Contributed date

August 31, 2019 - 11:47pm

Critical Commentary

Much of the academic and popular attention given to Austin’s environmentalism is strictly focused on the upper-middle-class strain of mainstream environmentalism, and thus participates in the erasure and exclusion of Austin’s environmental justice organizations. For instance, despite the fact that PODER (People Organizing in the Defense of Earth and her Resources) has been organizing Austin residents around the principles of environmental justice since 1991, Swearingen’s (2010) history of Austin’s environmentalism never mentions the organization nor the political conflicts they addressed or their substantial victories.

PODER had to work to get the environmental community to realize that people were part of the environment, and that building toxic technology manufacturing plants in areas where lower class communities of color live and work and where their children go to school and play is an environmental issue. Originally, the East Austin community was upset that the city used tax incentives to attract these businesses that would bring little to no benefit to the East Austin community in which they were located (Tretter 2016). However, this focus took a notable turn after the discovery of chemical leaks and the illegal disposal industrial waste form Austin’s Motorola Plant in 1982 and 1984. These events made local community leaders aware of the potential risks presented by having these facilities so close to home. The first of PODER's substantial political victories took place in 1993, when they forced the relocation of a fuel storage facility called the "Tank Farms" (Walsh 2007). PODER’s success in removing toxic industries from their community was largely due to their ability to win over Austin’s other environmentalist groups to their cause (Tretter 2016). By demonstrating that nearly all locations of high technology manufacturing firms in Austin were located in non-white communities, they enabled these groups to recognize how the mainstream environmental movement was pregnant with “whiteness,” and thus to see environmental racism as an environmental problem and not just a social problem.

Cite as

Anonymous, "PODER", contributed by James Adams, Disaster STS Network, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 28 January 2021, accessed 17 May 2022. https://disaster-sts-network.org/content/poder