North West Indiana Organizing Representative for the Beyond Coal Campaign.
Growing up in Ottawa, Illinois, I was like any young person with a penchant for creativity. I spent most of my time enthralled with my imagination, creating works of art inspired by my surrealist heroes. I planned to pursue a career in art. However, in 2012, my entire life changed course.
One fall afternoon, I picked up the local newspaper from the kitchen table. A headline grabbed my attention “Citizens Speak Against Sand Mine Construction Near Starved Rock.” I could not believe it. The place that first gave me my appreciation for wild spaces was in danger of being forever changed. I researched with a frantic desire to understand what was being permitted – a 315-acre open pit mine would soon sit adjacent to the park. During this time, I also discovered my county has long been regarded as the “Silica Sand Capital of the World.” For example, Ottawa is home to the largest sand production facility in North America, U.S. Silica. Silica is predominantly mined for use in hydraulic fracturing. When inhaled, it acts as a human lung carcinogen and can be severely detrimental to public health and the environment.
I vowed I would stand up against this injustice. Not knowing a single person in the room, I appeared at an Ottawa City Council meeting and spoke out about the mine and its proposed transport operation. After I concluded my speech, the residents in the audience gave me warm nods and smiles. Those kind strangers would soon become my friends and comrades in our struggle against the mine. Unfortunately, we did not stop the project from going through, but I kept fighting. In the following years, I attended nearly every area meeting, hearing, and event concerning sand mining. Subsequently, I aligned with a concerned group of Waltham Township farmers and helped to found a nonprofit called Conserve Our Rural Ecosystem (CORE) in 2014.
After graduating from Illinois Valley Community College, I attended Loyola University Chicago in 2015. While in school, I gave my time and passion to the Chicago Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke. As co-facilitator, I work closely with residents of Southeast Chicago to educate and spread awareness about environmental injustices being committed in the region. In 2017, I graduated from Loyola University with a B.A. in environmental policy and received the Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores Award for Outstanding Leadership for my activities on campus and in local communities. Soon after, I was offered this opportunity to work for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Northwest Indiana. Being an Illinois girl all my life, I decided that it was again time to embrace change. I now call Michigan City home.
I hope my story will inspire others. Life is beautifully unexpected. Do not be afraid to be the new face in the room or the lone voice crying out in defiance. Together we will achieve a world not blighted by climate impossibility, but justice for all!
You can contact Ashley at firstname.lastname@example.org.