After the refinery exploded again last year, Doria Robinson set about tearing out the gardens. Six months of organic planting were lost in one large plume of toxic smoke bellowing from the Chevron refinery in Richmond, Calif., one year ago today, that sent upwards of 15,000 people to local hospitals complaining of respiratory distress.
"They didn't pay for anything they did to our gardens. Nothing," she said. "And we lost so much."
Robinson is the executive director at Urban Tilth, a Richmond nonprofit dedicated to cultivating organic urban agriculture in western Contra Costa County, on the east side of the San Francisco Bay. The incident last August was the third large Chevron fire that Robinson, a third-generation Richmond resident, had experienced in her life.
"I could see the flame from the front porch over 10 blocks away," she said. "It was absolutely devastating. But it made us actually open our eyes even further to the need to stand up as Richmond residents, on the front line, to Chevron. We need to be standing up in creative ways to stop this madness -- not just locally, but internationally."
Over the weekend, Bay Area residents marked the one-year anniversary of that explosion with a march and rally of about 2,500 people at the gates of the Chevron refinery, one of California state's top polluters. As a part of 350.org's "Summer Heat" campaign, the action was aimed at pressuring Chevron to improve its environmental and safety practices, while also promoting other climate fights, such as the battle against the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline. Chevron is currently pursuing a plan to upgrade its Richmond facility to refine more crude forms of oil, including tar sands.
Local media heralded the weekend protests, which resulted in 200+ arrests for trespassing at Chevron's gates, as yet another sign of the growing climate justice movement in this country. But this city has been fighting the refinery for a very long time. In this economically depressed community of color, the threat of another plume of toxic smoke in the sky is far more immediate than a Keystone XL pipeline in Texas.