by Keith Malik Washington, Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons
“The struggle to restore the soil and the struggle to create a just social order have up to now been carried on mostly as parallel political movements, without much mutual awareness, let alone collaboration, at the mass level. Such collaboration, however, or at least the striving to attain it, is the true centerpiece of Red-Green Revolution.” – Professor Victor Wallis, Ph.D.
Professor Victor Wallis. Ph.D., the author of “Red-Green Revolution,” embodies the theory, practice and scientific praxis which is needed right now in order to bring together anti-imperialist and environmentalist movements. It is this “collaboration at the mass level” that I am desperately and passionately attempting to advocate for with the offering of this essay.
Furthermore, it is most certainly imperative that we recognize that the prison abolition movement and the millions of prisoners housed in U.S. and European prisons are key partners in both the anti-imperialist and environmentalist movements. To ignore our incarcerated comrades is to exclude the most revolutionary element in this on-going struggle.
Back to back chemical disasters
Between late March and early April 2019, there were two significant chemical fires at two at two separate facilities which are both in close proximity to the city of Houston, Texas.
The first fire took place in the latter part of March at the Intercontinental Terminal Facility, better known as the ITC, which is located in Deer Park, Texas. ITC is a petrochemical company owned by a large Japanese imperialist multi-national corporation. It is noteworthy that Texas has some of the weakest and most lax environmental regulations in the United States and this is why many chronic industrial polluters flock to Texas in order to take advantage of the lack of accountability and oversight.
There was a threatening plume of dark smoke which hovered over the city of Houston and other portions of Harris County immediately following the chemical fire at Deer Park. This ominous chemically infused cloud went viral on social media.
When officials from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) were asked about the potential threat to the community’s health and safety stemming from the toxic cloud that loomed overhead, their initial response was “no worries.” The cloud posed no immediate threat.
The TCEQ is the Texas state agency which is on the “front line” of toxic disasters of this nature. The TCEQ is underfunded and does not have enough employees qualified to meet the ongoing demands from the chemical emergencies and disasters which have become common place in Southeast Texas. Agencies like the TCEQ and the Chemical Safety Board are supposed to work closely with members of the federal Environmental Protection Agency in order to protect all citizens from corporations who spew toxins into the environment – yet this does not seem to be what is happening.
What I have discovered is that former Texas Gov. Rick Perry created an environment and a political culture of deregulation, demanding no or very little accountability for large corporations which pollute the air, water and soil in Texas.
These policies or lack thereof have carried over to the administration of current Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott, and what we have found is that the most vulnerable and poorest communities of color in Texas are suffering horribly from this lack of transparency and accountability from chronic industrial polluters.
A couple of days after the Deer Park fire, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued warnings which indicated large quantities of benzine were in the air. The Port of Houston, which is one of the busiest ports in the United States, was closed for several days as millions of gallons of water had to be cleaned because toxic petrochemicals had polluted the water and posed a health risk to port workers and the surrounding communities. This was becoming a full fledged environmental disaster!
The city of Houston and the Deer Park area are home to millions of hard working, Spanish-speaking human beings. Harris County, which includes the city of Houston, is the third largest county in the United States and is larger than 26 states by itself.
Harris County Judge Nina Hidalgo saw the need for accurate information to be disseminated among the Latinx community. Judge Hidalgo took the initiative to craft audio alerts about the crisis in Deer Park in both English and Spanish. This made sense in order to get quality info and instructions to as many people affected by the developing environmental crisis.
An unintended consequence to Judge Hidalgo’s efforts was a social media posting from a Chambers County Commissioner by the name of Mark Tice, who posted, “Speak English! This is America!” This was in response to Judge Nina Hidalgo’s good faith effort to help all of the communities impacted by the Deer Park fire. When voting season rolls around, I highly recommend we all remember the name of Mr. Mark Tice!
Professor Wallis has done a phenomenal job addressing topics such as this. Situations where we clearly see the state and its agents creating mechanisms which leave a large class of poor people and people of color vulnerable to open attack from bigots and from imperialist multi-national corporations that have no concern for the health and safety of these populations. Their only concern is profit by any means.
Professor Wallis says: “One of the most potent charges, eliciting the strongest reactions, has been that of environmental racism. This phenomenon forces us to sharpen our understanding of the class divide.
