Los Angeles’ street heat “will overcome any tweet”
Eric A. Gordon/PW

LOS ANGELES—The heat on the anti-labor, anti-environment administration occupying the White House is still on the high burner. Two mass demonstrations in 80 degree-plus weather on Thursday, April 29th and Monday, May 1st continued to rally Southern California’s Resistance to the Trump regime. Both echoed similar actions in many cities around the country.

The People’s Climate March took place in the L.A. Harbor area, the nation’s largest port (think imports from China and other countries of Asia that provide cheap labor). The focus on the Tesoro Refinery in Wilmington highlighted the dangers to communities and the planet from our fossil fuel addiction. Tesoro is now in the process of a merger and expansion with BP Carson, making it the largest fossil fuel facility on the West Coast. Tesoro/BP plans to double the importation of dirty and volatile crude oils from Canada and North Dakota, the same environmental threats that inspired the movements against Keystone XL and the Dakota Access Pipelines. The Trump administration has greenlighted both these projects, reversing the halts ordered by President Obama.

Tesoro already represents a significant health and safety concern in its surrounding neighborhood. People “who live here near the Tesoro Refinery are on the frontlines—in the neighborhood known as the ‘sacrifice zones,’” said actor and activist Jane Fonda. “They and their families are the vulnerable victims of cancer-causing benzene and daily exposure to all the other toxins refineries spew into our air and water.”

Local environmental justice organizers cited high rates of asthma and cancer in these so-called “sacrifice zones.” Recent studies have shown that air pollution has been consistently underestimated in Tesoro’s project planning. Not surprisingly, residents of the area around the refinery are mainly people of color—specifically Latinos.

The march through these distressed neighborhoods attracted an estimated five to eight thousand protesters. The site was over 25 miles from downtown Los Angeles, where most political demonstrations take place. For many on the march it was the first time visiting and walking through these areas of Wilmington near the port at San Pedro. As community organizer Ashley Hernandez said, “Climate change starts in the hood.”

The message of local activism was brought home by more than one presenter who noted that this weekend was the 25th anniversary of the L.A. rebellion that followed the acquittal of the policemen who beat Rodney King to within an inch of his life. Policing in L.A. still has many problems but is much improved over those days when the police virtually “occupied” poor districts.

As one speaker from the Indigenous community explained about exposing children to environmental activism, “If we can’t show them that we care about the Earth, how can we show that we care about them?” Cindi Alvitre asked her audience to take a swig of water and hold it in their mouths while thinking this simple prayer: “I love you, I honor you, I acknowledge you.”

Kevin De León, president pro-tem of the State Senate, addressed the crowd with passion for the state of California. “We believe in science and action. We don’t wall it off and we don’t deport it…. We don’t believe in junk facts and pseudo-science.” With all its much-criticized energy regulation in right-wing quarters, California has more than 500 thousand new jobs in the clean energy field, far more than all the coal jobs in the entire country.

“California may not have been part of the history of this country at the beginning,” said De León, “but now clearly it is the keeper of its future.”

Many pertinent observations came from environmental defender Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. The price of solar energy, he reminded his listeners, dropped 80 percent over the last five years. While the coal companies are going bankrupt one after another, “the market is going to tell us to take the cheapest way.” But oil companies still get banks to fund fossil fuels, and “Exxon Oil is running the State Department.”

According to presidential adviser Steve Bannon, said Kennedy, the goal of the Trump revolution is nothing less than “to deconstruct the administrative state,” leaving a vacuum of power into which profit-making corporations are gladly preparing to move. Recalling the U.S. Civil War fought in large part to defend the Southern slavocracy’s capital investment and profit margins, Kennedy proposed that “we are fighting a civil war between fuels from Heaven and fuels from Hell.” He restated what Alicia Rivera of Communities for a Better Environment had said earlier, that our nation needs “a just transition plan to clean energy.”

Two days later…

An estimated 30 thousand workers, immigrants and their allies took to the streets of downtown L.A. to protest the new administration’s policies that threaten families, communities, and the best of American values. It was one of the nation’s largest May Day marches, characterized by a spirit of resistance, unity, and defiance. Nevertheless, organizers and the police department had been expecting larger crowds. Observers speculated that many undocumented immigrants stayed home out of fear.

