By Allison Holmes
By now, the entire nation has heard the horrors of Harvey and the devastation it wrought on Texas coastal cities. In one fell swoop and a whole lot of rain, the fourth largest city in the United States and dozens of communities along the Texas Coast were brought to their knees. Many Texans lost their homes, some lost entire neighborhoods, and several lost their lives to the torrential terror. However, as Texans are liable to do, Houston and Coastal Texas are looking forward, tackling the long road to reconstruction now that the sun finally shines on Space City and its neighbors once more.
I watched the flood waters from my window all week. As a canvasser and organizer for the Houston office of Texas Campaign for the Environment, I felt anxious to help my city during an environmental disaster, and helpless while trapped inside a moat of floodwaters. While I was going stir-crazy and checking updates every ten minutes, my coworkers in the Austin and Dallas offices, unbeknownst to me, were collecting their shared paid time off so that they could distribute it among Houston canvassers like myself. That way we could be paid during the days it was impossible to do our door-to-door organizing.
Even though Houston was in crisis and we were unable to work the week of Harvey, we were all paid our regular paychecks through the altruism of our fellow offices—even our newest hires. In the midst of this disaster, it was one less problem to manage and I will be forever grateful to those who donated their precious time off. I really do work with some terrific human beings and am constantly humbled by the daily humanitarianism in the organizational culture at TCE.
After Harvey left Houston, the city was still in a state of crisis and we were unable to open our Houston offices. Organizers from the Houston office travelled to Austin, where our co-workers there welcomed us into their homes and helped us transition so we could continue our important work for the week.
For months now, we have been focused in the TCE Houston office on the health hazard and environmental nightmare at the San Jacinto River Superfund site. Because this site had been leaking harmful toxic chemicals into the San Jacinto River and Galveston Bay, a hurricane was exactly what we all feared. Harvey tore through the Superfund site, flooding it and potentially sending toxic waste throughout the area. It highlighted the dangers of leaving Superfund sites unaddressed, and with that knowledge, we continued our campaign in Austin with great success. We cannot thank our supporters enough for their contributions and for writing thousands of letters to our decision-makers so that we can utilize your strength in numbers to fully remove this incredibly dangerous waste.
The most important thing is that we don’t stop now. With US EPA Director Scott Pruitt’s new “Superfund Taskforce” prioritizing fast cleanups and not necessarily thorough clean ups that protect public health we need to make sure that our voices are heard loud and clear. We’ve already seen what can happen when a Superfund cleanup is poorly executed for the sake of fast development. The MDI site in Houston’s Fifth Ward met this fate when a school was built on top of what the EPA said was a cleaned-up Superfund site. It resulted in faculty and children with elevated levels of lead in their systems, and lead in the groundwater around the site. We cannot allow this to happen with further sites.
We cannot allow neighborhoods (which are mostly poor communities of color) to be poisoned for the sake of fast development. We cannot allow these dangerous sites to sit unattended, waiting for the next natural disaster to spread some of the most toxic chemicals known to humanity around underprivileged areas. Houston and the Texas Coast are strong. We were strong enough to take on Hurricane Harvey, and we are strong enough to take on those who wish to prioritize short-term private gain over long-term human health. Thank you for your past, current, and future support: it lets us continue fighting. All of our efforts hinge on your support and your voice, and there is nothing more powerful than the support of the people.
From the bottom of all of our hearts at TCE Houston, thank you, and keep fighting.
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