T.C. Calvert Interview, Part 1 of 2

  • DT: My name is David Todd. I'm here for the Conservation History Association of Texas and we're in San Antonio. It's April 16th year 2002. And we have the good fortune to be interviewing T.C. Calvert, who's been a community organizer for many years here in San Antonio and in Texas and throughout the country and even internationally
  • And he's been involved in many issues from jobs to public health, but he's also been involved in a number of environmental problems. And I wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk to us about them.
  • TCC: Thank you, David, and your organization for coming and interviewing me.
  • DT: You're welcome. We usually start these interviews by asking you, "What might have been the first instance where you became aware and involved in environmental or public health issues?"
  • TCC: Well, the first issue that I came involved in with environmental and public health issues really is kind of two-fold. We had several issues that were impacting our community such as the proliferation of fuel storage gas tanks in our community where we had Koch Fuel Storage Company, which located its tank facility - fueling facility - next to Sam Houston High School.
  • We've also for several years have dealt with the Kelly contamination issue out at Kelly Air Force Base where we were working to get the fuel storage tanks taken away from the East Kelly neighborhood. Besides that, simultaneously what were doing with the dome dirt which was contaminated soil left by Alamo Iron Works within the Denver Heights community.
  • But the first time that I really ever got involved the environmental justice issues was fighting the Brown and Ferris Industries with a group called BEAT - Bexar County Environmental Action Team - which was a group that was organized to try to oppose the expansion of the Brown and Ferris garbage dump in East Bexar County.
  • That goes back some twenty years ago and since that time, that particular organization is organized with two or three different organizations which now is the Martinez Environmental Group, which has about 600 members - one of our strongest environmental groups in the City of San Antonio.
  • So I was always there organizing and doing research and doing the basic Organizing 101 with people. As you well know, we organize around peoples issues and those particular issues are-are issues that impact the particular neighborhood.
  • We've done health surveys, Mr. Todd. In these particular communities where we found out if there were cancer clusters around Sam Houston High School and in the Hines subdivision in East San Antonio.
  • And that was one of the things that caused us to really go out and organize the residents is we found out they would come to us and say "Hey, we don't have any smokers in our family but all of a sudden because of the pollution within our community, we have a lot of people who are dying of cancer within our neighborhood. We have people who have skin rashes."
  • San Antonio, Texas is well known and statistics show through health surveys as well as through the San Antonio school district that a lot of our children within our community have serious asthmatic problems
  • and it's been a problem that has been going on for years within our community, and that is due not only to automobile pollution but also from the smoke stacks that come from the City Public Service smoke stacks here in the City of San Antonio
  • which it is a coal-powered plant which is one of the - it spews out tons of toxins yearly within our community. So with the down draft of the Gulf of Mexico, wind blows up from the southwest.
  • You know a lot of that pollution comes into our neighborhood and it cooks during the warm summer months over a lot of the neighborhoods so
  • there are varying environmental justice issues that we've had in San Antonio. I'm pleased to say that the Neighborhood First Alliance and the San Antonio Coalition for Environmental Economic Justice which I am a part of has been involved in a lot of those issues
  • where locally we have begun because, as us old timers get old, we go off the scene we have to develop new leadership.
  • So we've organized a Neighborhood First Alliance Environmental Youth Brigade and the Youth Brigade has been in the forefront dealing with the global warming issue within our state
  • specifically with Governor Bush before he became President. We wrote and we had a number of actions asking the TNRCC [Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission] to come up with a global warming plan for the State of Texas.
  • And in San Antonio we basically had our young people which led that charge. A young man by the name of Juan Fallon (he's one of the people who should be part of this interview), a young lady by the name of Linda Jefferson who fought with the Mitsubishi Mitsui plant which tried to locate in our community.
  • So there's been a number of environmental causes that we have been involved in and none of them really just came about - this one came about this year. This one came out that year
  • but the first one we really ever worked on was the garbage dump, BFI, which probably has the biggest history and the longest history of the fight where they have tried to expand that particular issue.
  • But locally we've been involved in the contaminated soil. We've been involved in lead-based paint issues. We've been involved with the Basse Truck Lines which pollutes the neighborhood that I live in with dust clouds.
  • Just recently, they we're fined by a Austin judge of some $34,000 to clean up the dust within their community.
  • The issue of City Public Service has been a on-going issue. We've been able to sit down with City Public Service for them to start the weatherization programs and also to try to reduce its emissions yearly in polluting our community.
  • And as well there's just numerous other issues probably that on a local level which is so many to talk about Kelly Air Force Base is a long time issue that we've been involved in as well.
  • DT: Why don't you take an example of BFI and the landfill that seems like it was a long running problem? What the health threats were? The environmental threats? And how you tried to organize to address that?
  • TCC: Well, what we did is we organized the residents and the residents came together.
  • There was a lot of enthusiasm from the Martinez Environmental Group which is headed up by Mr. McKenzie and Jay Ross and the mayor of China Grove, Dennis Dunn. Just too many numerous people to name that came together to try to oppose this particular issue.
  • We went to Austin before the TNRCC with five bus loads of people. What we basically did is we had sign up sheets. We made it fun for people to go up there.