“The concentration of toxins in communities of color is longstanding. What’s in question, therefore, is not whether race constitutes a pretext for assaulting communities (which it indisputably does), but rather the political nature of the mechanisms that have led to its being cast in that role.”
The comments by Chambers County Commissioner Mark Tice smack of bigotry, xenophobia and intolerance and provide insight into the MAGA philosophy and ideology promoted by U.S. President Donald J. Trump. So, this is an example of how public servants in Texas act?
I want to remind you that I cited not one, but TWO significant chemical fires. These tragic incidents took place within days of each other. On April 2, 2019, in the wee hours of the morning, a chemical fire started at the KEMCO plant located in Crosby, Texas. There was one fatality in this chemical fire. Harris County actually has a very experienced and skilled team of district attorneys who go after these industrial polluters who historically are not held to account for the toxins they spew into the atmosphere. These Harris County DAs immediately went after the owners of KEMCO.
It is important that I mention that in a rare show of concern for Texas citizens who fall prey to these bad acting chemical corporations, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton did file a suit against the ITC facility located in Deer Park, Texas. I strongly believe that public pressure and expansive media exposure led to this action from an attorney general, who has routinely ignored the threats to the health of poor people and people of color in the past.
Polluter in chief visits Crosby, Texas
On April 10, 2019, President Donald J. Trump arrived in Crosby, Texas. One would have thought he was there to offer his condolences to the families who had loved ones hurt and killed in the recent fire. However, that is not why he was there. I mean this would actually have made common sense to any objective observer who was informed about the recent events in Southeast Texas.
In fact, President Trump issued two executive orders in Crosby, Texas, which would prohibit and hinder concerned citizens and environmental groups from invoking the Clean and Safe Drinking Water Act in order to challenge or halt the construction of oil pipelines and other petro-chemical projects like fracking, which contaminate our precious water supply.
Trump made no mention of the fatality at the Kemco Plant nor did he mention the horrible disaster in Deer Park, Texas, which spewed unknown quantities of benzene and other toxins into the environment, damaging the fragile ecosystems and communities as well as harming the people who live in close proximity to the plant.
Trump as well as the mainstream media ignored the facts on the ground and fabricated an alternative narrative and created alternative FACTS. The media, rather than hold Trump accountable, seemed to be in lock-step with Trump and intent on engaging in the deception of the masses at large.
How do poor people compete with such high level collusion? Alexandria Ocasio Cortez has made the clarion call for a Green New Deal. The U.S. Senate virtually ignored this Green New Deal and has attempted to write Ocasio Cortez off as some type of “crank.”
This is what those who don’t feel threatened by the effects of climate change do and the inaction of these U.S. senators is placing our future generations in harm’s way! Environmental racism is rampant throughout Texas. But this is not exclusive to Texas; this is a national crisis!
Environmental racism – some facts and statistics
Black and Hispanic people are routinely subjected to more toxins and toxic environments than our white sisters and brothers. Non-Hispanic whites do not collectively come together in order to purposely poison Blacks and Hispanics but there are social-economic factors at play here. These are some bold statements, so let’s look at some FACTS!
A recent study published in “The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” reveals some alarming facts that must propel us collectively into direct action.
The study looked at who is exposed to fine particle pollution – which is responsible for about 100,000 American deaths a year. The study looked at how different races are responsible for the pollution based on their buying, driving and living habits – so in essence, the scientists studied socio-economic factors.
I want to get to the statistics which were revealed by Seth Borenstein in a short but powerful article simply titled: “Blacks, Hispanics breathe more pollution than they make.”
Mr. Borenstein said, “Scientists calculate that Hispanics on average breathe in 63 percent more of the pollution that leads to heart and breathing deaths than they make. For African Americans the figure is 56 percent.”
“On the other hand,” he continued, “non-Hispanic Whites on average are exposed to 17 percent less air pollution than they make.”
The co-author of this study is a biosystems engineering professor at the University of Minnesota named Jason Hill. Professor Hill, who is white, had this to say about the scientific data: “Even though minorities are contributing less to the overall problem of air pollution, they are affected by it more.
Professor Hill then asked: “Is it fair that I create more pollution and somebody else is disproportionately affected by it?”
