This report was from my experience at the Riverdale Mobile Home Park last weekend. Since writing this the remaining residents accepted a much better (though still inadequate) offer from Aqua America, police and private security have ordered the volunteers to leave, and construction of the withdrawal station has began. But the spirit of Riverdale lives on...
I just spent the last day and a half at the Riverdale mobile home park in Lycoming County where residents and volunteers are creating something totally amazing in a community that the gas industry wants to disappear.
Aqua America recently purchased the land out from under the residents to construct a water withdrawal station along the Susquehanna River to service fracking operations in the region. They offered people $2500 to move out by June 1, a quarter of the cost of moving a trailer. Most people have left, scrapping whatever they could from their trailers and trying to figure out how to afford rent in the local towns where rents have sky-rocketed from the influx of gas workers. But 6 families have stayed, because they can’t afford to leave, because they have nowhere else to go, and because its their home.
Over the past eleven days volunteers and residents have established an encampment to defend the park. Initially, organizers prepared to blockade the entrances from construction vehicles, but aside from a couple attempts by workers to enter (who were respectfully turned away) the company has not seriously attempted to begin construction or moved for police action.
When it became clear that the residents were not at imminent risk of eviction, volunteers began adjusting to the possibility of a longer-term encampment. At the request of residents they took down the barricades and began to clean up the piles of debris left behind by the evacuation of most of the residents. They have re-purposed the abandoned trailers, setting up a medic space, media center, food storage, and sleeping areas. They’ve built rocket stoves out of discarded bricks and mud that they cook all their meals on and started planting gardens. Most beautifully and poetically, they’ve taken the roofs off of several trailers and painted massive signs lining the front of the park which sits adjacent to a major highway. The signs read: “This was a home”, “This is a beautiful place, people live here” and list the identities of the people who live there, “I am a mother, father, sister, brother, grandma, granddaddy, veteran, tax payer, voter, truck driver, school bus driver, pipeliner.”
Several of the residents work in the industry, most of them in more precarious, sub-contracted positions like truck driving. The higher-paid, higher skilled jobs mostly go to out-of-state workers. The water withdrawal station would eliminate possibly thousands of trucking jobs as water would be piped directly to fracking sites instead of being hauled by truck. So some residents are being displaced from their homes by the industry they work for and stand to lose their jobs at the same time.
One of the residents who is a truck driver, had moved out with his family to another mobile home park. He had kept a distance from the volunteers and the more outspoken residents. But gradually, he’s become an important leader among the residents and he and his family have moved back, camping out next to their gutted trailer. He’s also been organizing support from other drivers in the area. There are a TON of frack-trucks on Route 220, the highway by the park. Now, about every third truck that passes honks in support.
This is just one of the stories that makes Riverdale feel like a really transformative place. The injustice is so obvious and the need for support so great that radical alliances are being built between anti-fracking organizers and industry workers, and across generations and class divisions.
The gas industry thinks our communities are expendable. Riverdale is proving them wrong.