  • We sung songs on the bus going up. We sung songs on the bus coming back. We made placards. We did t-shirts.
  • The Martinez Environmental Group was a very successful of setting up one of the best web sites of any environmental group I know of in the state of Texas.
  • They gotten over 50,000 hits on this particular website even from people from as faraway as Switzerland and Australia and London.
  • And this particular organization in my opinion raised the $50,000 just to pay for legal expenses, just to fight the TNRCC, by just having a steak and shrimp or lobster fund-raiser out at their church there in the China Grove area.
  • So basically, it took a lot of door knocking. It took a lot of going door-to-door with fliers. It took organizing at the school base level. It took organizing within the local business community.
  • So what we put together is a coalition of mostly rural Anglo residents coalesced with urban African-American, Hispanic groups which came together in a coalition to try to have some power to deal with the garbage expansion issue
  • And that's been unheard of in a lot of communities. So I'm proud to say that the Neighborhood First Alliance joined in coalition with the Martinez Environmental Group in opposing this issue.
  • As we sit here today, we're still very much involved in making sure that this dump is not expanded.
  • There's been numerous health problems within this community; stench and odor. We don't even know if the BFI people have a fire plan, but basically it's been a David and Goliath situation.
  • The BFI people are the biggest financiers of the administration that is presently in government and they give a lot of money to the state legislators and to a lot of the political elected officials.
  • And this is where sometimes we run against obstacles. So the major issue that we're dealing with is policy and rules and regulations.
  • They have the high powered lawyers. They have the engineers. They have the consultants. And basically what we build on is basically people power, because we don't have the money that they have to go up against them, so basically what we do is we organize around the people.
  • DT: You said that in organizing against BFI you were able to bridge the differences between the Anglo community and the African American community and the Hispanic. How did you manage to do that?
  • TCC: Well, it was very easy because all the communities - the people who live in this community - saw this as a economic threat to their community as well as a health threat to the community.
  • This community that we live in today, David, will never prosper because this particular organization, the BFI garbage dump, has stymied economic growth within our community for years.
  • I mean for the next hundred years my grandchildren, your grandchildren, their children's grandchildren will never see this community flourish economically because of a garbage dump that's been put in its community that looks like Mount Trashmore.
  • Now no one wants that to be in their community. So this is what brought people together.
  • Not only the health concerns, but people had the visions to see that the economic impact will be devastating to this community in the long term.
  • You know there was a mayor in our city by the name of Nelson Wolf.
  • On the last day he was in office, and I say this to the listeners and the people who are viewing this program, on the last day in office, usually a mayor is gone.
  • They've already cleared out their books. They've already moved out their furniture. They're somewhere in Hawaii on a beach, or somewhere on the coast.
  • This gentleman called a special meeting on the last day he was in office to give BFI garbage dump people a contract to continue to expand and bring trash to our community on the last day of office.
  • A special meeting. It just boggled our mind and it caught a lot of us off guard and this gentleman is now the county judge of this community and a lot people of this community really don't respect him
  • because of what he did and allow this company to have a special meeting to allow them to expand and to give them a contract for continuation of dumping trash in our neighborhood.
  • So these are the kind of games that the political process plays because we don't have the $5,000 or $10,000 contribution to give to these people.
  • All you have to do when you look at BFI is look at the money trail. All you have to do is follow the money trail and the money trail simply shows you that
  • they basically give a lot of money to different political people for them to win and do what they have to do and so that is one of the things that we're up against.
  • It's because they help change legislation on the national level, on the state level as well, on the local level.
  • This is where they use a lot of their influence so the only way we can influence is just organize the people with Basic 101 organizing by having house meetings, by having community forums, by educating the people to the detriments of how these particular companies impact our communities for years to come.
  • DT: Can you give me an example of how you use this people politics in another instance like the Mitsui Industry?
  • TCC: Yeah, Mitsui is a company that wanted to locate in the Hein subdivision within East Bexar County
  • which is in the Pfieffer school district, Sam Houston High School District, primarily located off Interstate 10 which is a major interstate that runs east and west in our country and Interstate 35.
  • Hein subdivision sits by most of these freeways. It already has the cumulative affect of Koch, of Chevron, Texaco. All these fuel storage gas tank companies are already within this community
  • And there's grain companies, and then there's, you know, die-casting of very pungent smell companies like Aztec Ceramic and Tile. Companies, like that which basically make hides for - they take hides with formaldehyde and just really puts off an odor that would just knock you out.
  • Within this community, they we're already over-saturated with a lot of toxic chemical companies.
  • So the Economic Development Foundation, which is a very powerful organization in the city which gives tax payers support from all the seventeen rich people that run this city
  • 'cause San Antonio is basically run by seventeen rich Anglo men. It's not really run by the mayor. It's not really run by the county commissioners. It's not really run by the school board. It's run by seventeen powerful men who are bankers, developers, communication experts. These are the people who actually run the city.
  • And basically, they got together without talking to the neighborhood and said "Well, that's a poor community. They're not organized. They don't really vote. It's a poor community, so lets put Mitsui right there in their neighborhood"
  • which had an apartment complex, the Dietrich Road Apartments - I'm thinking that's what it was called at the time; it's changed names - the Hein Subdivision - which is a retired neighborhood, mostly Anglo, African American and Hispanic families.