Obviously, the answer to Professor Hill’s question is an emphatic “No!” The more pressing question is actually: “What are we, the aware and conscious environmentalist community, willing to do in order to address these glaring inequalities?” I personally know thousands of non-Hispanic white human beings who are more than willing to partner with people of color in order to address this situation – now!
What can we do?
I am a person of color who is active in the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons. I support the work of the Earth First! Collective and I strongly support and believe in the work of the Human Rights Defense Center’s Prison Ecology Project. I have a couple of suggestions to offer our environmentalist and anti-imperialist community.
My first suggestion is EDUCATION. We must collectively do outreach into effected communities of color that are routinely targeted and are victims of intentional acts of environmental racism.
In Texas, I know of an organization by the name of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Service or TEJAS for short! Our contact is a human being named Lucas, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Politicians in Texas conspire with industrial polluters in order to target vulnerable communities of color who don’t have the knowledge nor the resources to confront these multibillion dollar companies when they dump large amounts of toxic waste into their communities. Transforming this essay into a zine and getting it into the hands of people who will read it is a good start toward educating the people.
My second suggestion is to create LEGAL CLINICS in order to teach people their rights and to show them how to file federal civil complaints as well as state personal injury tort claims when they have been harmed or effected by toxins or other environmental hazards created by the corporations who have set up shop in their communities. At the very least, we should show disadvantaged communities how to obtain some sort of compensation for being subjected to these toxic environments and chronic industrial polluters!
Poor people can’t afford to just pick up and move every time an environmental disaster hits, which, sadly, is quite often in Southeast Texas. If these corporations knew that the community would hold them accountable financially, they would be more prone to ensure that they operate in a safe manner.
But the best solution is to SHUT ‘EM DOWN!
That leads me to my final suggestion, which is DIRECT ACTION! We must start to strategically organize protests at the front gate of these corporations that pollute our communities. We must stop all traffic in and out of these facilities!
We must invite members of the media as well as members of the community at large to participate in these actions. We must hold teach-ins in order to show members of the community how to effectively stop orderly operations of these bad actors!
I often take the collective and intersectional approach when I attack a problem because our chances of winning are increased exponentially when we come together for the good of all humanity!
And with that being said, I leave you with a quote to contemplate and meditate on from my comrade, mentor and friend, Professor Victor Wallis, Ph.D.:
“White supremacy, male supremacy, and heteronormativity are components of a larger system of power, within which each plays a strategic role, buttressed by institutions that are kept going because, in complex and sometimes contradictory ways, they reinforce the overall constellation of class power. Each of these lines of oppression has been disrupted again by determined collective action, but to dissolve any of them entirely would require a much broader transformation. It would require a culture in which domination of one set of human beings over others and over the natural world has to become unacceptable.”
My name is Keith ‘Malik’ Washington and on behalf of the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons I ask that you make a conscious effort today to become a positive and creative outlet for the culture change and paradigm shift that it is going to take in order to save our planet and preserve the human species. THINK ABOUT THAT!
Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win, All Power to the People!
Keith “Malik” Washington is a co-founder and chief spokesperson for the End Prison Slavery in Texas Movement. He is also a proud member of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee. Malik has been instrumental in calling for the abolition of legalized slavery in Amerika and is very active in the Fight Toxic Prisons campaign. You can view his work at comrademalik.com or you can also read articles and essays that he regularly writes for the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper. You can read his articles at http://sfbayview.com/?s=keith+malik+washington or you can write to Malik directly at: Keith Washington, 34481-037, FCC Complex USP, P.O. Box 26030, Beaumont TX 77720.
Soon after he wrote this, Comrade Malik was unexpectedly paroled from the Texas prison system, but he still has 18 months to serve in the federal system. Initially assigned to the big, notoriously violent high security prison at Beaumont, although he has no violence in his record, he and his supporters are working feverishly to have him moved, especially since he was badly beaten on Oct. 7 and is being held incommunicado – little or no mail in or out. As soon as he’s released, he plans to join the Bay View in San Francisco. We badly need his help and encourage readers to help us get him to safety. Read and follow the instructions at “Join the phone zap to move Comrade Malik, badly beaten, out of USP Beaumont.”