(great report from Paul. – promoted by David Dayen)
“Goods Movement” Is Destroying Communities, From The Lungs Of Children Outward
A Growing Movement To Roll Back The Damage Took A Big Step Forward This Weekend
Cross-posted from Open Left
“Birth of a movement” is probably overstating it. Movements don’t really work like that. They come into being gradually, almost imperceptibly at first, and then go through succession of defining moments, not just one. But sometimes there comes a moment when those who have been acting separately in far-flung corners of the country come together, and know that from that point onward, they will never be that separate again. And that is not the birth a movement, it is, at least, the birth of a movement’s national identity. And that is what is happening in Carson, California, this Friday and Saturday: the joining together of activists from across the country fighting to defend their communities against the destructive side of global trade in perhaps its most concrete form-the destruction due to the physical movement of goods.
There were also some world-class health and environmental scientists on hand. You know. Reality-based community types. The usual suspects.
Modestly billed as “a conference on healthy solutions for communities impacted by trade, ports and goods movement,” the “Moving Forward” conference brought people from communities as far away as Maine-and even Barcelona-to the shadow of the Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex, which claims more than a thousand lives a year due to premature deaths from the pollution generated by the flow of goods pouring through it. Although the vast majority of participants came from different parts of California, others came not only from Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico ports, but also from “inland ports” in places as unlikely as rural Kansas, where Eric Kirkendall found himself threatened with being surrounded by a massive, multi-acre, diesel-pollution-belching warehouse complex. And they came not so much for raw information-readily available in today’s online age-but for the chance to simply gather together, share their stories, gain inspiration, make connections, and forge the framework for a movement that still does not even have a simple name.
We’ve Come A Long Way
Five years ago, when local activists opposed to the wanton destruction of unregulated port expansion held a press conference in nearby San Pedro, they were met with an angry contingent of workers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), and they did not really get any respect until they beat the Port of Los Angeles (POLA) in the California Court of Appeals.
But on Friday, the opening keynote speech was given by Joe Radisich, who not only is the ILWU’s International Vice President, but who also sits on the 5-person Board of Harbor Commissioners overseeing POLA. And Radisich laid it on the line. Longshore workers were amongst the most exposed to port pollution, and therefore had a strong commitment to cleaning up the industry they worked in. They knew from seventy years of fighting the industry that there would be pushback. There would be lawsuits, and there would be threats to move business elsewhere-which is why the battle had to become a national, even an international one.
“We have to start thinking on a national and a global scale,” Radisich said, warning of certain defeat, “if we don’t have a stragegy to help others.”
In response, audience members from both Texas and South Carolina personally asked Radisich to come visit their communities, and talk with labor leaders there. (The Atlantic and Gulf coasts are represented by another union, the International Longshore Assocation, but both are part of a larger worldwide association of maritime-related unions.) The dramatic shift on the part of the ILWU is indicative of a potential that is present everywhere. No one wants to sacrifice their health-or even more dramatically, the health of their children-simply for the sake of making a decent living, which should come simply at the cost of honest hard work.
Mothers and Children
In part because children’s developing lungs put them especially at risk, there is a deep visceral element to this struggle that easily transcends differences of race, ethnicity or language. One of the partner organizations involved in putting on the conference, the Long Beach Alliance for Children With Asthma, draws enormous strength from educating and empowering the mothers of children with asthma, first to help them learn how to care for their children, and then, if they wish, helping them to become powerful public advocates.
In a panel session devoted to success stories, LBACA program director Elina Green explained how LBACA began as a more-or-less standard service agency, but then developed a strong public advocacy program, realizing that such advocacy was absolutely necessary to protect the health of the children in their community. LBACA itself underwent a natural evolution from service to advocacy that direcly parallels the evolution of the mothers that it works with.
Here are two such stories, taken from “PAYING WITH OUR HEALTH: The Real Cost of Freight Transport in California, A Ditching Dirty Diesel Collaborative Report by the Pacific Institute, published in November 2006, which was part of the resource package for this conference:
Two Long Beach Mothers
by Oti Nungaray and Adriana Hernandez
RUMBLE, RUMBLE. That’s the hum of my community, so close to the nation’s largest port complex. The air tickles your throat, but my daughter and I are not laughing. We’ve been living in Long Beach for ten years. The doctor first diagnosed her with asthma when she was six. It’s been traumatizing to watch my child suffer. Through my involvement with the Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma, I’ve learned about managing my child’s asthma, including controlling triggers inside the home. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to control the environment outside, when you live next to the largest fixed source of air pollution in greater Los Angeles. I believe there are solutions to these problems. I don’t believe industry’s claim that reducing pollution will hurt our economy. These companies make a lot of money while I spend money on medicine and miss work and my daughter misses school.
