From the September-October issue of News & Letters
Richmond, Calif.—On July 11 more than 13 unions and other organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area demonstrated against environmental exploitation and degradation of the “refinery corridor,” a 10-town strip of land—from Richmond at its south through Pittsburg to Antioch at its north—whose air quality is the worst in California, if not the U.S.
We were protesting bomb trains bringing Bakken crude oil through quake-prone communities, some of whose railroad tracks are built on unstable landfill.
At the kick-off rally in Atchison Park, Occupella entertained the crowd. The vice-mayor of Richmond, Jael Myrick, stated, “Atchison Village (a co-operative area) is in the Kinder-Morgan blast zone. We are not going to let K-M quietly bring these dangerous trains through our neighborhoods.”
Roger Lin, a lawyer with Communities for a Better Environment, said that for financial reasons there have been no shipments of Bakken oil by rail since November. He gave credit to protests, saying actions like this create risk for investors, and developers are temporarily stopped in their tracks. Then he led us in a chant: “If you build it, we will stop it; if you ship it, we will block it!!”
At noon, more than 200 people stepped off from Atchison Park for the 1.3-mile walk. The spirit and beat of the march was enhanced by a really good rhythm section, who never let up for the 45 minutes it took to walk to Washington Park.
We chanted: “Bomb trains, bomb trains, got to go! We the People, just say no!” “Our lives are on the line! Stop the oil trains, now’s the time!” and my personal favorite, “Enough with the pollution, we’ve got the real solution, down with corporations, up with revolution!”
At Washington Park a Native American ceremonial with sage smoke and prayers continued the observance. Gayle McLaughlin’s speech was one of the highlights. She made history as Richmond’s mayor when she and a coalition of political and private groups threatened eminent domain for the Richmond homes that were financially underwater. She said, “Never get separated from the progressive movement in your community. Those people on the city council who call themselves progressive have to do the right thing!” Brian Willis, a railroad man for 35 years, spoke against single employee trains and “limbo time,” i.e., making railroad workers take four hours off between 12-hour shifts.
The fear of future bomb trains was accompanied by present knowledge. We all got a palm card showing a youngster using an inhaler with the slogan “COAL SUCKS!” Coal Free Oakland is organizing against a California Capital and Investment Group project to export six million tons per year of Utah-mined coal.
Each time a coal-hopper rail car moves to Oakland, Calif., from Utah, it loses 600 pounds of coal dust. That translates into 60,000 pounds of toxic fine particulate matter entering our air and water for every 100-car trip. The climate-change implications of all that coal being burned, the number of asthma cases and other illnesses it will cause, the secrecy and broken promises, despite the fact that almost no coal is burned in California, make the coal-export project through the port of Oakland intensely repulsive.