In case you missed it, check out this thoughtful piece by Steve Early which appeared in Counterpunch. Steve was in Torrance, CA last month to speak at 350-person rally organized by Torrance Refinery Action on the third anniversary of a giant explosion at Exxon Mobil’s facility there. People were eager to hear about how Richmond is working to hold Chevron accountable for its pollution. His piece reflects on the continuing struggle to implement a just transition that provides both a cleaner, safer environment and keeps workers whole.
A Report From Torrance
Nothing ignites a local environmental justice campaign more quickly, in California, than a refinery fire or explosion affecting down-wind neighbors. Three years ago, an Exxon-Mobil facility was rocked by a huge explosion in Torrance, a city of 145,000 just south of Los Angeles.
According to a Justice Department lawsuit, the blast catapulted a 40-ton piece of equipment perilously close to a tank containing 50,000 pounds of hydrofluoric acid, a highly toxic and volatile chemical, used, with additives, in only two California refineries. If released in the air in large enough quantity, Modified Hydrofluoric Acid (MHF) can form a ground-hugging cloud, able to drift for miles. Anyone exposed to it would suffer choking, searing of the eyes and lungs, internal organ damage or possible death.
When the U.S. Chemical Safety Board tried to investigate this “serious near miss,” Exxon-Mobil balked at supplying data on cost-cutting measures that may have contributed to the accident or the health impact of showering Torrance residents with so much chemical ash. Some citizens filed a private lawsuit citing “numerous fires, leaks, explosions, and other releases of dangerous pollutants” in “an outdated refinery” located “in a densely populated area.” State regulators issued 19 citations against the company and assessed fines of $565,000 for its February, 2015 explosion.
Meanwhile, the narrowly avoided release of a hazardous chemical led to formation of the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance. With growing local and regional support, the TRAA seeks to eliminate MHF use, in any form, at the Torrance refinery, now owned by BPF Energy, and a Valero refinery in Wilmington, CA.
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The 2017 Bay Area Mural Festival brings together 11 master muralists and two East Bay youth groups through a series of artist residencies and workshops. This year, the festival comes to Richmond and culminates in the painting of 11 environmentally themed murals.
One of the murals is located on the Civic Center Street side of the RPA office/ Bobby Bowens Progressive Center (2540 Macdonald Ave.). Artist Carla Wojczuk 's theme incorporates environmental sustainability and housing justice.
On October 7, the Richmond Progressive Alliance Arts & Culture Action Team and the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (AEMP) hosted a Community Power Mapping workshop for Richmond residents which was incorporated into the mural.
Come on down and check out the mural’s progress! Even if you missed the workshop on Saturday, folks are invited to come inside the Bobby Bowens Progressive Center to add a story and location to the map. It can be a story of a memory, person, or place that they appreciate most.
And speaking of Bobby Bowens, last month the RPA co-hosted a great event celebrating the life, work and legacy of Black Panther Bobby Bowens. Bobby’s sister and niece were among the many who were gathered. True to the spirit of the Black Panthers, the event also included a giveaway of 100 care bags to those in need. Thanks to everyone who helped make this possible, especially Bill Jennings.
[Photo: sketch of housing justice mural, copyright Carla Wojczuk]
In the last few months, the RPA Outreach Team has been busy, making presentations up and down California, and to states as far flung as Texas, Connecticut and New York. Most of these meetings are with volunteers who are inspired by the RPA story and interested starting their own progressive organizations.
In addition, the RPA is making connections with organizations such as “The Incorruptibles,” a newly-formed group dedicated to supporting corporate-free candidates running for local office. The Incorruptibles are assisting the RPA in the production of a video describing the RPA model and message, which will be used to further our outreach efforts. In turn, the RPA has provided input into The Incorruptibles’ excellent new Guide to running corporate-free political campaigns.
The Outreach Team is also gearing up for the Soil Not Oil conference in Richmond on September 7-9, and for the California Berniecrats Convention this fall. Also stay tuned for details about a visit with David Zuckermann, Lt. Governnor of Vermont and member of the Vermont Progressive Party, which will be coming up soon.
Just a few weeks after the November elections, Kate Shea Baird of Working Families Party wrote an article titled America needs a network of rebel cities to stand up to Trump, in which she argued that “it will fall to America’s cities and local leaders to act as the institutional frontline of resistance against the Trump administration.”
