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Steve Early Brings Richmond’s Culture of Resistance to Cambridge

By Nicholas DiSabatino

Steve Early speaks at Porter Square Books
Steve Early speaks at Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA.

“Is there anybody out here tonight still feeling the Bern?” 

Labor journalist Steve Early called out this question to a group of over eighty-five people at his Porter Square Books event in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on the evening of January 25, coyly referring to the foreword from Senator Bernie Sanders for his new book, Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money, and the Remaking of an American City.

In the book, Early explores how Richmond, California—once a prototypical company town with one of the highest homicide rates per capita in the country—transformed itself over a decade into a progressive city through the power of local municipal reform. He documents how a largely non-white working class community of 110,000 people spawned a vibrant culture of resistance to corporate power after more than a century of political dominance by the Chevron Corporation.

Refinery TownIn his foreword, Senator Bernie Sanders writes, “Our country obviously needs a great deal of change at the state and federal levels. But laying a solid local foundation, like activists in Richmond, California have done, is an important first step toward overcoming working-class alienation from politics and resulting low voter-turnout rates. Refinery Town is based on one city’s experience, but it reflects the lessons of grassroots organizing elsewhere.”

Crowds came from Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Milton, and Chelsea, Massachusetts. The following groups co-sponsored (and many members attended) the event, including: Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, Labor Notes, Solidarity, Socialist Alternative, CWA Local 1400IBEW Local 2222, and Greenroots, a youth-run Chelsea environmental organizer task force devoted to protecting the community from local industrial hazards. Union organizer and labor communicator Rand Wilson helped moderate the event. There was even a surprise appearance from Democratic Representative Mike Connolly of the 26th Middlesex district.

Throughout the talk and Q&A with the audience, Early discussed what we can all do on the local level to combat the Trump presidency, and used Richmond, California and the Richmond Progressive Alliance as an example of how progressive politics at the municipal level can make real change.

Early’s event resulted in an inspiring call-to-action for all involved.


About the Author 

Nicholas DiSabatino graduated from Kent State University and has an MA in Publishing and Writing from Emerson College. He joined Beacon in 2012. Follow him on Twitter at @NDiSabat.