By Lynda Lopez
Riot Fest has been kicked out of Humboldt Park, but rather than leaving the city it is relocating to Douglas Park in the North Lawndale community. While I was happy to hear that Riot Fest was leaving Humboldt Park, I was not happy to hear that they had decided to move to a low-income, Black community on the West Side of Chicago.
This result echoed what someone had cautioned over when the fight in Humboldt Park had begun, “We want it out of our neighborhood, but we don’t want it to just settle into another community park in a poor, Black community.” It’s no coincidence that Riot Fest didn’t choose a park in, say, Lincoln Park; they know the community has money and influence and wouldn’t take their arrival as lightly. North Lawndale, on the other hand, doesn’t have the same resources. With a 92% Black population, 43% of residents in North Lawndale live below the federal poverty line – double the rate of the city as a whole. 45% of all households are on food stamps – nearly three times the rate of the city at large. North Lawndale residents have as much a right to access to their community park, but they don’t have the clout or money to be able to easily stop a powerful entity from settling into their neighborhood. Riot Fest strategically chose a place it felt it could easily exploit.
While Riot Fest was adamant about centering its festival on the gentrifying Humboldt Park community, it does not care to embrace North Lawndale in the same manner, at least not yet (we can be certain future gentrification in North Lawndale is in their interests). There is no substantive mention of the community on Riot Fest’s website, it’s merely included in a long list of “neighbors” of Douglas Park. The lack of focus on North Lawndale is a clear tactic to keep the focus away from the poverty in the community and, rather, on all the “hip” places in close proximity, such as Pilsen and Lagunitas Brewing Company. It’s wrong on so many levels to come into one of the most impoverished communities in the city and talk about nothing but the great tourist destinations in adjacent neighborhoods. It’s blatant exploitation of a vulnerable community. This aversion to centering the Black community also shows its intention to keep its concert-goers from encountering the larger world of North Lawndale, which will most certainly lead to increased policing and harassment for residents.
Many new challenges arise from Riot Fest in North Lawndale, many that I can’t even begin to comprehend as an outsider. Despite the work ahead, I hope North Lawndale residents and neighboring communities unite to address the arrival of Riot Fest. Residents have to show that Riot Fest can’t continue to impose itself on communities of color. Some, like the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, are already discussing the issue. Community members are the only ones that truly know what is best for their parks and neighborhoods and they can’t continue to be ignored for the interests of Riot Fest.