State of False Freedom

By Ronesha Johnson, LABB Environmental Justice Corps Fellow


I have experienced and learned a lot this week, my first down in New Orleans with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB). I took an incredible tour with Leon Waters and I canvassed a neighborhood called Standard Heights in Baton Rouge with other Environmental Justice Corps Fellows. The tour and the canvassing were similar.  The tour was about how slaves were standing up to the big people, their masters, and fighting for their freedom. There were slaves who didn’t want to participate in the revolt because they felt that there wasn’t anything they could do because they didn’t have much power. But there were some who felt that they could make a difference, so they participated. There was a cemetery where heroes were buried. We did a lot of talking on what each hero did, but some of them are unknown. We visited the site where the slaves went on trial for revolting and where their heads were hung when they were beheaded. I also visited a hidden burial ground; this is in the backyard of a family’s home. Mostly everyone in the neighborhood has no idea about this place. The slaves really tried their best to escape. Even though they faced difficult times when they ran into obstacles such as rain, few weapons, and more, they still fought until the end. This tour was really interesting and educational.

The next day we canvassed in Standard Heights, a small, well-kept community with many homeowners. This community is surrounded by different refineries such as Honeywell, Exxon, and many other harmful refineries. The houses in Standard Heights are about 15 feet away from the fenceline of the refinery.  The people in the community are standing up to the big people, the refinery and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ), and fighting for their right for clean air. There are people in the community who feel that their words aren’t powerful enough to make the state or city officials do something about the problem. But, there were some people who participate no matter what. At first I was nervous about going door to door and speaking with different people. My first thought was they wouldn’t open their door and they were going to be very rude when it came to listening. But I was very surprised with how the people in this community actually were willing to speak with us. They were very outspoken and they let us know how they felt about the refineries. They listened and told us that they will report anything they see, hear, smell, or feel, if they believed it was coming from the plant. I really enjoyed what I shared with the community and listening to what they felt.

I know how the people in Standard Heights feel because I deal with the same issues where I live, in Shreveport. Shreveport is a small community that wants to be heard. We leave relatively close to a refinery called Calumet Lubricants. This refinery is polluting our air and there have been many life-threatening incidents occurring numerous times. Canvassing in Standard Heights is similar to Shreveport because when I talked to the people of the community, they are dealing with the fear and health problems with living around the plants just like us. They smell different smells and have the same symptoms as in Shreveport. The difference between these two communities is that more people were willing to communicate with us in Standard Heights than in Shreveport. That was something I really appreciated about this community.

To me, what we are dealing with today is the same as in our history, even though the issues that are being dealt with are different. We are still fighting for what we believe is right for our life and our health. We are also dealing with how people in our communities are trying to make a movement, but there are just some people who aren’t willing to fight because they think we can’t make a difference, but we can and we will.

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