‘It feels like we have to fight for everything’: West side residents voice concerns about mega festivals in Douglass Park


Jacqueline Cardenas

Attendees held up their green cards to show approval of timed speaker at a West Side community engagement forum.

The Chicago Park District held a community engagement forum on Aug. 24 raising West Side residents’ ongoing concerns about mega festivals, like Riot Fest, taking place in Douglass Park.

The meeting was held at the Douglass Park Field House and is among various listening sessions the Chicago Park District is scheduled to host. 

The open meeting occurred as the movement to remove festivals from Douglass Park gained traction among community members. North Lawndale and Little Village residents have complained about the public park being used by private companies—making the park inaccessible for weeks out of the summer. 

The meeting came weeks after a Riot Fest contractor was fired after racist commentary earlier in August amongst many other concerns such as the displacement of local soccer leagues, poor infrastructure care, noise complaints, and safety.  

“We want to hear from you, what ideas do you have?”, CEO and superintendent of the Chicago Park District, Rosa Escareño, asked attendees.

With hundreds of people in attendance, attendees could sign up for two-minute speaking slots. Many took the opportunity to voice their concerns about traffic congestion, lack of access to the park, public safety worries from inebriated festival goers and trauma hospital disruption. 

Local alderpeople accepted the invitation to relocate Riot Fest from Humboldt Park to Douglasss Park in 2015 and have been accepting political donations from the private company that hosts the festival. Thousands of people attend the festival each year with three days of general admission tickets starting at $299 plus additional fees. 

Outside the Douglas Park Field House community organizers collected petition signatures to keep festivals out of the park. (Jacqueline Cardenas)

Supporters and opponents of the mega festivals stepped up to the mic, yet a majority of speakers were in favor of removing Riot Fest from Douglass along with two other festivals, Heatwave and Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash.

Unéte La Villita, a West Side organization which disapproves of mega festivals, passed out red and green cards that attendees held up to showcase their support or opposition to the timed speakers. 

Attendees frequently waved their red cards in the air as their boos echoed the room, raising tensions and causing Escareño to intervene on multiple accounts. 

Standing against Riot Fest, 30-year Little Village resident Fanny Diego said she was at Douglass Park weekly to take long walks during her pregnancy when the Covid-19 pandemic first struck in 2020. 

She said she has only been to Douglass three times in the last five months because the park is often closed off because festival organizers are setting up or the festival is happening.

“It really throws off your entire summer,” Diego said. 

Diego said it’s important for children to have green spaces to play, making Douglass an essential park for families who live in homes without yard space.

“It feels like we have to fight for everything. If it’s not a school, if it’s not a hospital or this or that, everything feels like it has to be a fight”, Diego said. 

Speakers arguing in support of Riot Fest cited job opportunities and local businesses interests. 

Yolanda Armstead, a festival worker and a single grandmother taking care of three children with special needs, said Riot Fest gives her a chance to catch up on bills.

She said Riot Fest allows her to set aside money to buy food, pay for her children’s hair cuts or purchase clothes they need.  

“I’m trying to work with the best I have and everytime that Riot Fest comes it gives me a sense of relaxation”, Armstead said. 

Amanda Garcia said she also benefits from Riot Fest’s job opportunities because it provides her with a sense of community unlike previous jobs. 

“I come back to family, I want to come back to friends, I want to come back to my community”, Garcia said. 

Riot Fest scheduled to take place Sept. 16th through the 18th. 

An online petition against the festivals has garnered 1,500 signatures.

The next community engagement forum is expected to be held at DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center according to Chicago Park District community relations manager Maria Stone. 

Connect with Jacqueline Cardenas: @jackiecardenas_ | [email protected]