  • They wanted to put this aluminum die-casting plant within this neighborhood with out actually talking to the community.
  • What they did is in the community what we call the Willie Lynch Syndrome and basically what they did is, they went and talked to several African American leaders who would, you know, basically side with them on this issue
  • and felt like they had had approval without talking to the neighbors.
  • So basically, we organized with the churches the neighborhood associations to oppose this company.
  • We we're going up against the Chamber of Commerce, the City Counsel, the bankers - every powerful group in this city, we went up against.
  • This rag-tag army of residents like a David and Goliath situation.
  • What happened is we we're like bulldogs. Once we latched on to these, once we bit in to them, we never would let go.
  • So we opposed their permit. Every time they came up to the TNRCC, we opposed it.
  • Mitsui is the 24th richest company in America - not in America but in the world; excuse me, in the world.
  • They're into shipping. They're in the insurance. They're in the Mitsubishi cars and everything.
  • And so we basically organized. We had church meetings. We went door to door. We did health surveys and found out there was a problem with cancer within this particular community.
  • There's a cancer cluster. Most of the people we surveyed, only two of the households had smokers who died of cancer.
  • Most of the people over there, we don't know what they died from, but we think it was the cumulative effect of all the toxic chemical companies within this community.
  • So by organizing the people from the grass roots level, by giving them the power and telling them to be persistent, we were persistent in making sure that Mitsui did not locate in this community.
  • And we were very successful of them not coming into the community. The most people said "You opposed good jobs. You opposed a company that was going to pay good benefits."
  • No, they were not going to pay. They were only going to pay these people $6-$7.00 an hour to work in a plant that had temperatures over 100 and some odd degrees for people.
  • And so we basically opposed this plant, and we're we were very successful with it. We still have people today that hate us for it.
  • They don't like us because we opposed this particular plant, but it was a victory for the community and it was a victory for the people. They could have put it anywhere else except next to our schools and next to our neighborhoods.
  • DT: You said earlier that this neighborhood is also home to a bunch of fuel storage facilities that I think Koch is one that you all were involved in fighting. Can you tell me about that experience?
  • TCC: Well, wow that's a - that's one that really amazing stories. You know Koch Fuel Storage Tank has one of the worst track records in the country.
  • They've been sued by the Justice Department. They have had a lot of upsets within their community.
  • What we did is we organized the East Houston Estates and East Gate Community in making sure that this particular plant was not located next to Sam Houston High School.
  • And basically what happened is (without the community knowing), the community basically was duped because Koch, as you know, had good lobbyists.
  • They hired the best lawyers. They had the best consultants. Plus they made the financial contributions to different people within in the community that would not oppose them.
  • They made contributions to school for computers and carpet, things of that nature. They would buy tickets to the NAACP banquet.
  • They would buy tickets to a group that would have a banquet to honor different people within the community.
  • So, they had a way of isolating and neutralizing certain people within the community and they still do it today as we speak.
  • This company fuel line runs all the way from Corpus Christi, Texas all the way to San Antonio.
  • And it's a major fuel line that services a lot of the jet made fuel that goes to mostly the airplanes and the jets that we fly everyday.
  • So they're a major operation. They're a very powerful organization within the United States of America, but they have located within walking distance next to Sam Houston High School which is in our community.
  • If there's ever to be a major upset - and human error is what you have to look at.
  • Mostly when these companies locate to your community, it's never really about how safe the company is but what human error can happen to do an upset.
  • So, our community is very disturbed and very unhappy and very angry about the fact Koch Fuel Storage Tank has located within the Sam Houston High School neighborhood and next to Jeff Davis High School.
  • If that company was to ever blow up, people would just be fried chicken.
  • One of the things we fought for was to make sure there was a exit route out of this neighborhood for people to escape.
  • We were able to get us the city council to pass a ordinance or a bond to have a street put in that if there was ever an upset that they should get out without having to go toward the particular facility but go away from the facility.
  • And so that was one of the things that Robert Dawson and the members of the San Antonio Coalition for Environmental Economic Justice worked on.
  • And so we worked with the-the Fire Department and the City Council to make sure there was an evacuation plan for this particular neighborhood.
  • And we hope that the school district has the same sort of plan for this particular community because this particular community sits in the path of danger everyday, especially with our school children being just yards from this particular facility.
  • It wouldn't have happened in any other community on the north side or in a rich neighborhood like River Oaks in Houston, or Highland Park in Dallas, or you know or somewhere up at the north side of Austin this would never happen.
  • But they saw that the community was not organized. They saw that the community had a low voter turnout. They saw that this community had no political influence.
  • So what they did is they put this facility right smack dab next to a middle school, S. J. Davis Middle School, and Sam Houston High School.
  • So, we still have to be vigilant and make sure we monitor the stuff and make sure they follow all the safety procedures as they stay in our community.
  • DT: You talked about several companies Mitsui and
  • TCC: All the big ones.
  • DT: I wonder if you could talk about one of the public companies, I think its City Service
  • TCC: City Public Service.
