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birth defects

Protest against birth defects which
participants say is probably connected
to pesticide used on nearby farms or a
toxic dump site located just outside town.
Five children out of twenty, born in
Kettleman City in the last 18 months, had
birth defects. Three died.

By Mike Rhodes

Kettleman City is a small town in the southwestern San Joaquin Valley. The city is next to the I-5 Interstate Highway and is the site of the largest toxic waste dump in the western United States. About 200 residents held a march and rally in July to protest a cluster of birth defects. Maricela Mares-Alatorre is a mother and has lived in Kettleman City for 31 years. She helped organize the march. She said, “We have fought a lot of issues with our local toxic land fill, which is the largest in California. Currently they are in the process of an expansion, but we are asking for a moratorium on all of those permits until there is an investigation as to why there are so many children being born with cleft palate. We have had a cluster here — in a 14 month period from 2007 to 2008 — five children have been born with cleft palate. We just found out that another woman will also have a child with cleft palate and we believe that until that is investigated and they know why it is happening that there shouldn’t be any more permits issued.”

Maura Alatorre’s child was born with a cleft palate. Alatorre said she was at the rally because “it is in honor of the children born with these deformities and thanks to the attention that everybody is putting into this rally, there will be attention put to the problem in Kettleman City and that will help.”

Kings County health officials said they were on a fast track to investigate the high incidents of birth defects. The US Environmental Protection Agency also released a statement saying that they will be working with the county and the state to determine if the incidents are related to environmental factors.

But, Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, chief medical officer for Waste Management, the corporation that runs the toxic waste dump in Kettleman City said “I’ll make a guess that you’ll not find that cluster, that it does not exist.” Bradley Angel, the executive director for Green Action for Health and Environmental Justice, one of the groups who helped organize the march, responded by saying “this so called medical spokesperson had the outrageous nerve to say there is no cluster of birth defects and dead kids here. This is outrageous. It is so outrageous that this morning a number of the parents, some of whose children had died, confronted the local Chem Waste representative.”

After the rally, marchers headed for the main business district in Kettleman City. Bradley Angel said they were there to end environmental racism. He said, “This rally is to oppose the expansion of the largest hazardous waste dump in the western United States, run by Chem Waste, to oppose the proposed Avenal Power Plant which would be the second biggest air polluter in the southern San Joaquin Valley and oppose the environmental racism that is associated with this. We are also here to plea for government agencies to stop the dumping on this community due to all of the dead kids we have in Kettleman City, all of these kids with birth defects. Enough is enough!”
Groups like Greenaction and the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment have joined strategic alliances with residents in rural San Joaquin valley communities to improve water and air quality, as well as confront problems such as this cluster of birth defects. Together they are demanding that no new expansions take place at the toxic waste site until it is determined what is causing the birth defects.

By Bob Lee
I want to talk about what people don’t see, about the difference between what they think is possible, and what really is possible. People don’t see the true nature of the crisis today. They need an understanding of what is happening and a vision of the bright future that is possible. This is the job of revolutionaries.

Where I work they are laying people off and making us take unpaid days off, and I can see from the reactions of my coworkers how little the American people understand what is going on. It isn’t that the people are stupid; it’s just that they’ve been lied to and manipulated for so long they don’t know how to analyze what’s going on in front of them.

Most of my coworkers feel it’s just how things are—they figure nobody is guaranteed a job under this system, and they think there’s nothing they can do about it. One person told me, “Just put your head down and work harder.” As though this would keep you out of the line of fire. When they have to take unpaid days off they say, “At least I still have a job,” and “Lots of companies are doing it.” When they have to pay more for health insurance and their benefits get cut, they say, “At least I have some kind of health insurance.” They seem to have no idea that workers who came before them fought and died to win things as simple as the eight-hour day. They don’t think they have any rights.

Most of my coworkers seem to think this is just a bad recession. They’re scared, but they think things will eventually get better. Some of the younger ones are even taking advantage of the falling housing prices to become first-time home buyers.

The older workers are really scared. They’re worried about losing their jobs at a time when millions of others have been laid off. They’re worried about losing their homes or apartments, their health care, their savings, everything.
But people don’t know what to do, what is possible. They don’t understand that technology has wiped out so many jobs that the capitalist economy, which is based on buying and selling, can no longer continue. They don’t understand that as long as we go on allowing a handful of wealthy people to own and control society’s productive property, those of us who have to sell our labor power to live are going to suffer more and more. They don’t see that we, the people, rather than the corporations, could own our country’s productive property and provide for everyone whatever they needed.

We could have a society where everyone able to do so would have the opportunity to make a contribution to society, and would in turn receive everything they needed to lead a civilized life. Anyone unable to contribute because of age, illness or disability would be taken care of. All would have health care. There would be no unemployment, no poverty.

The role of revolutionaries is to sum up what the struggle is really about. When Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address in November 1863, honoring those who died at Gettysburg, he said the cause for which they fought was to see that the nation “…shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

One hundred years later, when Martin Luther King spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he summed up the cause of the Civil Rights movement by saying, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’”
Likewise, revolutionaries today must rally the people to a vision of what is necessary and possible. We must make them see that the old society is dying and a new one is struggling to be born. We must show them that the reforms they seek can only be won by ending the last form of human slavery, and being the midwives to another new birth of freedom.


This article originated in the People's Tribune
PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654, 773-486-3551,
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