few seem to want, is simply as wrong-headed today as it was back then.

The airport was actually proposed by the state in 1968 as a rival to Chicago’s effort to build O’Hare. The attempt has had many revivals, but never panned out, probably because it was a foolish idea. Had it been the panacea it was touted to be, it would have already been built. Yet, it is my understanding; there are still a group of politicians that keep beating that dead horse.

When I decided to go back to my former home for a visit, I was compelled to fly into O’Hare, almost for old times’ sake. I could never count all the times I said, that instead of building a new airport, we need to expand O’Hare.

It was a wonderful trip, but I wasn’t prepared to revisit so many aspects of my former life nor experience a return of so many long-forgotten feelings.

I hardly recognized all the changes that had taken place at O’Hare. I grew up only a few miles from there. I first got a glimpse of the airfield when it was an Army Air Force Reserve Specialized Depot. My late uncle was stationed there. In those days, O’Hare was hardly the bustling transportation center it is today.

I remember going to the airport to watch planes take-off and land, a common social activity in those days. I also had a good friend who worked at a concession there. I often visited her. The entire airport was accessible in those days long before security checkpoints were mandated. When someone flew in or out of O’Hare, visitors could access the gates where they could wait for arrivals or say goodbye to loved ones. I recall when my brother, a U.S. Army private, flew to Germany where he would be stationed back in the 1970’s. I also said goodbye to a long ago boyfriend on his way to Thailand to serve in the Army. So many uniformed soldiers and sailors could be seen filling the concourse as they went off to fight in Viet Nam. 

I remember my nose pressed against the glass as the first Boeing 747 landed at O’Hare. That plane was huge, as it taxied toward the gate, getting so close it looked like it was going to break through to the inside. 

So, landing at O’Hare was exhilarating for me but as I traversed the airport site, my emotions were very different. One memory that instantly came to mind was the wasteful demolition of the first house the state destroyed in the airport site. It was a beautiful 2-story home. It was painful to watch the huge hydraulic claws tear into what once represented a family’s stability as well as future hopes and dreams. It was gone in such short order as the wrecking ball tore into the siding, roof, windows, walls, doors, cabinets, all salvageable pieces of a relatively new home.

I remember feeling powerless as Senators, Governors, airport consultants and economic development gurus treated residents who lived in the site like second-class citizens because they/we stood in the path of what they wanted. They used everything they could think of, including time and money to try to cajole people into supporting their efforts. Eventually people were worn down. Homes were bought out; some sold just to end the pain of years of frustration and anger. Some died as they stood their ground until the end of their lives.

I understand that some politicians still clamor to build the airport as a means to develop the beleaguered south suburbs. They still try, but little has changed in all these years. It remains a foolhardy idea with little basis of proof that what they envision would actually occur. There remains no need for an airport in the cornfields, despite their years of trying.

So as my plane took off from O’Hare, and I was on my way back home, I was reminded of how good it felt to leave it all behind. I put 20 years of my life into this battle. The fight still isn’t over, but it certainly will not by waged by me. There needs to be a new generation of Peotone Airport opponents, just to kill the project once and for all. Whoever you are, I wholeheartedly support you.