I’m Not Complaining, but What a Week

New Orleans  Returning exhausted from stops in Shreveport, Louisiana, Little Rock, Arkansas, and Greenville, Mississippi, somehow I can’t get these weird signposts of the times and odd ends out of my mind. Normally, I would let them go, but somehow this Chief Organizer Report is going to be a report on the chief organizer, so bear with me.

Bargaining four nursing home contracts in Shreveport, the company already wants to include language making the Affordable Care obligations moot, even while the whole operation continues forward in the stalemate of Congress and presidential politics.

A studio chair and some folding chairs for WAMF, the new low power FM radio station that we just got on the air in New Orleans, was donated to us in Bossier City across the river (thanks Butlers and Clarks!). In a pleasant middle income suburb between a mall and an expressway, I parked my big truck, doors wide open in the driveway of the unoccupied house waiting for Local 100 organizer, Toney Orr from Arkansas, to help me load it all in. Neighbors drove by and up and down the driveway next door. No questions asked, even as we hauled the furniture out. Is that weird?

In Little Rock, despite six months of work on the Home Savers Campaign and running PSAs on KABF referring calls to Arkansas Community Organizations, the former Arkansas ACORN, that yielded little, we finally broke through and within 48 hours found a trove of both Vision Property Management and Harbour Portfolio rent-to-own and contract to purchase houses throughout central Arkansas. We had boomed out to visit victims in Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania and here they were right under our noses! The lesson, even when the spirit is willing, we have to shore up the capacity to account for how often the flesh of our operations need more underwire. Capacity matters, even a little can make a huge difference, and that’s worth remembering. Oh, and, a Home Savers organizer, Dine’ Butler, was the big finish of the well-regarded Reveal podcast, home visiting a victim in Detroit.

Capacity, capacity, capacity, it comes up again and again, and amazingly we stumble around trying to find it even when it is kicking us in the knees and pushing us to the ground. One kingdom after another lost for lack of a horse. Our biggest underwriting partner at KABF was being stymied on promoting its great work, because we had never pressed hard enough for the spots for them to realize if they gave us copy we could produce them quickly or allow hosts to do “reads.” Ouch!

Visiting radio station WDSV in Greenville for the 7th month, it was the same story with a different verse. Frustrated and stalled in achieving their mission after 5 years on-the-air as the voice of the people in the Delta, they were being held hostage by technology too large and complicated for them to easily access to master the ladder to the heaven they sought. The magic and miracle is not that we can fix that, but that it takes so long for us to marry problems to solutions, so that we can move forward in our work.

Sometimes I’m racing so fast that I miss how easily it is to stumble on the simplest steps. I wish it were just me!

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Demanding Lead Testing in Schools and Real Response

leadinwaterNew Orleans   The water crisis in Flint, Michigan seemed like a wakeup for America and the world. Lead was in the water. People couldn’t drink it. The damage to children – and adults – was incalculable. Lead was found in other schools in the country when districts began testing, like Newark, New Jersey for example.

Local 100, United Labor Unions, represents school workers in Dallas and Houston, so of course we demanded they test the water for the sake of both the workers and children. These are huge school districts. The adverse impacts would be devastating. Despite Flint, Newark and other districts, we’re caught in a crisis of incrementalism. So far we have gotten the Houston district to test perhaps five schools build before a certain date. Hardly a comprehensive program. Dallas is dragging their feet even more, despite proven cases where our workers were employed in a records storage area that was an old auto facility and where lead and other heavy metals have been documented in abundance.

Some big districts have been more responsive. After a minimal test in Chicago schools showed some problems, the Chicago Public Schools hired four different contractors to test widely. According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune:

CPS said water has been tested at 265 of 324 schools that are more than 30 years old and have prekindergarten programs. Results have only been returned for 87 schools. Of those, the district said 26 schools had at least one fixture that spouted water with lead amounts in excess of 15 parts per billion. Test results have shown a wide variety of lead levels were detected in water across the city’s schools. Water from one sink at a Clearing neighborhood school for disabled children between the ages of 3 and 6 showed lead levels as high as 1,100 parts per billion — a water fountain at the building tested as high as 357 parts per billion, according to the district. Four drinking fountains and four sinks at Reilly Elementary on the Northwest Side showed high lead levels, including a water fountain on the school’s main floor that tested as high as 340 parts per billion.

Chicago is hardly the gold standard, but at least they are playing catchup. Talking to experts, the Madison, Wisconsin school district has reportedly replaced all of their lead pipes over the years in order to proactively deal with this issue in a comprehensive way.

Keep in mind that the EPA requires bottled water to not exceed 5 parts per billion and lead experts are clear that this 15 parts per billion is just plain pretend when it comes to prevent or the damage of exposure.

National expert, Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech, was quoted clearly in the Tribune

“You cannot undo harm that’s been done in the past, that’s the nature of lead exposure. You can only prevent future exposure. So the sooner you get the bad news, that’s good news.” Edwards wasn’t surprised by the number of CPS buildings that have shown elevated levels of water-based lead so far. “Nothing would ever surprise me in terms of lead in school water, because (schools) have generally the oldest plumbing and the water sits around for long periods of time,” Edwards said. “That makes it more corrosive, it allows more lead particles to accumulate and in many cities the schools are the source of the worst lead in water for those reasons.”

Local 100 has also gathered soil samples from schools in Dallas and Houston and are waiting for the results. What good does it do any of us for school districts, city officials, sewer and water providers, and others to resist the testing to find out the “bad news” so we can began to protect people?

No one is pointing fingers but why the false security, the cover-ups, and obfuscation? It’s time to do the work and prevent more permanently damaging impacts for our children and workers in schools.

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