Today we celebrate the official end to over a century of unjust, racist, and deadly oil refining in South Philadelphia, as Hilco Redevelopment Partners closed on the purchase of the site in bankruptcy court. In spite of the bankruptcy court’s process that excludes residents as a key stakeholder, Philadelphians influenced the outcome by uniting, organizing, and mobilizing for our Right to Breathe. Today the victory of permanent refinery closure has been solidified.
Hilco CEO Roberto Perez called Philly Thrive as one of their first acts as the new owner of the site. This is the right first step towards holistic inclusion of residents in the next era of the land. In accordance with Philly Thrive’s principles as a leaderful organization, three Thrive members spoke to Mr. Perez about what the sale means to us and what the future must hold.
Thrive member Jeanette Miller spoke about the lifetime she’s spent living near the refinery, losing her parents to the pollution, and how ready she is for the neighborhood to be restored to its rightful health and prosperity. 20-year-old Thrive member Jendaiya Hill told Mr. Perez about her generation’s commitment to reimagining our neighborhoods and cities so that climate catastrophe can be averted.
Thrive member Alexa Ross presented Mr. Perez with the organization’s immediate requests for an in-person meeting between Hilco and Thrive to plan for comprehensive resident involvement in redevelopment and for residents to be sent preliminary plans for the site, as residents have remained, again, one of the only stakeholders not to have been presented with these plans. We agree with Mr. Perez’s sentiment that “now the hard work begins” to dismantle injustice at the site.
The confirmation of permanent refinery closure comes the same week as disappointing- yet unfortunately unsurprising- decisions from Philadelphia City Council about residents’ resources. Yesterday, City Council approved tax breaks for Hilco and a budget that lays off 450 city employees, cuts funding for programs that serve Philly’s neighborhoods, and flattens- not reduces- the police budget. These decisions serve as a gauge for our current City Council’s responsiveness and accountability to us.
Hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians took action over the past month demanding the Right to Breathe from racism that has been structured into institutions like the police and the city budget. We are humbled and inspired to be part of a growing movement in our city contesting for the role our resources must play in dismantling white supremacy, starting with defunding the police, investing in our communities, and taxing the rich. Four hundred and seventy people alone stood with Philly Thrive in demanding an end to tax breaks at the refinery land that have been a critical aspect of economic injustice.
Philadelphia’s Democratic Leadership has failed us, but people power is rising up across the city to win deep and lasting transformation. The organizing for next year’s city budget starts today and the campaign for the future of the refinery land is just beginning. We believe in us, and if you ever need a reminder just look to the smoke stacks that are no longer churning in South Philly.
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