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The Women of PODER have empowered East Austin to fight injustice

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Photo: PODER protest march Photo: Newspaper article about PODER

Photo: PODERIn the shadows of the Austin Holly Power Plant, two women have harnessed a very different form of power -- a grassroots-based organization powered by people. People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources (PODER) has been nationally recognized for its efforts to fight for environmental justice.

In October, PODER, founded by Sylvia Herrera and Susana Almanza, received the Ford Foundation's Leadership for a Changing World award. The award recognizes community leadership and new models for change.

Photo: Sylvia Herrera"This is a recognition of the effort of East Austinites," says Herrera. "It really empowers the whole empowerment process we have."

In Spanish, PODER means power or empowerment. The women of PODER have harnessed the power of East Austin residents to make a difference in their community.

The first battle was a petrochemical tank farm that used to be located in the heart of East Austin. PODER organized the community and successfully convinced city leaders and the tank farm owners to remove the neighborhood hazard.

Photo: Susanna Armanza"The tank farm was a group of six major trans-national corporations in East Austin and they were exposing children, elderly and residents in general to high amounts of benzene," said Almanza. "And we all know benzene is a cancer causing chemical."

The next successful fight centered around ridding East Austin a BFI recycling facility.

"We were receiving over 350,000 household recyclable into our community when you put all that all together it attracted rodents and insects," said Almanza. "At one time it was so bad in the area the state Health Department had to issue rat poisoning to everyone in the community."

The next fight PODER has taken on is the Holly Power plant. The city has made some changes, according to Herrera. But has not shut down the plant yet.

Find out more about PODER and the women who created this nationally-recognized environmental justice initiative in Austin.


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Produced by Elena Ramirez.

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