  • DT: City Public Service that has a large power plant and how you've tried to work with them to clean up their operation?
  • TCC: Well we started off with a very adversarial role with City Public Service in San Antonio.
  • Basically because we wanted to make sure that there were people on that board that represented the wills and the wishes of the constituency of this particular area.
  • They finally set it up by district support groups.
  • Basically what has happened with City Public Service is that we actually took over one of their meetings that they had at their facility out on the east side because we felt like they were not listening to us and we felt that we had offered them an opportunity to come and talk to us about how they would lower their emissions.
  • And basically the powers that be at this particular company kind of just blew us off. They felt that well this is just a bunch of radicals. This is just some loud mouth group of people. These people were communist and these people were this and they're that which is not true.
  • We're basically all American citizens trying to protect the health and well being of our communities.
  • We feel that not only is automobile emissions that come out of automobiles on our streets and our freeways everyday is a part of the cumulative effect of toxins and emissions that pollute our air, but we also feel that City Public Service has been a major contributor of the tons of emissions that they put out yearly within our community.
  • They have denied it. If you listen to them - let me tell you - these people over at CPS, they would think that, they would make you believe that they're running a hospital and that their facility is clean as a hospital
  • and they have done a very good job of selling the public with their marketing and their propaganda campaigns of making sure that they people understand that they're not polluters of the city.
  • So, we met with them. We talked to them. We've had demonstrations in front of their main headquarters. We've had our youth brigade demonstrate against them. We've gone in and taken over their meetings.
  • but it was all planned, it was all staged. It was nothing that we did reactionary.
  • It was all planned out like military precision. Who was going to take over a meeting? When, what was going to be said by the individuals and what have you.
  • And it was only to get the attention of these individuals. This is the old Saul Lewinsky -style of organizing that comes from the organizer, labor organizer from Chicago, IL who deals in teaching people how to get power.
  • And so the only way we were able to get their attention was to be boisterous, was to be outspoken, and was to be disruptive.
  • They feel that they we should have been nice, that we should have been nice to them, that we should have approached them by letter, sit down and have cookies and tea and do things of that nature.
  • Well, it's not nice when we have people in our community with asthma.
  • It's not nice when we have the majority of our school children that have to have prescription and breathing apparatuses so they can breathe.
  • It's not nice the people who live next door to City Public Service, that they cant even put their sheets and their clothes out on the line without getting black soot on it
  • It's not nice for the neighbors within this community when they wash their car and they wake up in the morning, that they can wipe the soot the black soot off their car.
  • It's not nice when people within the City Public Service neighborhood have to change their roof every year because of the soot that gets on their roof and destroys the roofing of the house or the paint on the house.
  • So that's not nice. So why should we be nice?
  • Sometimes in life you have to break the rules and the only way we could get them to the table and make them understand that we were sincere was to clash with them and was to disrupt their meetings.
  • And since we've disrupted their meetings, we've had decent sit down meeting with them where we've worked out a weatherization program, where they've done some marketing in African American newspapers, where they've reached out to the community with the minority business programs.
  • These are small concessions. We still think that they have to go a little farther in addressing the health problems with the school children, and it's still a major problem.
  • You don't have to take my word for it. All you have to do is ask the nurses within these school districts and they'll tell you what the problems are.
  • Locally, we have a lot of environmental problems specifically in East San Antonio.
  • There are other war stories that I can tell you about.
  • The Lid Contaminated Dome Dirt. That issue came to us from the people who actually work for Alamo Ironworks.
  • Well how did you all get the information? How did you know that they had contamination there?
  • Well the people who work there told us.
  • People in the high offices there who the company had made mad told us.
  • So we got a lot of our information from inside sources. It necessarily didn't come from where we had to jump the fence and do soil test - which we had did anyway - but that community was a community that was also poor, also was disorganized, also didn't have the political punch, also didn't have lobbyist or lawyers.
  • So you know it's really funny that in all these Texas cities within all these urban areas, that the pollution people always go into the communities where the people are not organized and have the not have any influence whatsoever on legislation or the local government.
  • DT: In addition to the City Public Service governmental operation, I believe you have been involved in trying to help clean up the military's operation at Kelly Air Force Base. Can you talk about that experience?
  • TCC: Yeah, we worked with group out there called the Citizens for Environmental Justice - Action, which was headed up by Yolanda Johnson and with the work of the Southwest Pubic Workers Union.
  • We formed a coalition to address this issue long before it became juicy, long before it became very sexy to the public, and the attention it gets now from the Local Express News and the daily newspapers.
  • When we first started this issue, no one would listen - not the political people, not the local city council.
  • Local city council still really doesn't listen to it. They don't want to see it. You know: See No Evil Hear No Evil, you know, Say No Evil kind of thing.
  • I will have to give credit to the former congressman from that area who's deceased - Frank Tejeda - before he died, Congressman Frank Tejeda finally listened to the people and begin the ball rolling.
  • Now with Congressman Ciro Rodriguez and Charlie Gonzales, they have been very vocal and very supportive of addressing the citizens issues.
  • Before they came on board, no one really addressed the issues, but these residents. And one of the fun things we use to do is what we called Toxic Tours.
