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Why Are Women Prisoners Battling California Wildfires for as Little as $1 a Day?

Jaime Lowe and Romarilyn Ralston interviewed by Amy Goodman and Juan González - Democracy Now, October 18, 2011

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we end today’s show in California, where raging wildfires have killed at least 41 people and scorched more than 200,000 acres—roughly the size of New York City. The fires are now the deadliest in California since record keeping began. At least 100,000 people have been forced to evacuate, with about 75,000 displaced after their homes and businesses were destroyed.

More than 11,000 firefighters are battling the blazes, and a number of them are prisoners, including many women inmates. In this clip from the film The Prison in Twelve Landscapes, an inmate with an all-woman crew describes being sent to fight a raging fire in Marin County.

INMATE FIREFIGHTER: My first day here, when I first got to camp, I got thrown on a fire. We had just got through orientation, and the horn went off. And I got thrown on the bus, and off we went, chasing the smoke. We’re driving up the mountain and seeing dirty burn everywhere. All of a sudden, there’s a 40-foot wall of flame on both sides of me.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s a clip from PBS’s Independent Lens, The Prison in Twelve Landscapes.

To find out more about these firefighters, we’re joined by two guests. In Fullerton, California, Romarilyn Ralston is with us, of California Coalition for Women Prisoners, the L.A. chapter, program coordinator for Project Rebound at Cal State University. Romarilyn experienced 23 years of incarceration. While she was incarcerated, she was a fire camp trainer and a clerk for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

And in Los Angeles, journalist and author Jaime Lowe is with us. Her recent story in The New York Times Magazine is headlined “The Incarcerated Women Who Fight California’s Wildfires.”

Romarilyn, if you could start off by telling us who is on the front lines? People might be surprised to hear that prisoners, among them women prisoners, are fighting California’s wildfires right now.

Final Straw: Autonomous Northern California Fire Relief Efforts

By Final Straw - It's Going Down, October 18, 2011

Listen and Download Here

I’d like to share a Final Straw Radio mini-episode, a conversation with Emilio of the currently unofficial Sonoma County IWW, or Industrial Workers of the World. This chapter doesn’t yet have an official charter but they were in the process or organizing one when the fires in Northern California started last week and have used this as a platform for fund-raising and trying to work out solidarity relief in Santa Rosa, the seat of Sonoma County.

For this chat, Emilio and I talk about the weather patterns of northern coastal California, relief efforts by the Red Cross and other NGO’s around shelter and care distribution, what their nascent chapter of the IWW is trying to do and related topics. To find more about their chapter, you can go onto Fedbook and stay tuned in the conversation for their relief phone number, a few material needs you can provide from a distance and ways to get involved if you’re in the area.

The alarming ties between Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels and his faux Marine Protected Areas

By Dan Bacher - Red, Green, and Blue, October 12, 2017

The deep relationship between the MLPA Initiative and Delta Tunnels is undeniable. In many ways, the neoliberal MLPA Initiative process, completed in December 2012, has served a template for the Governor’s campaign to build the tunnels.

In spite of some superficial differences, the two processes have been united by their (1) leadership, (2) funding, (3) conflicts of interest, (4) greenwashing goals, (5) racism and denial of tribal rights and (6) junk science. When people educate themselves on the undeniable links between the two processes, I believe they can more effectively wage a successful campaign against the Delta Tunnels and to restore our imperiled salmon and San Francisco Bay-Delta fisheries.

In spite of massive opposition to the MLPA Initiative by Tribal leaders, fishermen, grassroots environmentalists, the fake “marine protected areas” overseen by a Big Oil lobbyist and other political hacks went into effect anyway. I fear the same thing will happen in the Delta Tunnels struggle.

In  recent months, have seen a number of decisions, including the Delta Stewardship Council’s approval of the Delta Plan amendments,the NOAA Fisheries no jeopardy biological opinion, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s approval of a permit to kill endangered salmon and other species in the Delta Tunnels, that advance the California WaterFix proposal.

It’s like back in 2011 when after a couple of favorable court rulings, successful direct action protests and growing opposition to the MLPA Initiative, things went bad. The fishing groups lost a major lawsuit, the Fish and Game Commission backed down on their commitment to protect tribal gathering rights, and in spite of the Co-Chair of the North Coast MLPA Science Advisory going to prison for embezzlement of federal money from the Yurok Tribe, the faux “marine protected areas” went into effect anyway.

Nurses Call for Stepped Up Federal Effort on Fires

By Kari Jones - Common Dreams, October 12, 2017

WASHINGTON - With the death toll now topping at least 21 people, and fire officials saying the disastrous North Bay wildfires remaining far from contained, the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United yesterday called on the federal government for a far greater urgent response with additional equipment and firefighting personnel.

“The Trump Administration has been distressingly slow in taking the urgent steps needed to protect the people and communities affected,” said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of both CNA and NNU.

CNA RNs have been directly affected by at least six major wildfires that have raged in Northern California counties, as first responders, evacuating patients in two Santa Rosa, CA hospitals, and also dealing with their own losses. At least 15 RNs have also lost their homes.

