Students distressed, inspired by tour
A group of college students from around the country take a toxic site tour with Wilmington activist Jesse Marquez. Part of a Sierra Club program, they journal their experiences and their directors describes the program they participated in.
Juan Martinez & Amit Rana
Eddie Torres and Sharon Cuenca stand atop Knoll Hill in San Pedro, overlooking the China Shipping Terminal.
SPECIAL TO THE SOUTHERN SIERRAN
In mid June, college students from around the state and nation convened in Los Angeles to take part in a week-long educational program which trained participants in grassroots advocacy and organizing. The students participated in team building and outdoor activities, heard from environmental leaders from around the world and took an environmental justice site tour.
For the second year running, the program partnered with the Coalition for a Safe environment for which Executive Director Jesse Marquez led a tour of industry operations and their community impacts in the San Pedro Bay area. These include oil refineries and the ports in what is known as a toxic or environmental justice site tour.
The tour was the emotional highlight of the week’s activities making what is sure to be a lasting impression. Students were able to see, smell, hear and taste the pollution and other negative environmental impacts port residents are faced with on a daily basis.
The week-long program, called “Building Bridges to the Outdoors, was started as part of Sierra Club’s Youth Leadership trainings to help create future environmental and community leaders. It teaches young adults, especially from underrepresented minority communities, about important environmental issues facing them.
The world is now facing unprecedented challenges from global warming. The training programs provide vivid examples of the issues associated with this challenge which were underscored again by the toxic tour. We are both grateful for the opportunity to tour such sites and inspired to action by what we see in the port community.
Juan Martinez & Amit Rana are the Directors to Building Bridges to the Outdoors Environmental Leadership Training in the Sierra Club
|Students walk along C Street in Wilmington toward an oil refinery—they are just one block away from the proposed TraPac shipping terminal project.|
Not in the woods anymore
My visit to Wilmington, California with Jesse Marquez was enlightening yet severely disturbing. I grew up in the woods. I grew up with fresh air and water, and like most of us, I took them for granted. When I stepped out of the van and onto the sidewalk, avoiding two small children on their scooters, I was immediately struck by the terrible air quality. My instinctive reaction to raise my shirt in front of my mouth surprised me, since I usually reserve it for unusable restrooms and walking behind a school bus, I watched as the small children cruised around the corner, and thought back to health class and the 65- year-old, two-pack-a-day smoker’s lungs they used to scare us.
The work Jesse is doing now is highly commendable. The fact that Jesse started local on issues affecting him, his family and his community, and now continues to spread the word and the power of grassroots organizing proves his efficacy as an organizer as well as the gravity of the situations he deals with. Environmental justice is an important issue, and the Wilmington situation is a perfect example of the often dangerous cycle of wealth and pollution creation that leads to the wealthy fleeing the polluted areas. Jesse’s response to this situation has been thus far effective and successful, showing both victories and growth in the organization he now leads. His work is inspiring, showing that no matter the circumstance, no matter the odds, hope should never be lost and help can always be found.
—Jesse Gosset-Tufts Univeristy
Injustice was disturbing
The Wilmington site visits showed me that it’s all real. I had been in the area before, but never actually seen and felt the affects of the oil refineries and harbor. The site visit was very visual. I knew the port was there but never really understood how big it was. It was very emotional to walk through some of the neighborhoods. As someone that lives in the area, it hurts to see people live like that. It is disturbing they only get away with this kind of injustice in a community like this.
—Marco Cano-California Conservation Corps
Makes me want to do something
I had underestimated the amount of pollution in the area. It literally made me sick. It seems like a huge responsibility for Jesse to take on. It made a huge difference to stop and get out of the vans and get the full experience. Just breathing in the air in the area, and seeing the refineries and abandon rigs and tanks made me very emotional but also makes me want to do something about it.
—Laura Ann-Henry- California State Univeristy Los Angeles
From depression to inspiration
At first, seeing the environmental injustice firsthand in the port community evokes feelings of depression and sadness. This community is being ruled by big corporations, and there are serious repercussions affecting its environmental quality and the health and everyday lives of its citizens. But being around Jesse and hearing of all the great work he is doing was very inspiring. I was motivated by hearing all the successes and accomplishments he has achieved fighting for the community. It makes all the trainings and classroom work real. To see someone putting words to action like that was the most important part of the entire training. The successes the community in Wilmington has had are a true testament to the ability of a group of concerned citizens standing up to big corporations and forcing the companies to take into account the community’s needs.
—Whitney Pearson- University of Oklahoma
Visit Building Bridges
For more information on the Building Bridges to the Outdoors project and the Environmental Leadership Trainings please visit: www.sierraclub.org/youth
From left, Rebecca Lauritzen, Johana Lozano, Amit Rana, Maria Diego, Britt Glass, Mimi Torres, Steven Furr.