You are here

Solidarity is the new I love you

By Dano T Bob - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, December 15, 2015

Hey Kentucky, I’ve got good news for ya! The death of coal companies has been largely exaggerated, it turns out your coal companies are fine, they are just busy destroying Utah and Oakland now. Oh, and New Mexico and Colorado, too, just as they have destroyed the health and environment of Appalachia for decades. Now, after destroying Kentucky’s economy and abandoning communities via a vanishing act, and leaving that mess behind, we’ve figured out where they are and what they are up to, well at least one of them.

Bowie Resource Partners, a decidedly non union company, based in Louisville, Kentucky, has recently popped up in Oakland, California, with a plan to ship in their Utah coal via rail through working class communities of color in West Oakland to a proposed coal export terminal to be built for shipping coal to China, India, etc. Far from going out business, Bowie is currently expanding and buying new mines out west, while coal field communities in Appalachia are suffering devastating economic times.

I’ve previously blogged about this for OVEC back during the last Oakland City Council hearing, which was jam packed with hundreds of residents waiting hours to speak. It turns out that hot button environmental justice issues will do that. Yeah, it turns out that the health and environmental impacts of breathing toxic coal dust has a lot of West Oaklanders pretty damn pissed off. These same communities fighting against police violence to let the world know that #blacklivesmatter, now need to tell Bowie Natural Resource to respect black lives, black health and black neighborhoods as well. West Oakland was the birthplace of the Black Panther party, afterall.

Louisville, Kentucky, with the largest black population in the state, with many historically living in West Louisville, is no stranger to environmental injustice as well. The West End is not only home to most of the environmental hotspots in the city, there is also currently “a campaign to block recycling food waste into methane at a facility in western Louisville.” So, black lives are being disrespected in a lot of the same ways by similar corporate assholes from Louisville all the way to Oakland, and this has to stop.

So, how do we make it stop? Activists in Oakland are doing a great job pressuring their City Council to stop this Coal Export Terminal project and related coal trains. If you live in the area and haven’t gotten involved yet, do so now. February 16th is supposedly when the Council will make some sort of decision and we need as much pressure on them as possible up until then.

So, what can you do to help if you live in Kentucky or nearabouts? Well, first off, sign my petition to Bowie Resources Partners and let them know that you do not appreciate Kentucky companies polluting working class communities of color in West Oakland and tell them to cancel plans for this coal export terminal. After that? Plan your own action or campaign! We need all hands on deck.

Trust me, as someone from an area that at one point had the largest inland port in the U.S., due mostly to coal being shipped in via train and out via barges, the environmental and health impacts are no good. If you wanna look at why air quality in the Huntington, West Virginia area has been so bad until more recently (downturn in coal being shipped to power plants), and why the Ohio River is the single most polluted river in America, look no further than coal! A key component in the steelmaking process via coking, as well as burned in coal fired power plants up and down the river for generations, coal has quite literally ravaged this ecosystem and its people. Want some health impact data? Check out these disgusting numbers.

So, there are many reason that this coal export terminal is a bad idea for West Oakland. Beyond health and environmental impacts, there is also just the straight up economic argument against it. Frankly, this is a terrible economy plan for the Port of Oakland and the city.. This would be the largest coal export facility on the West Coast, which not much coal is shipped out of in general. And it would be built now, in 2015, when coal is a rapidly dying commodity and built in one of the most environmentally progressive states in the U.S. In Oakland, one of the most radicalized ports in the U.S.! Why, why, why?

While China mulls action soon to cap emissions and limit coal use, while ramping up renewable energy use, who is even going to buy this coal? Or do these coal companies just want to lock in a decades long deal for ports like this to get us on the hook to pad their bottom line, like chumps, as they know this is their desperate last ditch effort to sell people on their dirty, dying fuel? Doesn’t take much to figure out how this plays out, as corporate America has been playing these games with our communities for a long time now, much too long. So, let’s put an end to it.

Climate change, that is the biggest elephant in this room. Continuing to ship and burn coal is going to further the global impacts of climate change. California has already suffered the worst drought in recorded history, but it could get worse and this is something that no one needs, least of all the U.S.’s food supply. After the failure of the Paris climate talks to adequately address combating climate change, we will have to ramp up our efforts to fight these battles locally, as is the case with this coal export terminal project.

But, we will need everyone fighting together, from Louisville to Oakland and beyond. In the beautiful words of Shonda Roberts, #blacklivesmatter organizer and fired worker/organizer as part of the Fight for $15 campaign, “Solidarity is the new I love you.”

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.