From Past to Present: Déjà Vu?

By RJ Bowman, LABB Environmental Justice Corps Fellow

On May 22, a group of us from the Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB) went on a Hidden History Tour of River Road led by Mr. Leon Waters.  The tour was centered on the 1811 Slave Revolt that to many, is unknown.  Mr. Waters did an incredible job of gathering our attention and not excluding any details as he explained and retold the events of those few fateful days.  I knew a little about the revolt before the tour but thanks to Mr. Waters I learned more than I could ever imagine.  It was amazing to retrace the paths of an unseemly, well organized and courageous group of slaves.

On May 23, Anna Hrybyk, LABB Program Manager, took us canvassing in the Standard Heights neighborhood in Baton Rouge, La.  We went door-to-door passing out flyers and information about the iWitness Pollution Map, which can be seen at www.oilspill.labucketbrigade.org. We informed individuals on how to report any accidents or odors coming from the refineries that line the Mississippi River and chemical facilities across the tracks from the neighborhood.  To my surprise, everyone that we talked with was very responsive and open about their situations.  That is a big contrast from what I experience in my neighborhood in Shreveport.  Many residents in my neighborhood feel that the refinery is doing a lot of good because it sponsors a community garden, and gave out turkeys on Thanksgivings and a few presents for Christmas.  Because of this, there is a division within the community between those that believe the refinery is not harming them and those who have evidence of its impact.

I come from Shreveport, La. and I live in a neighborhood of approximately 20,000 residents all centered within 2 miles of Calumet Lubricants, LLC.  There is almost certainly a flare or odor that is experienced daily.  Because of the regular occurrence of accidents and flaring, many residents have a state of mind that nothing can be done about it.  They seem to feel that this is the “accepted” way of life and there is no escape.  And then there are those few that fight for environmental justice and try to get others to join.

After the activities of this first week with LABB, I now realize that the struggle I am in is not much different from the 1811 Slave Revolt.  The masters are the giant chemical refineries that prey on impoverished people to make a large profit.  The slaves are those that are trapped in the wasteland caused by the pollution.  The only solution is to come together like those in the past and stand up against what is wrong in order to leave a better life of what is right for those to come.

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