But she is quick to point out that “cities can be more than just a last line of defense against the worst excesses of an authoritarian central government; they have huge, positive potential as spaces from which to radicalize democracy and build alternatives to the neoliberal economic model. The urgent questions that progressive activists in the States are now asking themselves are, not just how to fight back against Trump, but also how to harness the momentum of Bernie Sanders’ primary run to fight for the change he promised. As we consider potential strategies going forward, a look at the global context suggests that local politics may be the best place to start.”
Richmond has been one of the cities gaining national attention for its progressive politics. In a recent town hall, Bernie Sanders specifically gave a shout out to Richmond (the RPA is officially an Our Revolution affiliate), and the RPA Outreach team is busy giving presentations across the country to activists wanting to create durable progressive change.Read more
In this post-Trump era, the story of Richmond’s grassroots progressive activism continues to inspire people far and wide. The RPA Outreach Action Team has been busy responding to numerous requests to help fledging, volunteer-based grassroots organizations take off across the state and country. The team has already made some 35 presentations to local activists, and have another 30 talks lined up, including several in the Bay Area cities (Pacifica, Albany, San Pablo and Sonoma). In May, the RPA will be hosting around 75 local progressive activists from around the region to launch a Greater East Bay Progressive Round Table. This network will unite emerging progressive grassroots organizations to share experiences and collaborate.
And speaking of capacity building, in June the Bobby Bowens Progressive Center will be hosting a day-long training session as part of the “Movement Schools for Revolutionaries” series, put on by David Cobb, one-time Green Party Presidential candidate. Many of us know David from his long-standing work to end corporate personhood. The RPA Outreach Team will be sharing Richmond’s experience. Contact Luci Riley on Facebook for more info.
The team welcomes new members who can help further the work of the group, in particular people who can edit video and do internet research. Please contact outreachteamRPA@gmail.com if you can help.
During her recent visit to California, Dr. Maryse Narcisse, Haiti's elegant and humble presidential candidate of the Fanmi Lavalas party (the party of Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide), was welcomed to Richmond by progressive councilmember and former mayor Gayle McLaughlin and guests. Dr. Narcisse shared some of her experiences as a Haitian doctor and presidential candidate.
Dr. Narcisse advocates for community-based health care and education in a country where government is notorious for not working for the people, and economic conditions are the worst in the region.
With a population of 10.5 million people, 1% of the Haitian population has 45% of its wealth. Unemployment is reported at 45%, (more likely closer to 80%) and a continuous stream of Haitians flee out of the country on a path to Mexico headed to the US in search of employment.
To be a political organizer in Haiti comes at a price; no one hires you. Dr Narcisse, a highly trained public health medical doctor and a political organizer and coordinator of the Fanmi Lavalas party is excluded from working at medical institutions run by the corrupt government and the international charity organizations.
Last month, Action Team member Gayle McLaughlin made a presentation in San Jose, where activists agreed to start a South Bay Progressive Alliance. By 2018, the group hopes to launch several local city-based alliances in the area. The group is borrowing some tips from the RPA, including staying party neutral and supporting corporate-free progressive candidates running for local office. Gayle McLaughlin will also be making presentations in San Diego, CA; Vallejo, CA; El Cerrito, CA; and Oakland, CA. If you have friends and allies in those cities who may be interested in attending these presentations (or who may want to schedule one in their city), please email Juan at JuanReardon@sbcglobal.net . The Action Team will accommodate speaking requests as much as possible given time and money constraints.
Finally, the Sister Progressive Alliance Action Team is looking for volunteers to help present the story and the ideas that made the RPA successful. While the speakers in the Speakers Bureau are carefully selected, there are other important tasks that need to be covered – in particular, a volunteer videographer is specially needed at this time. Please contact Juan Reardon for more information: JuanReardon@sbcglobal.net
The RPA Outreach Team continues to respond to requests from groups of activists interested in starting progressive organizations in their own cities. March was as busy as ever. On March 10, Gayle McLaughlin and Juan Reardon made a presentation to a local group of progressives organizing Our Revolution San Leandro, which attracted some 10 people present from San Leandro, San Lorenzo and City of Alameda. The Team also shared the RPA story at the first meeting of the Pinole Progressive Alliance, which has a huge opportunity to elect progressives onto the Pinole City Council. The Outreach team has also continued to support the South Bay Progressive Alliance (which meets in San Jose). If you know of groups who may be interested in a presentation, please have them contact: outreachteamRPA@gmail.com.