The Protest Before the Council Vote on Flow Control, and the Promises After It Passed
Photo and video by Danny Hurley
At around 9, before the Dallas City Council voted on the measure that would direct all trash collected in the city to the landfill in southeast Dallas, more than 50 students and teachers at Paul Quinn College marched around City Hall chanting and wearing white T-shirts that read, "I AM NOT TRASH," arranged like the letters of a vision test.
"One, two, three, four, we want a grocery store!"
"Five, six, seven, eight, we don't want your waste!"
The historic school is about a two-mile drive from the McCommas Bluff Landfill. As it's been presented, flow control will further turn that part of Dallas into the city's dumping ground. Its proponents have hailed it as a way to capture revenue otherwise leaving the city limits for private landfills. They ask: Why shouldn't the city collect those tipping fees instead? But its opponents frame it as the perpetuation of racial injustice in this predominately black part of the city.
"The idea is surely there's a stigma attached to having your community as the dump for the city of Dallas," said Erv James, a Paul Quinn history professor, as he marched with the protesters.
To sweeten the pot, a Southeast Oak Cliff stimulus would funnel no more than $1 million a year into community development, but opponents wonder just how much will actually find its way there. "Highland Hills is considered a food desert," James said. "Our concern is that there's a grocery store there so people can eat better. We'd like to see another alternative long before we get to the dump."
As the council waded through budget and water utility items, the protesters sat and waited. But when discussion began on flow control, they stood, and remained standing for the entire two-hour debate -- even after a young woman fainted and collapsed in heap, prompting the council to take a brief recess.
When it reconvened, Dr. Stephen C. Nash, pastor at Mount Tabor Baptist Church, offered his conditional support for flow control, but implored the council not to forget the commitment it was making to southeast Dallas. "Dallas has been talking about developing the southern sector for more than 30 years," he said. "And it's been good talk. It's ironic that the best path to development is a dump.
"In the southern sector, we've been given a lemon time after time, and we're very practiced at making lemonade."
The CEO of Organic Energy Corporation, which is seeking to build the recycling facility to capture waste at McCommas, touted the $50 million in potential revenue and the 250 jobs the site will bring with it. This, despite the fact OEC has never built such a facility.
David Margulies, a former newsman-turned-spokesman for the waste industry, urged the council not to rush to a decision. After all, he pointed out, The Dallas Morning News and Jim Schutze are united in opposition. "That's something that's never happened before," he chuckled.
By now, you're well aware that the ordinance, and the stimulus fund, passed council by a the slimmest of margins. It all came down to Mayor Mike Rawlings's soapbox speech: "This is a moment of truth for the city of Dallas -- whether we're going to improve the southern part of the city, or are we gonna talk a good game."
After the vote, the protesters filed out of the council chambers and gathered in the hall. "People will talk that this doesn't reflect the community," Paul Quinn President Michael Sorrell said to the students and teachers of his school, almost all black. "But I look around, and this looks like my community."
"We're not going away. None of them live a mile and a half from the garbage dump. We do! And we're going to hold them accountable."
Dexter Evans, a junior and legal studies major at Paul Quinn (not to mention the designer of the nifty T-shirts everyone wore) said he didn't feel defeated by the council's vote. "We're taking it in. We're going to internalize it for the moment. But this is something we believe in strongly."
Said Margulies later, "Those kids learned a lesson, but I'm not sure it's a lesson they wanted to learn."