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A Year of Extraction: A look back at 2018 Environmental Justice Moments

2018 saw many new facets of the Environmental Justice work take shape in San Antonio and South Texas. Southwest Workers Union closed 2017 with the El Agua es del Pueblo campaign that saw another rise in SAWS bills for rate payers to support the sewage updates and the extractive Vista Ridge Pipeline. The minutes from when City Council approved the 2018-2019 rate hike are included here.

CJA – Just Transition Training: In April we hosted our Climate Justice Alliance relatives in a Just Transition training that brought several members from various frontline communities across the country to Southwest Workers Union to discuss the importance of shifting from the extractive industry. The gathering gave us a chance to build with members around the national work for cleaner communities and what environmental justice looks like from the deep south, great lakes regions, tribal communities and both coasts. It was a powerful reflection that helped give everyone present new ways to talk about our work and the desire to shift towards a new system.

As we continue our work in San Antonio, we want to see solutions that not only protect our communities but lift up our most vulnerable neighbors from the impacts of colonialism and pollution. When we talk about a just transition in our region, Southwest Workers Union believes we have the power and tools to continue to dream build beyond what is currently offered. Our communities demand green jobs with living wages, clean and accessible water, clean energy, and a City Council that leads on climate change. A just transition would ensure that our community could thrive in ways that haven’t been possible in the 300 years of extraction that has occurred in our region.

Climate Action & Adaptation Plan: In 2018 the city of San Antonio decided to work on our first Climate Action and Adaptation Plan after supporting the Sustainability Plan Southwest Workers Union had help craft years before. The Climate Action and Adaptation Plan is being crafted by a Steering Committee and several Technical Working Groups. This has not been an easy process, as predictable road blocks of capitalism and environmental racism have continued to take root in the way San Antonio considers it’s climate change concerns. As we continue to offer support, we find push back against equity is still leaving a lot of work to be completed around San Antonio for deeper solutions to really take shape and protect us from upcoming Climate Change realities.

For more information on what has happened, please check the link here:

We hope to go deeper in 2019 on what the community sees as equity, as so often many of us from impacted communities are disregarded even by allies in the local government because our experiences often negated by a lack of science or diluted to not scare investors.

Climate Migration: As the United States amps up its war against communities of color and migrating people, Southwest Workers Union has continued to stand and defend our community against ICE and other racial based policing tactics. During the 2017 extreme weather event Hurricane Harvey, United States Immigration agents were ordered to increase their numbers to purposely entrap people fleeing from the storms path. As we have seen in Isle de Jean Charles, LA, to our relatives from Central America, Mexico and beyond environmental issues will continue to push large migrations of people. Climate Policy must go hand and hand with immigration policy. As 2018 continued we saw the forced separation of asylum seekers with new tent cities being built and children being kept in cages. Many community members headed to the border to demand justice from federal courthouses that were holding mass sentencing of asylum seekers. This is not only a dark turn for the work along the border that has been neglected for generations, but also a grim warning for migrating people as climate change will continue to shift power and resources globally.

The Karnes County Residential Center has continued to force detained migrant families to breath toxic air from the numerous surrounding frack wells in the area. We demand that not only do the fracking sites close permanently but that we close these kinds of detainment camps. Equity is not to ask for cleaner prisons, real equity is to demand the closing of these kind of facilities permanently. We are thankful for our member allies who have started Texas Refugee and Immigration Network (T.R.A.I.N.) for helping facilitate deeper conversations about these connections at our 30TH Anniversary People’s Movement Assembly.

El Agua es del Pueblo & Pop Education: To close out 2018 we began having our El Agua es del Pueblo community education sessions, and will continue to do so in 2019. Our focus with El Agua es del Pueblo comes from our members who don’t just want to confront inequality with pollution and high utility bills, but to challenge our connections to water to be sustainable and decolonial. Water is a sacred resource and has shaped the history of our region for thousands of years. As climate change continues to shake the awareness and connections we have will be tested. One of our Autumn case studies was focused on Leon Creek, especially around the Rodriguez Park area on the city’s Westside. In September, a heavy rain storm combined with aging infrastructure combined in a sewage leak that left tons of trash and a foul smell in southern parts of Leon Creek. Many members organizers and family members have been impacted by the pollution in Leon Creek and have demanded for most a decade for more just practices in water management by the city and a holistic approach to water way preservation.

From our meeting we came up with several new ideas of how to go further to protect our neighborhoods and bodies and will be hosting bi monthly El Agua es del Pueblo workshops in 2019 that look to go beyond the ways we are connecting with our water preservation. We hope that you will join us in the fight for our community.

CPS & Coal Energy: As we mentioned San Antonio has suffered heavy costs for dirty energy, and as CPS is at the same time supporting costs for the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan they are still pushing coal through the Flex Plan. We have gone to several meetings and talked with many folks at CPS and tried to get more insight on the vision on energy that doest set a tie table for 100% renewable as other cities have. In many instances they Mayor and CEO of CPS Energy have deduced that 100% cities are not being honest about their sources, or that we are some how not knowledgeable about how energy works. This is both unfortunate and demeaning to folks who have devotee their lives to find solutions. CPS hosted a large Flex Plan presentation at la Villita, that was met with two layers of security screening, a row of cops protecting the door, and a majority presence of CEO management and Chamber of Commerce representatives who came to talk over community residents who are seeking clean energy and acknowledgement of the health impacts fossil fuels have left on our communities. As we have worked tirelessly with many of our amazing grass roots allies, we have been successful in the closing of the Deely Power Plant, which is expected to happen in December 2018. This is a huge victory for not just the organizing community but for members of the south side who have battled with a huge amount of health problems from breathing impacted and polluted air. We ask you to join Climate Action San Antonio + Southwest Workers Union for a celebration event on Saturday December 15 at Galeria Guadalupe to celebrate 4p-7pm.

As we close with this brief overview of 2018 the reflections we are exploring are the need to nurture our bodies and we do hard work to defend our people. We ask that you take time to rest and reflect and connect with the water. Listen to the messages of the land and come to your own conclusions on how important it is to defend the elements.

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