SHARON L. STEWART Texarkana marchers at SuperFund site. and then her daughter, contracted rare lifethreatening diseases. John O’Connor was exposed to asbestos as a child in Stratford, Connecticut. After watching childhood playmates die at an early age \(“watching he vowed to do something about it. One theme of the conference emphasized how advanced the environmental problems have become. O’Connor said, “It’s a worldwide crisis, it’s a crisis of what we decide to produce in this country, and what we decide to do with those products, and what we decide to do with the waste from the production. It’s a problem that affects all of us 99.9 -percent of us show increasing levels of toxic chemicals in our blood. Thousands of children die each year from cancer, because of these products. The leading cause of death in children under ten years old is cancer.” “And when I talk about crisis, I’m not just talking about the chemical crisis,” O’Connor continued. “I’m talking about a crisis in democracy. Democracy has been taken away from us. This sacred concept that some of us thought we had when this country was first started just ain’t there any more. You know, 50, 60, 80 years ago, when you poisoned somebody’s cattle, you were stopped. When you poisoned somebody’s water or well, you were stopped. When you stole their property, you were stopped. Today it ain’t so. Today we have laws brought to you by Dow, DuPont, Union Carbide, Monsanto, Koppers .. . laws that say that we have a price tag on our life, that it’s okay for ten children to die, if somebody can make a couple of million dollars off of it. . . . “You go down to Austin here and you see the Chemical Council coming in with piles of money to buy your state Senators and state Representatives. The best statehouse that money can buy. They’ve chipped away at our democracy.” Black activist Pat Bryant, who directs the Gulf Coast Tenant Leadership . Development Project in New Orleans, foresees a new kind of refugee community in America. “The whole question of environment today transcends race, and transcends national boundaries,” he said. “I’m looking here at a whole community of refugees soon to be refugees from your own community! I live in New Orleans where there are many refugees from Central America who have been on the wrong end of the foreign and military policy of the United States government, and now I’m looking at the prospect that by the year 2000 all across this country, people who live and die to make this country will be refugees in their own communities. That is a very shocking, but real, understanding of what is happening. The numbers are so staggering, brothers and sisters, that you undoubtedly are part of the movement of the ’90s. This is the movement . . . that will change the face of our government, will change the way we relate to ourselves and government relates to us.” Lois Gibbs, with her personal story of Love Canal, offered useful “nuts and bolts” to the residents of Carver Terrace. Today her CCHW works with more than 4,000 grassroots groups over the nation. `,:The Clearinghouse’s philosophy and strategy is a very simple one,” she said. “If everybody cleans up their own backyard, if everybody goes out and shuts down that polluting stack in their own backyards, then this world will be safer, will be environmentally sound, our children will be able to live in a toxic-free environment. “But people can’t do it just by themselves fighting in their own backyard. That’s what we learned at Love Canal, that you need to join together and support one another. You need to focus locally and think global. “There are three ways to fight the battle,” Gibbs said. “One way is to fight it scientifically. Second way is to fight it legally. And the third way to fight it is politically.” At Love Canal, they tried science first. “We made tests. We tested everything. We tested anything for everything. We found lots of chemicals. Dangerous chemicals. We found health problems, and we brought them to the State of New York our health department. You know what they said? ‘We don’t think it’s a problem. We think we need to do more tests.’ You can’t win, scientifically. “So the second thing we thought about doing is going legally. We’ll sue ’em. So we talked to the lawyers, and they said, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ll take your case.’ They see dollar signs. Millions of dollars. They almost paid us to hire ’em. But the lawsuits take six to eight years. We didn’t have six to eight years. “The third approach is the political approach, and that is the one we have found that has worked. Not only at Love Canal, but in communities across the country. We used the science, we used the legal, but we used it politically. That was the answer to our problem. How did we do it? Real simple. We worked locally and we projected nationally. “You have to figure out who can give you what you want, and maybe there’s more than one answer. When you figure that out, that’s who you need to go after. “You’ve got to put faces on your enemy that’s what we learned. You can’t say, `The state doesn’t care about the folks here in this community.’ You have to say, ‘The Governor doesn’t care.’ You gotta use names, you gotta use people’s faces. You can’t fight an entity that is nothing. When you go to City Hall, you don’t go to City Hall, you go to the Mayor.” At Love Canal they decided to target New York Governor Hugh Carey and, later, President Jimmy Carter. Wherever Carey or Carter went, someone often a relative or friend of a Love Canal resident followed, holding a sign for the news media that said: “What Are You Going to Do About LOVE CANAL?” When Carey went to one of his $1,000-a-plate fundraisers, picketers handed out flyers about Love Canal. “We decided we were not going to be intimidated. So everywhere that Jimmy Carter went in his election year, we were there. And we called our aunts and our uncles in California, in Florida and Alabama and Louisiana, Boston, all over the country. Wherever Jimmy Carter went, there was a sign. People in Arkansas said, ‘Why are you all carrying a sign for Love Canal in New York here for?’ And people in Florida said, ‘Why are you carrying a sign for Love Canal in New York here for?’ And President Carter suddenly had to answer to it.” “We’re talking about good folks here, we’re not talking about radicals, we’re not THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9
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