  • I miss doing them and we still do them every once in awhile. What we would do is we would rent a big Greyhound bus, one that's equipped with a toilet and everything 55 passenger bus
  • and we would take elected officials news media people along with community leaders and give them a Toxic Tour of the different places that were contaminated and point out to them where the residents lived, where the businesses were next to the contamination.
  • So on the Kelly issue, we did, oh, I would say we'd done over half a dozen or more Toxic Tours on Kelly to bring it to light to a lot of people.
  • It's been documented. It's been studied to death. They've had all kind of health surveys
  • So, this community has been through a lot. This community basically has a long struggle ahead of it, but basically what has happened is that the people there basically didn't want the people to organize did not want the people to go forward with their issue because they we're basically embarrassed by the contamination that's happened in the Kelly Air Force Base.
  • But you have a lot of serious health problems within that community too numerous for me to mention on this program but I would hope that you would talk to some of the people over there that actually have been sick and actually that have formulated some the diseases and illness within that community.
  • I would do an injustice to them by trying to explain to you some of the problems that, the health problems that are in that community because basically they are too numerous to mention.
  • We know that the City of San Antonio's Metropolitan Health District is now open up clinics in this particular community to basically try to address some of the health concerns of the residents in that community.
  • That's been all because of the help from Congressman Ciro Rodriguez and Congressman Charlie Gonzales.
  • DT: Let me ask you about another, as I understand was a public facility and development a project that is the Alamo Dome.
  • TCC: Yes.
  • DT: ..which I understand involved moving a lot of contaminated soil around.
  • TCC: Right.
  • DT: What happened there and what was your role in it?
  • TCC: Well you're looking at the man who was really behind getting those community groups organized on the Alamo Dome issue.
  • What happened there is that I had information brought to me by certain people within that structure of the Alamo Iron Works that worked there and also people within certain news media organizations came and approached me and they told me that there was a lead contaminated soil and slag being dumped and put in the neighborhood.
  • So what I did is I went and started talking to the residents in the immediate neighborhood, conducting door-to-door surveys and reaching out to some of the leaders and church people within this community.
  • We found one resident who was very upset and said he would take the issue on, by the name of, a gentleman by the name of Dave Arevalo who lived on Delaware Street which is maybe two or three blocks from where the Alamo Dome is located. He still lives in the neighborhood.
  • And basically he joined in with our group, The Neighborhood First Alliance, and we organized a group called Residents Organized for a Safe Environment. And it all took off from there.
  • Basically the neighbors got organized. They went after the City of San Antonio and Via Metropolitan Transit and all the other people who were involved in this issue to sue them to try to get compensation for the residents.
  • It's been a long drawn out process. There has - the contaminated soil has been moved to sites that they're suppose to be put in, but a lot of that dirt was dumped in neighborhoods in Salado Creek area next to the neighborhood I live in - Willow Woods - which dammed up the neighborhood when the 98 flood came because of the contaminated soil that was put there caused water to back up and flood homes.
  • This dirt was just dumped everywhere. I mean it was dumped everywhere, recklessly by the people who did it.
  • There's volumes and volumes - I mean there's so much documentation about what happened on the contaminated soil at Alamo Dome that it would make 60 minutes and ABC, 20/20 and it would just fill up probably a basketball court of a or a library of a number of a documentation about this issue.
  • I would hope that you would talk to some of the residents in the community who did sue the city and it would I would do an injustice to them if I would try to speak for them those that were involved in the issue.
  • Basically what we did is we provided the groups with technical assistance. By technical assistance, that means training, showing them how to organize their community, showing them how to do a press release, showing them how to run a meeting, showing them how to disrupt the meeting.
  • We teach that too. Showing them where to sit in a meeting, showing them how to ask questions to elected officials, showing them who they needed to talk to that had the power to do something about their issue.
  • Because a lot of times what happens when you're dealing with these issues, elected officials will always pass it on to some staff person or some bureaucrat who really doesn't have the power to address the issue even though they're working on it day to day.
  • They don't have the decision making power to do something about the issue. Basically just the work it or red tape it or boggle it up.
  • So, basically, what we have to teach neighborhood people is that you always have to address the people who have the power to do something about your issue.
  • Now a lot of times in a lot of these neighborhoods that are infected by environmental issues, they don't know who they have to go to. Sometimes they think its TNRCC. Sometimes the TNRCC hasn't always been our friend.
  • Sometimes they think it's the Health Department. Well the Health Department doesn't always come out in favor of the resident.
  • Sometimes they think it's the state health people. They all don't always side with us.
  • So basically when you're addressing these environmental issues, it's important to see who the people are that you need to go to and a lot of times in minority neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color, they don't know who to go to.
  • So this environmental racism thing is very institutional within our communities and people don't like to say it's there, but it's very prevalent, and it is there because these people are very powerful people and they have a lot of money.
  • They have a lot of influence. They have a lot of lawyers. They have a lot of engineers, consultants who can help them on a day-to-day basis in building cases against the neighborhood residents which they only have the people power.
  • So basically, my job has been to always work with them and provide them with the technical assistance that they need.
