05 October 2013

Power concedes nothing without a demand...

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will- Frederick Douglass

Today I went on a port of Los Angeles tour with Liberty Hill, the foundation for which I’m on the board of directors. 

Liberty Hill gives grants to grassroots community organizations fighting for social and environmental justice in Los Angeles. Liberty Hill has been part of my life for six years and it has made me aware of issues that I had no idea existed because it’s very easy in Los Angeles to live in your own little neighborhood and never know that your neighbors 10 miles away are in a cancer cluster because of toxins being dumped in their backyards or that public schools in lower-income areas are serving children spoiled meat that’s making them sick. 

The tour focused on the health, social and environmental consequences of moving international freight through communities  (more often than not occupied by low-income people and minorities). We met with community organizations fighting to clean up their neighborhoods of pollutants from the ports and refineries that are connected to higher levels of respiratory disease in the young and elderly, increased cancer rates and cardiovascular disease, and greater chance of miscarriage. At one high school adjacent to the port in Long Beach, three out of five students have asthma. 

By good-old fashioned organizing: knocking on doors, letting people in the neighborhood know of the health hazards, and that they are not powerless against the corporations who employ many of the them, these organizations are making a difference. It’s an uphill battle. As the Douglass quote above states, power concedes nothing without a demand and every fight that Liberty Hill’s grantees take on has a David vs. Goliath feel since they are usually up against corporations that have endless resources and power.  But they are winning: whether it’s getting refineries to limit the flaring that pours toxins into the air or requiring the ports to use more electric power to lower the amount of harmful emissions. Often, it’s a matter of holding industry and government officials accountable for laws that are already in place. In doing so, they make the lives better for all of us in Los Angeles.

One of the organizations on the tour today was the Southern California division of Communities for a Better Environment, which works for clean energy and healthy communities. 

Among CBE’s victories are stopping the construction of a power plant in Vernon, Ca. that would have released 1.7 million pounds of chemical emissions and particles, as well as 2.5 million pounds of greenhouse gasses into the neighboring communities. CBE and its allies fought Chevron and kept the oil company from refining a dirtier grade of crude oil that would have sent pollution levels skyrocketing. The local victory helped keep Chevron from establishing a precedent that could have led to other refineries following suit.

Additionally CBE and its partners, according to its website, stopped two facilities from further releasing highly toxic chromium VI adjacent to an elementary and middle schools. More than 25 students and teachers at the schools had died of cancer.

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