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101 3 Project Heat and Sensory Politics “Pay Your Bill” On the second Sunday of every August, the Bud Billiken Day Parade and Picnic snakes south through the South Side Chicago neighborhood of Bronzeville, thrilling over a million spectators along the way. True to the parade’s mission to showcase African American youth while getting them excited for the upcoming school year, drum-andbugle corps march in bright uniforms, flanked by dancers and tumblers who toss their flags, wooden bayonets, and bodies high into the air. But young musicians and hero acrobats are not the only ones parting the thick blue barbecue smoke that curls over the parade route. Media, spectators, well-known public figures, and the historical epicenter of Chicago’s African American political and cultural life all converge at “the Bud” to knit “Black Chicago” together, at least for the afternoon. Waving from floats and cars, representatives from local businesses, community groups, fraternities, and unions, as well as national and local political luminaries, all show up to woo the crowd. Yet if the Bud hands business, civic, and political leaders a platform, it also hands its tremendous crowd a chance to air their frustrations. At the 2005 parade, the usual mix of glad-handing and marketing met mixed reactions. I stood amid a group whose reunion T-shirts identified them as former residents of the Ida B. Wells Homes, one of Chicago’s earliest public housing projects and its first designated for African Americans.1 Wells stood shuttered along the parade route, awaiting demolition. A restless silence descended when a float covered in orange-and-white bunting stalled before us. It belonged to the Chicago Housing Authority and was festooned with smiling resident leaders and children who waved balloons and felt pennants 102 PROJECT HEAT AND SENSORY POLITICS emblazonedwiththeword“CHANGE”(Plate3).Asthefloatstarted to move again, the jeering began in earnest: “C-H-A wrecked my building!” “Get me off the wait list!” Or simply, “Boo!” The youngest children began to cry, but the adults knew exactly what to do. They led the children in a singsong chant: “That’s all right. That’s okay. C-H-A will save the day. That’s all right. That’s okay . . .” A float representing Commonwealth Edison, the private utility company that electrifies the Chicagoland area, came rolling not far behind. Led by a boisterous emcee drenched in sweat and charisma, ComEd employees danced on the float and riled up the crowd. “Make some noise if you’ve got lights!” the emcee shouted, punctuating the crowd’s cheers with fist pumps and hip swivels. “Make some noise if you’ve got AC [air conditioning]!” ComEd’s float soon met a fate similar to the CHA’s, when members of the group began to yell: “We’re hot!” “Give me back [my] AC!” “Cut my lights back on!” The emcee paused from his dancing, laughed, wagged a finger at hecklers, and sang, “Pay your bill, pay your bill, pay your bill! Pay your bill . . .” In Chicago, frustrations and debates about public housing reform, utility access, physical comfort, and consumer responsibility are more than a coincidence of parade order. Chicago’s brand of economic and racial segregation can make summer cooling and winter heating matters of life and death for the city’s most vulnerable citizens . The enormous death toll among elderly people from the 1995 heat wave, for instance, mapped cleanly onto impoverished, segregated , and underserved neighborhoods. As daytime temperatures soared past one hundred degrees Fahrenheit and hovered there for five days, some 740 people lost their lives.2 In the decade following that disaster, access to utilities to heat homes became a serious issue for those leaving the city’s public housing projects. This chapter follows thatissueasitemergedaroundthe lossofwhatformerresidents of the Governor Henry Horner Homes housing complex called “project heat.” Project heat, in their words, was a kind of heat that was “hot,” “free,” and “blazing all the time”—that is, it was intense, included in the rent, and on for most of the year. Like many CHA projects, Horner had its own heating plants. As residents moved into replacement homes in which they were required to control and pay for their own heat, many wrangled with unwieldy bills, utility shutoffs , and fears that they would be evicted for failing to manage their utility consumption. This chapter examines the political stances that took shape around 103 PROJECT HEAT AND SENSORY POLITICS project heat’s demise on the Near West Side. I approach this...


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