  • And we've done it for a little or nothing and were very proud of our track record in going up against these groups and we were able to get the contaminated soil cleaned up from the community as well put into landfills or garbage dumps where they're suppose to go.
  • DT: You mentioned five or six of these different incidents around San Antonio where you've managed to organize people to oppose them and get things corrected.
  • Can you talk about some of these techniques you just mentioned about how you can get the people power the organize folks to contact their reps and also work with the media. How have you managed to-to energize and-and teach your community?
  • TCC: Well, basically, there's a misnomer in the community organizing business that people think that you organize based on an issue that you like, it's an issue that T.C. Calvert likes.
  • It's never about what T.C. Calvert wants. It's never about what David Todd wants.
  • It's about what impacts those communities, and we always organize people around their self interests. I repeat, we always organize people around their self interest.
  • It's never about what you want or what your agenda is. It's always about the agenda the people want.
  • So what we normally done on environmental injustice issues is we done a lot of health surveys. We've done health surveys with a number of college students that come in from Antioch College. We've done a number of health surveys with the people who actually live in the neighborhood.
  • And so what they do is when they go and talk to Miss Jones over on Clover Leaf Street will find out that the lady over on the next street or the family on the next street also has the same problem with that particular toxic pollution
  • or that weeded lot - it could be a weeded lot - it could be as simple as a abandoned house. It could be a crack house. It could be a street light.
  • It could be a drainage problem, or it could be a smelly business, or it could be lead based paint.
  • So basically what we do is we organize around the top three issues that are a concern to the people in that particular neighborhood and so what we ask them is, "What is your top issue Miss Jones?"
  • And she'll say, "Well, its BFI," or "it's City Public Service," or "it's Koch Fuel Storage Tank."
  • So that's basically how we get. So we said, "Well you know Miss Jones, the Gonzales family feels the same way. Would you be willing to come to a meeting to address this issue?"
  • "Well of course I would."
  • "Well, when's a good time you can meet?"
  • "Well, I can meet on Saturday morning at 9:00."
  • "Ok, well the other residents said they can meet Saturday morning at 9:00 too. Or I can meet on a Monday and I can get my church involved."
  • So these are the kind of techniques and these are the sort of strategies. There's more to it. There's more of a dynamic to it but you get the residents involved in helping you organize as well too.
  • So it's not about the organizer or T.C. Calvert, so he has to be able to just motivate and he has to be able to push the people and he has to be able to agitate the people and give them the research and to give them the aspiration to go and get their other neighbors involved.
  • And so we do a lot of house meetings. We do a lot of church meetings. We do a lot of committee meetings, and that's where a lot of the work is done. The work is really never done at a public hearing.
  • I repeat: the work is never really done at a public hearing.
  • Public hearings are nothing but dog and pony shows.
  • Now if you ever want to see a real public hearing when I try to teach my people: you should put on your own public hearing, and you do your own accountability session, and so basically what we've had to do is to get elected officials to come to hearings we've had where we ask the questions and we hold them accountable
  • Because a lot of times at these public hearings at these forums - now let me tell you what's happening: now they have gotten so sophisticated to how we operate, and they've learned old Saul Lewinsky way of organizing that the politicians and the bureaucrats now have what we call forums.
  • Watch me on this now. I want everybody to listen to this carefully cause this is a million dollars worth of information I'm about to give you.
  • They have these forums to silence you and they come to the forum and they want you to fill out a piece of paper and send it in and they will ask the question.
  • Well that's not a public hearing. That's not how our country was founded on. That's not really democracy.
  • You're not really hearing the people. You're really cutting the people off, and you're insulting the peoples intelligence, Mr. Todd, when you have them do that.
  • When you announce that it's a public hearing, and you have them come to a meeting, and you have them fill out a form and have the question asked, well, some people like to do that.
  • But you're really not hearing from the people. You're really trying- it's a forum and a subtle way which we call Willie Lynching the people and shutting the people up.
  • DT: What do you mean by Willie Lynch?
  • TCC: Willie Lynch was a guy that brought all the slave owners together in the 1600s and he said, "We're going to teach you how to keep your niggers in order."
  • We're going teach you how to slave owners in order. And the way we do that is that we use divide and conquer tactics.
  • We split them up by their skin color. We split them up by the texture of their hair. We split them up by who's fat who's skinny. We split them up by putting some of the blacks in the house. We split them up by putting some of the blacks in the field."
  • It's a deep book. I would suggest you get it and read it.
  • So in the organizing community, we call that Willie Lynching the people
  • because he taught the slave owners in the 1600s how to deal with the slave problem to keep black people divided.
  • So we still have people pulling Willie Lynch stuff that goes on today especially in environmental justice. Well, they do it in all issues. It could be strong health care issues, education issues, housing issues, bank red lining issues so.
  • DT: Once you have your community organized around an issue of their choice how do you get the attention of the media and the attention of the political representatives?
  • TCC: Well, one of the ways is like I said we've done the Toxic Tours. We've done demonstrations. We've done pickets in front of the people, but in this day in age you got to do something different.
  • And one of the ways you do it is you have to go to the people who are actually sick and actually the people who are impacted buy these issues. If there's a cancer problem in the community, you need to put the stress on the cancer problem.
