Resilience in Richmond, California, City of Pride and Purpose

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

“We cannot allow them to take over Richmond. We cannot allow them to take over America,” said Bernie Sanders during a 2014 speech in Richmond, California. Sanders, who came to the blue-collar city while campaigning during the 2016 presidential election, was referring to corporations like Chevron, which have an economic and political stronghold on the nation. Since then, Richmond has successfully continued to stand up to big corporations—not only by voting out “business friendly” municipal politicians but also by actively fighting against corporations in the courtroom with lawsuits and progressive legislation, as Mark Karlin reported for Truthout in February 2017. As Karlin reports in an interview with labor reporter Steve Early, the city once known for its crime statistics is now making waves with grassroots organizations and progressive platforms.

A majority of Richmond’s progressive municipal leaders are products of the Richmond Progressive Alliance—an intersectional community-labor coalition with members of diverse backgrounds who unite to achieve city-level progress. This organization is a breath of fresh air in a city historically dominated by Chevron. Members of the RPA have been critical participants in Richmond’s ongoing battle with Chevron, most notably after the 2012 Chevron refinery fire. 15,000 residents of the city downwind from the refinery filled hospitals due to toxic smoke from the fire, leading the city to sue Chevron on grounds of “neglect, lax oversight, and corporate indifference to necessary safety inspection and repairs.” Despite negative press from the fire, Chevron still invests millions into electing officials who are “business friendly.”

Chevron is not a lone wolf in Richmond’s corporate battle. In 2013, underwater mortgages affected 50 percent of Richmond homeowners, lining the pockets of mortgage lenders at the expense of homeowners. This, coupled with 900 foreclosures from 2012 prompted the Richmond City Council to vote in favor of threatening mortgage lenders with eminent domain to help homeowners avoid foreclosures. After the vote, Wells Fargo’s PR team was hard at work making sure this idea would not be replicated elsewhere, with legal counterattacks throughout surrounding cities.

Richmond’s fearless drive to fight back against corporate interests is dangerous for corporate media. Wells Fargo, and other corporations rely on corporate media to divert attention from their work in cities like Richmond, California by focusing on the city’s (declining) crime rate. The fight against these corporations has gone without coverage for years, with the exception of Steve Early’s book Refinery Town, which is what brought this story to light among alternative media.

Source: Mark Karlin, “Populist Coalition Beats Back Chevron in California Refinery Town,” Truthout, February 12, 2017,

Student Researcher: Joselyne Quiroz (College of Marin)

Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman (College of Marin)