The march began at MacArthur Park, where a tired-looking statue of Prometheus, the giver of fire to the world, still stands. It was erected as part of the WPA in 1935, a silent reminder of the vital role government can and must play in the revitalization of a nation. The marchers moved east on Wilshire Blvd., their chants and songs reverberating through the skyscraper canyons, to finish off with a rally in Grand Park with an impressive number of speakers in front of L.A. City Hall.

Circulating among the crowd were petitioners for Calif. Senate Bill 54, the California Values Act, to keep the state a sanctuary safe from ICE deporters. Members of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) also conducted an educational campaign about current efforts to unionize workers in Spanish-language broadcasting.

During the program, several speakers from labor and the community spoke out against hateful rhetoric and policies attacking the nation’s most vulnerable.

“We are at a crossroads,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA). “We are living in a moment when we should be asking of ourselves, What kind of country do we want to have? Most Americans are concerned their freedoms and liberties, even their well-being, health, education, and air we breathe, are threatened under this administration. We are joining today in resistance and every day after this as long as it takes to bring balance to the body politic. Our lives are not dispensable. Our families are not dispensable. Our future is not dispensable.”

“America is fueled by the contributions of workers and immigrants who keep our nation afloat. Together, we are sending one clear message to the current administration,” said Rusty Hicks, executive secretary-treasurer of the L.A. County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. “Our determination will stop deportation. Our feet will overcome any tweet. And our vision for what America should be will overpower Trump’s division.”

“May Day is a day for working people to stand up and fight together to improve our lives…. We are building solidarity across difference and uniting in our resistance!” said David Huerta, president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) United Service Workers West.

“On May Day,” stated Ari Gutiérrez, co-founder and advisory board president of the Latino Equality Alliance, “when we resist together we honor the intersection of our identity as immigrants and descendants of immigrants and we honor the diversity of our communities. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer-identified community includes immigrants, survivors, dreamers, college students, professionals and entrepreneurs. The LGBTQ community supports labor, immigrant and racial justice because those issues affect us too!”

“I’m marching today because my coworkers and I will never give up on our struggle to win dignity, respect, and a fair union contract at El Super, and I’m also marching because as hard working people, we contribute to America’s economy and well-being and we deserve to be treated as human beings not as scapegoats of failed economic and immigration policies,” said Fermin Rodriguez, a cashier at an El Super grocery store in L.A. and member of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 770.

“American workers and immigrants are being steamrolled by a president who is hell-bent on enriching the world’s most powerful special interests,” said Tom Steyer, NextGen Climate president. “In an economy that’s already tilted in favor of the wealthy and the powerful, Donald Trump’s massive giveaways to corporations and the rich will exacerbate this dangerous inequality even further. It’s time to fight for a just America where workers are protected, immigrants are treated with justice and dignity, and the wealthy pay their fair share.”

Several speakers addressed the crowd in Spanish, and many cited their indigenous origins. As one said, “Somos indígenas, no inmigrantes—we are indigenous people, not immigrants,” subtly erasing the importance of the U.S.-Mexico border in a few pithy words.

More than 100 organizations made up the 2017 May Day Coalition of Los Angeles, far too numerous to mention, but including a wide variety of ethnic, labor, immigrant, community, religious, healthcare, political, environmental, professional, women’s and LGBTQ organizations and non-profits. The Writer’s Guild of America, West, which today reached an agreement that barely averted a strike for a new contract in the film and television industry, also supported the action.

Contributors to this story include Gabriella Landeros of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Jorge-Mario Cabrera of Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), Marta Segura of the Center for Biological Diversity, Alicia Rivera of Communities for a Better Environment, and Jack Edit of 350 Climate Action.


CONTRIBUTOR

Eric A. Gordon
Eric A. Gordon

Eric A. Gordon is the author of a biography of radical American composer Marc Blitzstein, co-author of composer Earl Robinson’s autobiography, and the translator (from Portuguese) of a memoir by Brazilian author Hadasa Cytrynowicz. He holds a doctorate in history from Tulane University. He chaired the Southern California chapter of the National Writers Union, Local 1981 UAW (AFL-CIO) for two terms and is director emeritus of The Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring Southern California District. In 2015 he produced “City of the Future,” a CD of Soviet Yiddish songs by Samuel Polonski.

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