Protesting for Clean Air: An Interview with Greenpeace Activist Kelly Mitchell


Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in our first-ever Eco Youth Reporters program, conducted in conjunction with award-winning journalist Kari Lydersen, Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, and Imagine Englewood If, a youth services organization based in that South Side neighborhood. The Eco Youth Reporters program is generously funded by the McCormick Foundation:

In a recent attempt to shut down a coal-fired electric plant in the Pilsen neighborhood, Kelly Mitchell and seven others climbed up a 450-foot smoke stack on May 24.

Several youth journalists and I got a chance to interview the 26-year-old Mitchell at Yang’s Chinese Restaurant in the South Loop in view of the smoke stack. She discussed the story behind the Fisk coal plant and the thrilling climb and how she and her colleagues survived.

Greenpeace activist Kelly Mitchell reads her fortune. Photo by Tyreshia Black.

Mitchell and her team were arrested and charged with felony property damage. They had to attend a court hearing and Mitchell told us that the maximum sentence she could serve would be seven years.

Five men and three women (including Mitchell) stayed up on the smoke stack for 26 hours. They survived with only Cliffbar nutrition bars and bottled water. They used hiking tools to reach each of the platforms on the smoke stack. I wondered how was it possible to do such a thing?

“All of us did that type of climbing before so we were experienced and knew how to use the equipment,” said Mitchell.

While climbing the old smoke stack, the air wasn’t clear or breathable at all. Mitchell said, “We wore respirators to keep from choking and breathing in the highly polluted air.”

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