Kaiser San Rafael RN Tara Williams described 100 patients being brought to her hospital by bus who “were all pretty overwhelmed and concerned about their homes, but we were giving them food and support and helping them get into a safe space where they could be cared for.”

Now in its third full day of battling the destructive fires, “we’re not going to be out of the woods for a great many days to come,” California Dept. of Forestry and Fire Protection head Ken Pimlott told the Los Angeles Times Wednesday.  In addition to the deaths, some 560 people are reported missing, a number partly due to loss of communication facilities, many people under evacuation order, and a total of 22 fires ripping through the state.

“With California officials fully engaged, and the fires still posing a major threat to lives and homes. But this is a national responsibility as well. We need to see immediate action from the federal government – as well as a robust commitment to rebuilding shattered infrastructure in the path of all of these horrific disasters,” said DeMoro.  

Trump’s proposed 2018 budget shows disturbing priorities at a time when wildfires are increasing, in part due to the effects of the climate crisis, DeMoro noted.

Under the proposed budget, the Huffington Post reported in July, the U.S. Forest Service would face a $300 million reduction to its wildfire fighting programs, another $50 million in cuts to its wildfire prevention efforts and a 23 percent reduction to funding for volunteer fire departments.

The State of Jefferson: a resource struggle centuries in the making

By Willie Stein - Legal Ruralism, March 3, 2017

Nestled among rich forests and steep mountains, the State of Jefferson is a quasi-mythic political dream for many of its residents in Northern California and Southern Oregon. In 1941, residents of the Siskyou mountains, disgruntled at the State of California's persistent neglect of critical road and other infrastructure and its exploitation of the resources of the area, made a theatrical show of 'seceding' from the state. They set up roadblocks to demand documentation of those entering and exiting, and hoisted a flag bearing a distinct "XX" legend to signify their double crossing by the governments of Sacramento and Salem. Today, that XX flag can be seen across vast swaths of Northern California and Southern Oregon to signify a contempt for the remote governments that residents perceive to control resources that rightfully belong to them. Residents are vigorously anti-regulation, and see themselves as the victims of the repression of the state. Jeffersonians rightly perceive that they wield little political clout in California, paying in more than they get back. Are the Jeffersonians the only victims in California's North Country?

The answer to that might start by examining their choice of name- presumably chosen as a nod to the small government, state's rights' oriented Thomas Jefferson. Having lived and travelled in the State of Jefferson, I can't help but think of another resonance, one not intended by the secessionists: That of Thomas Jefferson as one of the initial architects of Indian Removal. The State of Jefferson is laid over a complex patchwork of pre-existing tribal nations that occupied the land. Although the Jeffersonians often claim to be "native Californians", indigenous tribes such as the Yurok, Hupa, Karuk, Wintu, and many others long predate the arrival of Europeans. I can't help but see the State of Jefferson as a continuation of a long history of erasure of indigenous political formations by those of white colonists.

Diversity in California’s Clean Energy Workforce: Access to Jobs for Disadvantaged Workers in Renewable Energy Construction

By Nikki Luke, Carol Zabin, Dalia Velasco and Robert Collier - UC Labor Center, August 31, 2017

Executive Summary

Over the past decade California has emerged as a national and international leader in vigorously addressing climate change. Throughout this time one of the state’s key challenges has been to ensure that the “green jobs” being created in the clean energy boom not only have good pay and benefits but also are equitably distributed across the labor force. This report analyzes the degree to which California’s underrepresented and disadvantaged workers have been able to gain access to career-track jobs in the construction of renewable energy power plants. The growth of renewable energy has been and continues to be a key element of California’s climate efforts: policy-makers are now considering SB 100, which sets a goal of procuring 60 percent of the state’s electricity from renewables by 2030 and 100 percent from zero-carbon sources by 2045.

In California, the construction of renewable energy power plants has primarily been carried out under collective bargaining agreements, known as project labor agreements, which entail the utilization of the state-certified apprenticeship system. Apprenticeship allows entry-level, unskilled workers to obtain free training, a job, and a defined path toward a middle-class career. Until now, little information had been available to assess the extent to which disadvantaged communities are able to access this opportunity.

This paper uses two data sources on entry-level workers in renewable energy construction. First, we use data provided by the California Division of Apprenticeship Standards (DAS) on enrollment in the apprenticeship programs of three principal skilled trades unions (Electricians, Ironworkers, and Operating Engineers) that have built renewable power plants in California from 2002 through part of 2017. The second set of data comes from Local 428 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and concerns workers who built 27 solar farms in Kern County, totaling almost 2,000 megawatts (MW) of capacity between 2013 and 2017, which amounts to about 25 percent of the solar PV power plants installed in the state during this period.

California’s largest union opposes wasteful Delta Tunnels/ WaterFix

By Bob Schoonover, President SEIU Local 721 - Red, Green, and Blue, August 25, 2017

An open letter from the SEIU to the Metropolitan Water District Board of Directors

Dear Board of Directors:

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 721 urges you to oppose the proposal to build massive water tunnels in Northern California, known as the so-called California WaterFix. Our 97,000 members deliver public services in counties, cities, sanitation and water districts and non-profits across six counties including Los Angeles. Water quality is vital to our members both as residents and workers.