I LIVE NEAR I-710: a parking lot of nearly 50,000 cargo trucks daily. Next door is Wilmington, an area pockmarked with refineries. We get hit with pollution from all sides. My youngest son was born with a closed trachea and his left vocal cord paralyzed; he still takes speech classes. He also suffered from severe asthma attacks. I had to medicate him and connect him to a breathing machine, feeling desperate that my child couldn’t breathe.
Lots of companies are making lots of money, while we pay for medicines, insurance pays for doctor’s visits, and the government pays when children miss school. These companies are selfish to not pay the pennies needed to help reduce this pollution. In doctor visits, medication costs, and a mother’s anguish, increased freight transport in Long Beach costs us too much.
Ports Move Inland
As the ports and port communities have become increasingly overwhelmed, some of the functions that used to be carried out on what’s known as “backlands” have been moved inland, five, twenty, a hundred miles or more, as told in another story from “PAYING WITH OUR HEALTH” by a legendary activist:
My story: Once-Rural Riverside County
by Penny Newman
I’VE BEEN A RESIDENT of the rural community of Glen Avon/Mira Loma for more than 41 years. Located next to Highway 60 and Interstate 15, our unincorporated area is the target of industrial development of massive warehouses and distribution centers. The expansion of goods imported into the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach has created a demand for rail hauling of goods that has led to the expansion of the Union Pacific railyard-now the largest auto distribution center in the world. In five years, our sleepy, agriculturally based community turned into a major industrial park. More than 120 warehouses have replaced cow pastures and vineyards. Our mountain views have been replaced by looming cement monoliths. The Union Pacific is now directly next to our high school. Hundreds of trucks park and idle 20 feet from the athletic fields where our children play.
The Inland Valleys of Riverside and San Bernardino have long had high levels of smog pollution, but recently the main focus has turned to particulate matter (PM). The World Health Organization (WHO) ranked us fourth in the world in PM pollution, after Jakarta, Indonesia; Calcutta, India; and Bangkok, Thailand. According to researchers at USC, the children in our communities have the slowest lung growth and weakest lung capacity of all children studied in Southern California. Asthma and other respiratory ailments are prevalent. Cancer risk from freight transport is 1,500 times the Environmental Protection Agency’s “acceptable” risk levels. With this development, our streets and rural roads have become danger zones. Residents must compete with semi trucks for space on the same roads. Horse riders navigate trails that now wind through industrial areas. Children who once enjoyed the open fields now are confined to their own backyards for recreation. We greatly fear the prediction that freight transport will increase exponentially. Our families simply can’t take any more.
Only now, some of those functions are moving more than a thousand miles inland, which brings us to Kansas, and the story Eric Kirkendall told the conference attendees, which is summarized on his own website :
My name is Eric Kirkendall. My wife and I have lived just outside of Gardner for almost 18 years. I have Master’s degrees in Urban Planning and Public Administration from the University of Kansas, but work as a manager of Information Technology.
I am a firm believer in a person’s right to do what he wants on his land – as long as he does not negatively affect other people. They can play music as loud as they want, they can pollute, they can have bright lights on 24 hours a day. That is land and their business. When those impacts cross my property line – that is another story. Then it is my business.
Until recently, that was hypothetical.
No longer. The first Intermodal-related development has been proposed on the land that surrounds our four-acre homestead on three sides. My wife and I are the first people so directly and closely affected by the Intermodal and the warehouses that will come with it – but not the last.
This might happen to you too, so I will tell you how this developer has worked. First, Paul Licausi of LS Commercial Real Estate offered to buy our property, and showed us a “site plan” (a drawing) that shows a road for diesel trucks just 10 feet from our eastern property line, and a 12 acre warehouse just ten feet beyond that. On the other side of our property was another huge 12 acre warehous.
I told him that we want to retire here in 7-8 years, and are not interested in selling now. I told him that I want him to follow good development standards so that can enjoy our property until then. In return for assurances of good standards, I offered to would work with him to assure our property could be integrated into his development at that time. I offered to guarantee him the right to buy the property.
I have told him that in person at our only meeting, and in several email messages. I invited him to my home to discuss it. I suggested we find a “win-win” solution that meets his needs and ours. He has refused. One of his employees said he will meet with me only to discuss my wife and I selling him the property. His development plans, if he is successful, will destroy the livability of our home.
So, my only option has been to approach the City of Gardner and to ask that they not annex the land that surrounds me until there are standards in place appropriate for a Mega-warehouse development. Everyone in the city agrees that such standards do not yet exist, and are looking into hiring a consultant to help them develop appropriate standards.
One thing I can’t convey so easily is how nonchalantly multi-racial and gender balanced the conference was. Which is only natural, given who’s in the way of limitless corporate greed. This is what America looks like. And it’s had enough of being shunted aside in the name of “progress” that doesn’t seem to be headed anywhere at all.
Welcome to the birth of a movement.
It wasn’t born, really. Like Topsy, it jus’ growed.