Saturday, February 23, 2013

Fence-line Community

Hi again, all - 

I read a profile in 'O' magazine entitled: 'The Avenging Angel', about a political activist named Hilton Kelley - who lives and works out of Port Arthur, Texas.  Though he grew up there, and moved away to pursue numerous other endeavors and jobs, one visit back home propelled him into political activism.  Quoting the articles' Author, in introduction of Mr. Kelley, he says this:  "What do you do when your hometown is dying-wheezing in the shadow of massive oil refineries spewing poison through parks and playgrounds around the clock?  If you're Hilton Kelley, you get angry.  Then you get smart-raising your voice, raising money, and raising awareness as one of the most effective, exciting activists of your generation."

Mr. Kelley is quoted as saying:  "Clean, breathable air is a basic, human right".  He's most astounded by the conditions of Carver Terrace, a federally subsidized housing project that was built in 1952 opposite the Gulf and Texaco oil refineries; Hence, the term he coined: 'fence line'community.  Any residential developments literally abutting acres-in this case, more than 7,000-of industrial might, hardly any distance between homes and toxic conditions.  "...People are breathing benzene out here," says Kelley.  "That's a known carcinogen (cancer-causing agent).  They're breathing sulfur dioxide, a toxin that messes with your respiratory system.  People call that the rotten-egg smell," which grossly understates the issue, making it sound more comfortably domestic than it should-inhaling sulphur dioxide feels like swallowing burlap.  "Clean, breathable air,"  says Kelley, "is a basic human right that folks out here have been deprived of."  There's no healthcare clinic here, either, in a region where pediatric asthma is common and the cancer rate is higher than in the rest of the state.  I think it goes without saying that the residents of this community are the most disenfranchised, the poorest, the least politically active, and environmentally educated.  In short, they don't know they're dying because of something they have to do everyday:  breathe.  They don't know that the powers that be make decisions about their lives, health and welfare for the economic benefit of their towns, to the detriment of them and their children.  It boggles the mind that someone - anyone - would intentionally poison a group of people for money.  So much so, that Kelley finds himself on a one-man crusade.  He observes that as the oil refineries grew, the land around them became less and less residentially desirable, although it continued to be developed through 1970 for low-income housing.  If that's not the very definition of institutionalized, economic racism, I'm not sure what it is....

I can relate to Mr. Kelley, his anger and his frustration.  As you might know from my previous blogs and posts, I myself live in public housing (subsidized by HUD), on a dead-end street, next to an industrial park with no less than 15 HAZMAT companies, across from an active landfill.  Our neighborhood is literally fenced in.  And, astoundingly, there are also several parks and schools within a 10 mile radius.  Coincidentally or not, you'll find very few white people living here (those that are are cops).  Most are 'minorities', with really no place else to go.  A friend of mine in the Mayors office told me once:  "David Skull is the place where they put you when they want to forget about you."  

For someone like myself, who is politically, economically, legally and scientifically educated - it hurts my sensibilities and insults my intelligence that here - in 2013, we still see the poor as 'sub-human', undeserving of safe, quality housing.  That our so-called political 'leaders' still justify their heinous actions as appropriate.  That to this day they bank on the ignorance and apathy of the poor, elderly and disabled to increase their personal and political cache.  Slavery is over, technically - but when one group benefits economically off the backs of another class or group of people - what is that - I ask you?

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