  • Is there asthmatic problem in the community with children?
  • Then you need have the children speak out against it. If the children are concerned about global warming and we've done that with our youth brigade. We let our youth like from the mouths of babes we let them be the leaders on a particular issue like that.
  • So basically what you have to do is, you have to put a face on the issue and when you put a face and you frame it that way, it has more impact then to just have a T.C. Calvert or a David Todd up there raising hell. You know what I'm saying?
  • So what you have to do is put a face on these issues, a face on the community that's impacted.
  • A lot of times the media doesn't want to see that face. A lot of times they don't want to hear from that face.
  • So you have to be very vigilant, and a lot of these issues I've been involved in organizing for over thirty years, and the only way that you have an impact is, you have to continually keep coming at the people.
  • I may not win against you now, you know. You may knock the Neighborhoods First Alliance down now on a issue like BFI, but we will always be a thorn in their side.
  • We will always be that bulldog biting at their pants, and we won't let go.
  • And so I think that's one of the reasons we've been successful because we have persevered without being bought off with city money, state money, or federal money
  • Because the organizations that I represent, we don't accept money from any of those entities.
  • So we're able to speak out and we're able to be vocal on issues that are important to the community to hold these elected officials accountable.
  • So that's one of the reasons that we've been very successful. It's because we don't take city money we don't take federal money and we don't take money from corporations who we would have to eventually hold accountable.
  • DT: You've talked a little bit about representing your community here in San Antonio, but I believe that you've also been active on the state and federal level
  • TCC: Right DT: Can you talk a little bit about your activities?
  • TCC: Oh well, we've got some war stories there.
  • I'm a part of a group called The National Peoples Action which is celebrating its 31st anniversary, been around 31 years well be celebrating our 31st anniversary this summer in Washington D.C.
  • As a part of the National Peoples Action and a member of the board of the National Training Information Center were able to provide technical assistance in organized communities on environmental issues nationally.
  • Most recently under the Clinton administration, we had tried to get a meeting with the former EPA Secretary, Carol Browner.
  • We sent her a letter asking her to meet with us on environmental problems in San Antonio, Ohio, New York, Cincinnati, Chicago all these cities that we represent - Atlanta - you name it.
  • And we had prioritized at least ten cities that had serious environmental problems. Whether it be water, whether it be garbage dumps, lead smelting plants, you know hospital waste incinerators, you name it.
  • Ms. Browner refused to meet with us. We sent her a letter. We made phone calls to her.
  • So what we did is we went to her house over in Merlin. We took about 500 people to her house on a Sunday afternoon while everybody's sitting around after they've had a big Sunday meal watching 60 Minutes.
  • And we disrupted her Sunday. The police came. She lived in the suburbs of Merlin real nice house, quaint street, and she ran from us.
  • She said it wasn't her running, but we know how she looks. And she ran down the street, jumped in her Volvo so she didn't have to talk to us.
  • But we did talk to her husband and he came and sat on the front porch and he told us "Well I used to do what you guys are doing. I used to be part of the protest movement. I was with Greenpeace" or whatever, some group he used to be with.
  • So we just told him basically we want to get a meeting with your wife to discuss some very serious problems that are impacting our communities. They're impacting our children, that are causing health effects in our nations cities.
  • We represent forty states and we represent some 400 organizations, thousands and thousands of families across this country.
  • And so she didn't show up to our meeting and our conference to address us.
  • So basically what we did is we loaded up a bunch of yellow school buses the next day, and we did what we call an action. Some people call it a hit, some people call it a demonstration, some people call it civil disobedience, but whatever.
  • We stormed the Environmental Protection Agency building in Washington, D. C. And as we were going up on the elevator to Carol Browner's office, they stopped the elevators.
  • We had people going up the stairs. We had people coming in the back way. We had cased the joint out so we knew how to go in.
  • And we had preplanned it. A lot of people think "Wow they just got together and they just stormed this building. No, no, no, no, no. We do it with military precision and we planned it out with military precision.
  • We know the exit doors. We know the front door. We know how many cops are in the place. We know who's at the receptionist desk. We know what floor they're on, and we know where they live.
  • As you see, we went to her house. We found out were she lives. That takes a lot of research and that takes a lot of planning to do that.
  • So as were going up the floor, they stop the elevator and on this elevator we have about nineteen or twenty people men, women, children from every city: black, white and brown.
  • And we're stuck on this elevator for about 45 minutes and we had one lady that passed out. We finally got some people out of the elevator and they finally took us upstairs and we finally meet with them.
  • And we begin to meet with them and she came and addressed our convention and but we had to do it the hard way before they finally listened to us to see that we we're sincere.
  • She finally sent some of her deputy secretaries out to some of our cities for hearings. So it was a victory.
  • But what has happened is that a lot of the things that we need to have done has been bogged down in a lot of the political maze and political legislation that impacts our cities.
  • Did you want me-want to talk about the international stuff too?
  • DT: Sure.
  • TCC: (misc)
  • But anyway she finally meet with the National Peoples Action people.
  • And we eventually some cities got some things done but some of the problems that were still addressing are still the same. But sometimes it takes that type of drastic action to get the attention of elected officials to address some of your issues.
