From Company Town to Rebel City: Richmond, California Shows How Progressives Can Win

By:  Shaun Richman

Rebel cities have long been laboratories for progressive policy experimentation. Specifically, the small Bay Area city of Richmond, California has stood out for its boldness. It’s now the subject of a new book by Steve Early, Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money, and the Remaking of an American City, set to be released next Tuesday by Beacon Press.

A long-time labor activist and frequent writer for In These Times, Early moved to Richmond five years ago. After “thirty-two Boston-area winters,” the placid weather was more of a draw than the city’s vibrant urban reform movement, Early writes. But, naturally, he soon got involved and began taking notes, eventually producing a lively read—an intimate, warts-and-all look at how a small band of activists fought for and won a slightly better world at home. His book is a ray of hope for anyone wondering how to survive, and possibly even thrive, under Donald Trump and a hostile, Republican Congress.

Richmond was once home to factories that built warships and automobiles. Today, what’s left of local industry is a giant oil refinery owned by the global superpower, Chevron. The deindustrialization of Richmond produced the usual urban problems: white flight, declining tax revenue, a corrupt government and a police force that behaved like an occupying army.

In 2004, an “unlikely group of Greens, Latinos, progressive Democrats, African Americans, and free spirits” formed the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), and began to organize around environmental and good government causes. It grew into a political machine.

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