Posts Tagged ‘Port Arthur’

A Toxic Game – Basketball in the Shadow of Refineries

April 12, 2011 Leave a comment

In eyeshot and “smellshot” of both the Motiva and Valero refineries, Hilton Kelley talked about his history and the history of the Carver Terrace housing complex where he grew up.  He moved out of the government-funded housing in 1976 when his mom had enough money for a house, but when he returned in 2000, not much had changed except for the residents.  At the complex, we saw African-American families, little kids, senior citizens, and everywhere in between.

After his briefing we split off and tried to talk to residents who had seemed to disappear after our four matching vans pulled in.  Some groups had success in talking to people who returned to ask about our arrival, and a news crew tailing us tried tugging at heartstrings by recording a little girl and her mom during an interview.  Several of us set off toward the basketball courts where there was a game of basketball going on.

I played basketball with residents Dee, Dooney, and Jack, and Kate and Stephan from our trip and between shots and them taking us to school with their skills; we talked about the refineries and the pollution.  They seemed to know stuff was wrong, but there wasn’t much they thought they could do about it.  The refineries were necessary to the health of Port Arthur as a city but at the expense to the health of its citizens.  After sweating a little bit and starting to feel light-headed, we were brought back to reality by our group moving on across the playground.  After our goodbyes, we rejoined our group and continued our toxic tour of Port Arthur.

-Nathan Kaufman

Hoops with Carver Terrace Residents (Photo: Rosler)


A real eye-opening experience…

April 12, 2011 1 comment

This trip has been a remarkable journey through the eyes of another person in learning and acknowledging their daily lifes and struggles in the poor neighborhoods of Port Arthur and eastern Houston.  It greatly exceeded my expectaions that one would only imagine from reading or watching a film of the community’s struggle for a better life in the high concentrated areas of heavy (and dirty) industries.  To be able to talk with Hilton and Parras smack in the middle of their own environments is truly a eye-popping experience that allows for us to take in all the horrible sights, smells, and sounds that was thought to be unbearable to live in.  I cannot imagine myself allowing any of my loved ones to live in such a situation in the future.  Yet, those residents are too poor and working many jobs just to scrap by their daily lives… too busy to give thier time or money towards an united grassroots effort into making the community a cleanier place.  It is difficult for them to reform the political system to work towards the favor of the lower class, especially when there were no (or minimal) zoning laws set in place to prohibit the construction of industries right into the middle of a residential neighborhood.  The industries automatically doesn’t offer their aid in contributing to the community.  They give out minimal amount of money only when they encounter effective resistance.  We saw gas pipes trailing aboveground right across a local playground with the smoke pipes in the background emitting white smoke; the air was full of the sulfur dioxide aromas.  We saw a high school with all kinds of the petroleum industry-owned lines running underground through the school grounds.  We saw massive Valero tanks built right next to a tiny house whose owner refused to move out of his home that has been in the family for countless generations.

It is obvious that this has been a fight that can go on for a decade or more to get any real revolution for the better with cleanier (green) industries.  Those communities cann0t do the fight alone, but with an united front with some outside aid will they start to see some positive outcomes.  We need to be able to do effective and scientific studies/researching that would aid into the reform for a cleanier environment and a stronger enforcement of the Clean Air / Water federal acts.  They do not need only money from funds, but they need to advocate for improvements in their economic sectors that would attract more businesses/industries into the area for s stronger economic stability/sustainability that would eventually aid the community for a better and safer neighborhoods that any parent would feel safe to raise their families in.


April 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Justice is complex, multi-dimensional, and contested.  Whether one steps behind Rawl’s “veil of ignorance” or estimates costs and benefits with the utilitarian calculator, justice rises as an aspiration.  Another view of justice pivots on recognition.  That is, the act of seeing legitimacy in others’ claim, experience, or standing as the first step in addressing unequal distribution of social goods.  But even before that, there is another act necessary for recognition.  It is the act of bearing witness.  To witness is to see without power; testify without act. It is the simple, yet fundamental, step toward justice that we all have to take.  While I see injustice, I may not be in a position to change it.  But nonetheless, to witness offers a move ahead toward our aspirations.  Documentaries, poetry, photographs in some way or another bear witness.  Reflections on the photographs and comments from students after the field trip clearly demonstrate that we have moved one step closer to justice.

Juan Parras, TEJAS, 31 April 2011. (Photo Kristin McNabb)


Metal crushing facility in Magnolia community, Houston, 31 March 2011 (Photo: Brittany Sikorski)

Congratulations, Hilton Kelley, 2011 Goldman Prize Winner

April 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Congratulations, Hilton, for the 2011 Goldman Prize.  It was an honor to meet you and learn about your work towards environmental justice.  We look forward to working with you in future.

Goldman Prize Video

ABC Affiliate Houston (note: students in video from field trip!)

KUHF Report

The Washington Post (11 April 2011)

San Francisco Chronicle (11 April 2011)

Mediation on the Media

April 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Our class has investigated environmental justice and its multiple facets as a field of study, frame of social and political understanding, and as a social movement.  Several themes have emerged as we explore the history and documentation of environmental justice.  The media–its role as advocate and adversary– frequently appears in the EJ story.  In Sweet Crude, the media distorts, simplifies, and just simply misrepresents the Nigerian struggle for a clean environment  (and their fight against Shell’s collusion with authoritarian government at the hands of paramilitary thugs).  At times, environmental justice fights are “sexy.”   Yet, in Steve Lerner’s recent monograph Sacrifice Zones (2011) and other documentaries, the media offers a critical venue to change minds and perceptions of politicians and the public.  Woven into environmental justice struggles is recognition and claiming a voice; the media is a tool to carry that voice across space and time.   So, where is the line between voyeurism and reporting, or exploitation and representation?

Our visit to Port Arthur provided a glimpse into the relationship between the media and environmental justice advocates;  a television reporter and cameraman along with a major newspaper reporter recorded our visit.  Their presence poked a hole in our classroom “bubble,”  disrupted how we may have envisioned our field interaction with the community.  Some may have refrained from using cell phones for fear of being caught on texting on television. Others may have self censored questions being in the presence of the newsman.  Beyond this self-awarness, the media presence forced us to reflect on our own role as “toxic tourists.”  Are we just as voyeuristic, or the other side of the coin?  Does it depend upon how we conduct ourselves, or what we do with the information once we leave?

Cameraman, Hilton Kelley, and Student

A Radical Geography Community

The Channichthyidae

experiments in science

La Jicarita

An Online Magazine of Environmental Politics in New Mexico

The Trash Blog

Finding Away

Human-Environment Research Group

Geography @ Texas A&M University

%d bloggers like this: