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Cast of Characters in Refinery Town

Refinery Town:
Big Oil, Big Money, and the Remaking of an American City
Steve Early
On Sale: January 17th, 2017

Contact: Nicholas DiSabatino/Publicist - ndisabatino@beacon.org - 617-948-6596

Chevron: Global energy giant with 100-year history in Richmond, CA., as it’s largest and dirtiest employer. Skilled at pitting oil workers and refinery neighbors against each other, while dominating city hall and local politics. Since 2004, challenged by a grassroots coalition seeking refinery safety, a cleaner environment, and progressive municipal policies, including fair taxation of business. In 2014, Chevron spent $3.1 million to defeat these community and labor critics in a local election.

Andres SotoAndres Soto

Richmond-born co-founder of Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) and now an organizer with Communities for a Better Environment.

As an activist in Richmond’s fast growing Latino neighborhoods, Soto challenged police brutality and mistreatment of immigrants.

When Soto ran for city council, police and fire-fighter unions, along with Chevron, successfully smeared him as a “dangerous radical.”

Gayle McLaughlin: RPA leader, former two-term mayor, and current city councilmember. Under her leadership, Richmond became the largest city in the country with a Green mayor—and the scene of major skirmishing with Big Oil, Big Banks, and Big Soda. When McLaughlin took over, Richmond was best known for its gangs, gun violence, drug dealing, and city hall corruption. By the time she left office, her century old company town was widely hailed for being a “progressive city” and pioneer in “community policing.”
Chris Magnus: Hired away from Fargo, North Dakota, Magnus spent a decade transforming the Richmond Police Department by reconnecting officers to the community they serve. One of the few gay police chiefs in America and the only one to ever participate in a Black Lives Matter protest, Magnus helped reduce officer-involved shootings and Richmond’s horrendous civilian homicide rate. Under Magnus, the RPD worked with churches, youth groups, neighborhood councils, and activist organizations to woo gang members away from street violence and crime. On his watch, civilian oversight of the police was strengthened.

Jovanka BecklesJovanka Beckles

A black Latina lesbian, Beckles is an outspoken RPA-backed member of the city council.

There she had to overcome a campaign of personal harassment and intimidation organized by homophobic forces in Richmond, seeking to discredit her and the RPA.

In 2014, Chevron spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on negative advertising against her but failed to defeat the leading African-American community voice for refinery safety and reduced air pollution.

Nat Bates and Corky Booze: City councilors backed by Chevron or real estate interests opposed to Richmond’s threatened use of eminent domain to fight home foreclosures. They and their organizational allies were showered with corporate largesse—direct donations, independent campaign expenditures, and philanthropic grants. They, in turn, blamed the “Richmond Plantation Alliance” for pursuing an anti-business agenda detrimental to poor and working class people of color.
Betty Reid Soskin: At 95, she’s America’s oldest active duty national park ranger and the star attraction at Richmond’s Rosie The Riveter/Homefront History Museum. There, Soskin tells a very personal story of black worker migration from the Jim Crow south to Richmond, for jobs in its Kaiser shipyard and other war-time industries. A lifelong foe of discrimination in all forms, Soskin condemned the attacks on Beckles and aided her re-election campaign.

Mike SmithMike Smith

A Richmond oil worker and United Steel Workers (USW) activist who incurred the wrath of Chevron because he joined “blue-green” alliances demanding cleaner air and stronger refinery safety rules.

In 2015, Smith’s national union struck Big Oil over the shoddy maintenance practices that led to a huge fire at Chevron’s Richmond refinery, sending 15,000 area residents in search of medical care.

Senator Bernie Sanders: Democratic socialist from Vermont invited to Richmond to help McLaughlin, Beckles, and their allies beat Chevron’s 2014 “air war” against them. At a rally of 500 residents, Sanders declared their city to be ground zero in the post-Citizens United fight against unrestricted political spending by Big Business. “Run, Bernie, Run!” his Richmond crowd responded—and, six months later, he did, attracting 13 million Democratic primary voters in his race against Hillary Clinton. In 2016, Sanders’ post-campaign organization, Our Revolution, backed RPA city council candidates again, helping two more get elected.
Melvin Willis: 26-year old African-American organizer for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and leader of the fight for rent regulation to keep housing affordable for low-income tenants in gentrifying neighborhoods. In November, 2016, Richmond voters favored rent control and elected Willis to the council. RPA foes Bates and Booze were both defeated.

Tom ButtTom Butt

Liberal Democrat, current mayor of Richmond, and past ally of the RPA on Chevron-related issues. Now a critic of rent control and community-labor campaigning for a “community benefits agreement” covering UC-Berkeley’s proposed $3 billion waterfront campus in Richmond.

In 2016, after the university suspended its plans to expand in the city, Butt blamed the RPA for “killing a golden goose” and tried, unsuccessfully, to deny Progressives a council majority (now 5 out of 7) at the polls.

Steve Early • 747 Lobos Avenue, Richmond, CA 94801 • Cell: (617) 930-7327 / Landline: (510) 260-0636 • lsupport@aol.com
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