By RJ Bowman, LABB Environmental Justice Corps Fellow
For my second week in New Orleans I spent most of my time researching and compiling data on refinery accidents, harmful chemicals, health hazards, side effects, and standards and regulations throughout the nation and the world. The data that I am using will help me, as well as others, to understand the importance of health effects related to refinery emissions and the importance of stronger regulation.
Between all the hours of research, I did do some pretty interesting things. To start off the week, On Sunday May 27, I got to witness a Second Line for the first time. Just the pure enjoyment and pride that I sensed through the crowd around me made me feel even more dedicated and proud of my heritage. It was not like any other parade I have been to before. The parade watchers were in the parade themselves. It excited me so much that I want to bring what I experienced in New Orleans back to my hometown of Shreveport.
Another highlight of the week was the Fenceline Neighbors Network Conference that was held in Baton Rouge. This is a conference that is held every year by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade to bring together all of the community organizations throughout the state that they work alongside. The meeting discusses new agenda items as well as a recap of the previous year’s successes and failures. It allows the organizations to have input in the way things are run, a tactic known as Participatory Budgeting. This is important in building and keeping trust for such a successful network.
Listening to everyone talk about what they do and the experiences that have has encouraged me to keep in the fight for Environmental Justice. Many of those that attended the meeting were much older than I, but it reminded me of listening to my mother as she would tell me of the events she witnessed throughout the Civil Rights era. I felt the same motivation as I listened to my elders that are going through the same struggle. To listen and imagine what those before me had to go through and the way they overcame adversity gives me insight and the will to continue even if there seems to be no way out. The most powerful part to the meeting was realizing that the struggle for justice is not only relevant in my neighborhood, but that many others feel the same. Even though most of the injustice is racial, seeing a mixed audience that understands and is trying to help shows me just how powerful this movement can become.