Crusader for Environmental Justice in Bayview Dies

Marie Harrison, 71, advocated for a proper cleanup of the Hunters Point Shipyard for years before city officials were compelled to notice.

Marie Harrison, a Bayview resident and member of the environmental justice group Greenaction, speaks before a hearing on the ongoing cleanup at the Hunters Point shipyard Superfund site on Monday, May 14, 2018. (Photo by Kevin N. Hume)

Marie Harrison, who tirelessly fought against health disparities in Bayview Hunters Point for decades, passed away at age 71.

The longtime Bayview resident is known for her work as a campaign adviser for Greenaction, a national environmental and health justice group, and was taken off life support over the weekend after fighting a lung condition for years.

“A strong and powerful woman of color and community leader, Marie spoke truth to power and never sold out or compromised her principles,” Greenaction CEO Bradley Angel in a statement on Monday. “She waged, and won, epic David versus Goliath fights, saving lives, fighting for justice, and making life miserable for the forces of evil – polluters and sell-out politicians and government officials!”

Harrison moved to the Bayview in 1966 and became all too aware of environmental injustice through her job at the Hunters Point Shipyard. She grew suspicious of Tetra Tech long before the United States Navy or EPA began finding fraudulent samples that eventually led to two former company supervisors sentenced to federal prison in May 2018.

An underground fire that shot flames out of the ground 10 years prior on the shipyard site first alarmed her. She would go on to provide civilian oversight to the cleanup on the federally mandated Restoration Advisory Board for 16 years until it was disbanded.

“We were told, ‘You guys don’t listen to us — we see no reason to continue this board,’ ” Harrison said in August. “My response was, ‘Are we supposed to be listening to you, or are you supposed to be listening to us?’”

Harrison told SF Weekly that the ongoing effort left her with “a lot of built up anxiety.” She was a nonsmoker who developed a rare lung condition that left her bound to an oxygen tank. Still, she showed up at community meetings, public hearings, fought government officials for data they were reluctant to give, and yelled at supervisors for not listening to what she’d been saying for decades.

“Despite this challenge, Marie continued her tireless environmental justice work for her community and other communities far and wide,” Angel said. “Marie continued to fight for justice to her very last day and inspired people everywhere.”

Angel added that Harrison would want them to live up to the words of the legendary organizer Mother Jones: “Pray for the dead but fight like hell for the living.”

And we already know what Harrison wanted to see through, even if she didn’t know how many days she had left to make it happen.

“I don’t know how long I am going to be here,” Harrison previously told SF Weekly. “But I sure as hell am not going anywhere until I make sure you all clean up that shipyard correctly.”

Greenaction will honor Harrison during their Mother’s Day Walkathon for Healthy Communities and Environmental Justice on Sunday at Peacock Meadows in Golden Gate Park starting at 9 a.m. Condolences to the Harrison family may be mailed to 631 Riley Ford Lane in Stockton, Angel said.

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