by Marie Harrison
Hunters Point, San Francisco – On Saturday, Aug. 25, 2007, at high noon, community members, led by their children, hosted a protest at the PG&E work site. We demanded an open and clear process with active participation from and a safety plan for the community. When do we want it? Now!
In light of all the years of neglect and disregard for the health and well-being of our community, speakers declared: “No more look-good photo ops while community members who live within a 100 yards of the work site are left to fend for themselves and their children – at the cost of their health!” “I have my grandchild, who is on two inhalers. She has far too many other problems that must be dealt with – including just living here. I want her to have a chance to be healthy, now!”
The San Francisco Housing Authority, the Health Department, the Police Department – they can’t protect us. They say they try, but they put it on us to call in on who we might think is doing bad things in our community. Do they know this places our children in further danger? Do they know our children are way more afraid of these public servants than the bad guys?
Ms. Tessie Ester, resident and community activist, says, “The police say to us all the time that they can’t do their jobs because we won’t talk and tell on someone. Well, we ARE telling on PG&E … so now we tell them it’s your turn. Do your job! Do it now!” She went on to tell how every time someone up here gets sick, they call her or come by the house and that this is our community folks and they need help! If we don’t stop people like PG&E and Lennar, then what’s the point of us being here?
Now, did you know that the mayor and some of his folks had been holding meetings all over public housing, offering jobs and new programs – that are old programs that just didn’t work then and are not working now. They won’t listen to what we want or to what we truly need to keep us safe. Maybe we don’t speak English well enough or something.
One young man, who I guess has to be only about 17 or 18 years old, spoke up at one of the meetings. This young man’s take on the police and the city was simple: “If the police and this city really wanted to stop some of this violence, then they would stop making us sick, give us some jobs that would really pay a livable wage, actually use these cameras that they spent so much money on to stop whoever is doing some of these things – that is, if they really wanted to do something!”
It was the same mood in at least two of these meetings that I attended. One community group was doing what they could and was asking for help. They said, “We are surrounded by all this toxic mess and the mayor seems to think it’s OK. That is, just as long as it stays in Bayview Hunters Point.”
A mother and son stood up in one of the town hall meetings to tell everyone that they have suffered enough at the hands of the Lennar Corp. She said she was tired of their lies about the dust and what is getting into their bodies and the bodies of everyone in the community. She had only one thing to ask: “Why won’t they help us?” There was no answer coming from the audience.
But in this meeting of the community town hall – which happens every Thursday night at 6 p.m. at Grace Tabernacle Church, 1121 Oakdale Ave. – the leaders of the movement did give new hope and updated the people on their progress. In this meeting, no decisions were made without full approval of the community at hand. The new hope was clear.
Everyone agreed Lennar has to go. Word got out into the community that, ironically – thanks to the City and its Health Department – this community has come together for the first time in a long time and sounded the alarm! No more, Lennar. You and the city’s officials have messed with the wrong people!
One thing’s for sure: They all are in agreement that our elected officials have overlooked our health concerns and that this site needs to be cleaned up right and done to residential standards, and it needs to be done now. However, not by a company who has a history of bad cleanups, blatant disregard for the community it is working in, and who uses its political influence to side-step safety guidelines – which were set up with their agreement.
We want a cleanup, but not by a company that spends big money to separate a community, that pays off some ministers to not support the community, that uses lies and deceit to cast doubt on others in order to take the light of truth off them. We want a cleanup, but not from a company that’s a building conglomerate whose only concern is the money they might make.
We don’t want folks like these in our community. We don’t want our community divided by people who think only of money and how they can get over. We know that a community divided can never stand – we know that.
Then wasn’t the time … but now is the time! This is the place, and we must take a stand and hold on! If there is but one truth, it should be that we should not have to choose between a job and the health of our young, our elders, our seniors, our families. And no one else should make that choice for us.
Email Marie Harrison at firstname.lastname@example.org.