Home to one of the largest oil refineries in the state, Richmond, California, was once a typical company town dominated by Chevron. This largely nonwhite, working-class city of one hundred thousand suffered from poverty, pollution, and poorly funded public services. It had one of the highest homicide rates per capita in the country and a jobless rate twice the national average.
But in 2012, when veteran labor reporter Steve Early moved from New England to Richmond, he discovered a city struggling to remake itself. In Refinery Town, Early chronicles the fifteen years of successful community organizing that raised the local minimum wage, defeated a casino development project, challenged home foreclosures and evictions, and sought fair taxation of Big Oil. Here we meet a dynamic cast of characters—from ninety-four-year-old Betty Reid Soskin, the country’s oldest full-time national-park ranger and witness to Richmond’s complex history; to Gayle McLaughlin, the Green mayor who challenged Chevron and won, to police chief Chris Magnus, who brought community policing to Richmond and is now one of America’s leading public safety reformers. Part urban history, part call to action, Refinery Town shows how concerned citizens can harness the power of local politics to reclaim their community and make municipal government a source of much-needed policy innovation.
Steve Early has been an organizer, lawyer, union representative, and labor activist for the past forty-five years. He is the author of three other books, including Save Our Unions: Dispatches from a Movement in Distress.
He lives in Richmond, California, with his wife.
Praise for Refinery Town:
"This timely book offers ideas for making change where it counts the
most - among friends, neighbors, and fellow community members."
- From the foreword by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders
“As Washington remains in gridlock, the everyday citizen-heroes of Richmond, California, have been getting things done to make their city work for all. Refinery Town is essential reading for anyone seeking inspiration for what grassroots organizing can accomplish, one community at a time.”
- Robert B. Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley, and former US secretary of labor
“Frontline communities have a key role to play in our climate movement. Richmond’s creative resistance to Chevron is a model for environmental justice campaigners everywhere—in the United States and abroad—who face tough struggles of their own against Big Oil and big money in politics.”
- Annie Leonard, executive director, Greenpeace USA, and author of The Story of Stuff
“This is the story of a paradigmatic urban resistance movement that is successfully challenging the myth that corporate power and gentrification are inevitable, almost geological forces. Deeply rooted in local traditions of labor and black-liberation activism, the Richmond Progressive Alliance—Sanderistas, pay attention—exemplifies what a ‘political revolution’ actually looks like. We need one, two, many Richmonds.”
—Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz
“In a political system of Republicans and Democrats beholden to corporate cash, Refinery Town demonstrates that there is an alternative when working people and community activists take independent political action based on their own interests. From Seattle to Richmond, an emerging grassroots movement is developing for whom this book is an important read.”
- Kshama Sawant, Socialist Alternative Seattle city council member
“A substantial contribution to the literature on local political struggles over poverty, inequality, and environmental degradation. Early has done for the contested terrain of Richmond, California, what Mike Davis did for the much larger, majority-minority metropolis of Los Angeles in City of Quartz.”
- Immanuel Ness, author of Southern Insurgency: The Coming of the Global Working Class
“As with Bernie 2016, Richmond progressives proved that real change is possible through issue-oriented campaigns and effective electoral organizing.”
- Larry Cohen, past president of the Communications Workers of America and senior advisor to the Bernie 2016 campaign
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