  • So those are some of the tactics that we have to use.
  • And when we do them their a lot of fun. I mean the bigger the corporation is, because a lot of times they think this red-tag group they don't have the resources. They don't have the money to fight us.
  • But what they fail to realize is we have determination, that we have courage, that we have the spirit and the faith and the will and the fortitude and the spunk and the fire and the thirst for justice to make something happen.
  • And so they underestimate the will and the ability of the little people and they should never do that.
  • They should never, never underestimate us because we're going to keep coming at you.
  • We may not win the first time but we'll eventually win in the end. Cause we outlive a lot of these politicians. We've seen them come and go. They come a dime a dozen and that's just the nature of the beast of this business.
  • DT: (Inaudible)
  • TCC: Well, we've had some people who have run for public office from our ranks. And usually they get co-opted and they sell out as well.
  • So yeah, there have been candidates that we not necessarily have backed, but what we do is we have what you call accountability nights, accountability sessions, and what we do is we bring them before the group and we ask them "Do you support us on these issues?"
  • But we asked it to both candidates because, you know, there's no permanent enemies and there's no permanent friends.
  • So basically, what we do it doesn't matter to us who wins the office. We're going to hold them accountable anyway and make sure that they address our issues.
  • Everybody can't run for public office and the people that I've worked with and the people that I've partnership with a lot of them don't have political aspirations.
  • They just want to address the kitchen table issues that impact their neighborhood by cleaning up the toxic and pollution in their neighborhoods.
  • So they may not have political interests; it's just not their thing and basically everybody can't run for public office. We got to have activists.
  • We're more about developing neighborhood leaders than we are about developing political leaders so that's basically the roll we like to play. And it's a more fun role as well.
  • DW: You mentioned earlier that you've been active on the national and local level.
  • TCC: Right.
  • DW: Can you also mention some of the state activities that you've been involved with. I think you worked with-with the public interest
  • TCC: Right. DT: Working group and with the seed coalition. Can you talk about that activity?
  • TCC: Well we worked on a number issues. Global warming issues on the state level to get a global warming in place with state of Texas. Basically we have come up against a stiff opposition from legislatures as well as from the TNRCC.
  • We have won some concessions from them and making sure there's a plan in place, but as you well know, there's a lot of politics being played by the different parties.
  • So basically, we have to be very vigilant in that area. We've organized a number of young groups and college groups and high school students to get them to take on that issue because when the T.C. Calverts are dead and gone, who's going to step to the plate to do the issue?
  • So it's basically what we've done is try to develop new, young leadership because our old leadership is dying off. Our old leadership is tired.
  • So what we're doing today is organizing young people to take on a lot of these state issues. And we've organized some awesome young people. I wish they were here on this program. I hope you get to interview some of them. I mean, we have some awesome young people who are more in tune with these environmental issues.
  • We have found out that young high school, middle school and college students really love addressing environmental justice issues, and it's a favorite issue that they like to get involved in.
  • So we've organized a youth brigade to address global warming issues, to address the smoke stack issue, where we've tried to get it passed in Congress. It's stuck right now.
  • That's one of the ones we've worked with on the state as well as the national level. Also, on the state level, we've tried to make some changes on the TNRCC and basically we've been able to make sure the public interest office is strong.
  • Also that there's twenty-four hour hotline for residents to call when there's upset or emissions or-or toxins within their community.
  • So there has been some small progress made but there's still a lot to be done because the lobbyists for these big corporations make the contributions to these political people so that's basically what we're up against is big money on the state level.
  • So we've made some progress there but there's still work to be done. We've worked with the on the international level. There was a lead smelting company that use to be in Dallas that polluted the Dallas area.
  • It moved to Tijuana, Mexico and so we followed that plant there and we've had demonstrations there where that particular company is now polluting the residents in Tijuana, Mexico and causing a problem with them.
  • That was a moment I'll never forget. It's a war story I'll never forget. We went over there. We had to climb mountains and hills to get to where we needed to go to address and do the demonstrations there.
  • So that's a very dangerous mission we went on because we were in a foreign country. But there was about 400 of us so nobody was arrested but it was good to work across international borders to work with our brothers and sisters in Mexico on some of the environmental justice issues there.
  • As you well know, these people don't have the resources and they don't have the political muscle to address these big organizations on some of their issues. So a bunch of us from across the United States went there to help them.
  • DT: (inaudible) the demonstration.
  • TCC: Well, the demonstration - we were very - we had a picket line in front of the company.
  • They were very surprised that the local people had contacted us to come there and we went down on buses.
  • They had the federales and the local police watching our every move.
  • The demonstration was peaceful. I don't think they wanted to have a international incident, simply for the fact of the matter there was a quite a few of us. And mainly they didn't have jail cells to house all of us. Maybe that's why we weren't arrested.
  • But we didn't do anything for them to arrest us. It was a peaceful demonstration and it got some coverage in the local press and it helped mobilize the people and let them know that in Mexico that there were brothers and sisters across the border who supported their every issue.
  • So, it was good. It was good. It was good to learn that across borders and across the United States that they have the same problems that we have.
  • End of reel 2194