In the Long Beach area, a grassroots and coalition campaign is taking place to clean up the air pollution and poverty in the local seaports. The air around the seaports is dirty because port truck drivers earn too little to buy trucks that would belch out fewer diesel particulates, tiny particles that contribute to cancer and asthma. The Teamsters union, environmental groups, and local residents have teamed up to form a group called the Coalition for a Clean and Safe Ports to persuade the Port of Los Angeles to adopt a far-reaching plan that bars old trucks from hauling cargo from the port and to find a way to buy new vehicles.
A study found that drivers earn around $9.50 an hour, ninety five percent do not have retirement benefits, and only ten percent have health insurance. Truckers work over 11 hours a day on average, and many work 14 hours or more. Most of these truck drivers live in the neighborhoods surrounding the seaports, and they and their families are deeply affected by the dirty air from the trucks. Many residents from these neighborhoods suffer from life-threatening diseases like asthma, bronchitis, cancer, and heart disease. In Long Beach, the percentage of children with asthma (17%) is almost twice as high as in the rest of the United States.
I learned about this issue because of my brother Arvin and his wife Silvia, who live in the area. They both are strong progressives, Arvin being a Green Party member and Silvia a progressive Democrat, and both have participated in protests against the Iraq War and for immigrants’ rights. They became involved in this issue because of the effects of the air pollution on their daughter. My niece has had respiratory problems for the length of her life, and her parents are fighting for cleaner air for her and for their friends’ children in the area. Here is a video of my sister-in-law asking for support of her congressional representative Laura Richardson.
I have asthma, and I don’t want my niece to develope asthma. I’m proud of my brother and sister-in-law are fighting for the health of the residents of their neighborhood. To see how you could help the Coalition for a Clean and Safe Ports, you could write to them at:
464 Lucas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90017
or you could email them at email@example.com to find out how you could help.
When I think of the activism of my brother and his wife, I think of something that Howard Zinn wrote about the patience required for activist change in his book You Can’t Be Neutral On A Moving Train. He wrote:
“Note how often in this century we have been surprised. By the sudden emergence of a people’s movement, the sudden overthrow of a tyranny, the sudden coming to life of a flame we thought extinguished. We are surprised because we have not taken notice of the quiet simmerings of indignation, of the first faint sounds of protest, of the scattered signs of resistance that, in the midst of our despair, portend the excitement of change. The isolated acts begin to join, the individual thrusts blend into organized action, and one day, often when the situation seems most hopeless, there bursts onto the scene a movement.
We are surprised because we don’t see that beneath the surface of the present there is always the human material for change: the suppressed indignation, the common sense, the need for community, the love of children, the patience to wait for the right moment to act in concert with others. These are the elements that spring to the surface when a movement appears in history.”