Fixing aging infrastructure for Southern California is linked with creating environmentally sustainable water capture at the local level. During the recent storms in L.A., the region enjoyed a deluge of rain that turned yards and hills green again. But we also saw the negative impacts to aging infrastructure, with road sink holes, emergency calls to Sanitation Districts and, most importantly, a rush of uncaptured water rolling through storm drains to the ocean.

We support efforts to capture our stormwater, and last month’s LA County Supervisors motion to determine an appropriate parcel tax to fund stormwater capture and water quality projects and programs in the coming year. We also support the partnership between Metropolitan Water District and L.A. County Sanitation Districts to build a new recycled water facility and upgrade our treatment plants in Carson and the City of Los Angeles, producing a new water source.

We support Mayor Eric Garcetti’s goals to increase reliability and double local water sources by 2035. The City of Santa Monica, the City of Camarillo, Ventura County Water, Orange County and L.A .County are also proposing similar efforts to increase local and regional water projects.

Neither the State nor Metropolitan Water District has released a credible financial plan on the real impacts to ratepayers, and there is good reason to suspect the costs will be much larger.

We oppose the so-called California WaterFix to build massive water tunnels in Northern California.

Cap and Trade: Jerry Brown signs his bill (and calls opponents political terrorists)

By Dan Bacher - Red, Green, and Blue, July 28, 2017

“California is leading the world in dealing with a principal existential threat that humanity faces,” said Governor Brown at the signing ceremony. “We are a nation-state in a globalizing world and we’re having an impact and you’re here witnessing one of the key milestones in turning around this carbonized world into a decarbonized, sustainable future.”

Background: Cap and Trade: “Yes, this deal sucks, but we need to pass something. Anything.”

Brown signed the legislation on Treasure Island because it was the same location where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 32 (the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006) that authorized the state’s cap-and-trade program more than a decade ago.

Schwarzenegger also spoke at the signing ceremony, along with  Senate President pro Tempore Kevin De León, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia and others.

Over 65 environmental justice, consumer and conservation groups strongly opposed the legislation that was based largely on a Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) wish list. Julia May, senior scientist at Communities for a Better Environment, summed up the many problems with AB 398:

“The Cap & Trade extension was written by the oil industry, is even worse than the current failed program, includes preemptions from local action, gives away so many free credits we will never meet climate goals, and allows oil refineries to expand indefinitely with no program for Just Transition to clean energy that is so desperately needed in environmental justice communities.”

Jerry Brown, climate leader or climate charlatan?

By Dan Bacher - Red, Green, and Blue, July 8, 2017

Brown made the announcement at a time when increasing numbers of Californians are challenging his  environmental credentials as he teams up with the Donald Trump administration to build the controversial Delta Tunnels and to exempt three major California oilfields from protection under the federal Safe Water Drinking Act.

“It’s up to you and it’s up to me and tens of millions of other people to get it together to roll back the forces of carbonization and join together to combat the existential threat of climate change,” said Governor Brown in his remarks on the eve of the G20 Summit. “That is why we’re having the Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, September 2018.”

“President Trump is trying to get out of the Paris Agreement, but he doesn’t speak for the rest of America. We in California and in states all across America believe it’s time to act, it’s time to join together and that’s why at this Climate Action Summit we’re going to get it done,” he claimed.

ILWU Local 10 Speaks Out Against the ORCEM/VMT project in Vallejo

ILWU Local 10 President Edwin Ferris speaks out against corporate greed and the ORCEM/VMT project - Fresh Air Vallejo, June 1, 2017

This is the powerful 2-minute statement from Edwin Ferris, President, Int’l Longshore & Warehouse Union, Local 10, at the May 30, 2017, City Council of Vallejo meeting. He spoke on the long history of ILWU in the Bay Area on- and off-loading ships, barges and rail cars. He told the City Council neither VMT or Orcem had ever contacted them. But stated that this detail was secondary to health of the vulnerable.

The people of Vallejo thank the ILWU-10 for their work on our behalf. And the volunteers of Fresh Air Vallejo would like to thank all of the organizations who have endorsed our research and eduction efforts for the past 20 months. Other great speakers on May 30th included the Sierra Club, Audubon Society, Migrante Napa-Solano and Voices of Vallejo as well as almost 100 individuals. To view the entire proceeding, please click on the City link and scroll down to the meeting date. Public comment start at 7pm and lasted until 11:30pm.


What premium do you place on the lives of the people of South Vallejo? - Fresh Air Vallejo, June 1, 2017

This is the 3-minute statement from Derrick Muhammad, Int’l Longshore & Warehouse Union, Local 10 Secretary and Treasurer, at the May 30, 2017, City Council of Vallejo meeting. A beautifully written speech that not only targets what we need to do now to stop the proposed VMT/Orcem private port and cement project—but also the problems we need to solve next for South Vallejo: Air, Food, Schools, Housing.

For more information, see this article.

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