ALAN POGUE Children of farmworkers in Hart, Texas stand in their backyard, a few feet from pesticide storage tanks mainstream of the environmental movement. But it can be couched in terms of what SWOP and SNEEJ do in toxics and neighborhoods. Mainstream environmental groups look at it from an environmental perspective divorced from social and economic condi tions.” UNDERLYING THE chasm that sepa rates activists like Diaz from the environmental professionals are important matters of race, class, politics and priorities. Traditionally, such groups as the Sierra Club based their successes on an affluent, white membership which forked over a steady stream of greenbacks to the lawyers and lobbyists who got legislation passed to protect endangered species and set aside pristine wilderness. Yet the fruits of many victories could only be enjoyed by those with both the money and leisure time to take in a breathtaking hike through the Rockies or an afternoon of whooping-crane watching. Groups like SNEEJ and their allies, on the other hand, are struggling around issues that literally mean life or death for communities of color across the United States. Their problems include pesticide poisoning of agricultural communities, contamination of water supplies along the Rio Grande Valley, and exposure of south Louisiana and Gulf Coast residents to poisonous fumes from petrochemical plants. The community-based organizations tackling environmental hazards constitute perhaps the most dynamic social movement in the United States today. Many of their activists have been schooled in an entirely different realm of politics than the environmental professionals that staff New York and Washington offices. Adept at mass organizing and public heliraising, many came of age at a time of campus protest, labor boycotts, and civil rights marches. This history, along with a consciousness that sees the siting of toxic waste dumps in communities of color as a matter of racial oppression and exploitation, differentiates many grassroots groups from environmental lobbyists accustomed to the politics of popularity and compromise. “Environmental groups have access to officials. That is their work, but they never look at social and economic factors,” said Domingo Gonzales, a consultant to groups fighting water pollution in the predominantly Latino Rio Grande Valley. “The activism sort of stays behind closed doors. It’s a small minority active on the issues.” Gonzales urged Group of Ten members to get fully behind agendas of concern to communities of color or risk being “marginalized much like the white left on peace issues.” In many, ways, Texas’ environmental movement is representative of the larger movement nationwide. With a growing Latino, African-American and Asian population, the state will have to cope with environmental issues that disproportionately affect communities of color. For example, a 1987 United Church of Christ report found that a majority of uncontrolled toxic waste facilities in major cities were located in or near African-American and Latino neighborhoods. In Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, more than 50 percent of all Latinos lived near such sites, the report concluded. Other issues confronting communities of color in Texas include widespread degradation of Rio Grande water supplies from nitrates and other sources, and occupationally related exposures to pesticides and other chemicals. Texas Department of Health figures reveal that 65.5 percent of 583 cases of elevated blood levels of heavy metals detected in 1987-88 surveys were in Latino or African-American individuals. Most were traced to employees of battery manufacturing shops. For Diaz, people of color face an immedi Ecology Continued from page 3 vironmental protection. The survey of legisstituents to the issues their representatives will be voting on. The best way to shed light on a subject is the method Houston documentary photographer Sharon Stewart has chosen, with her striking collection called A Toxic Tour of Texas, a few glimpses of which appear on pages 16-21. \(The full collection is available by writing to Sharon at P.O. Box 66566, closure, we want to acknowledge the financial support provided by the public interest groups Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, ate ecological catastrophe, and he’s planning to help organize a statewide network of activist groups similar to the regional SNEEJ. Jim Marston, the director of the newly opened Texas office of the Environmental Defense portive of grassroots efforts and intends to address high-priority issues to people of color such as worker safety and water quality. Noting the EDF’s long interest in the poisoning of children of color from lead-based paint, a source of disorders and disabilities, Marston anticipates more cooperation between his organization and local activists. “It’s important for the grassroots to keep us honest and make us not be an ivory tower,” he said. “We need the grassroots confronting and doing what they do best.” Public Citizen, and Texans United, that made the extra pages for Sharon’s photos possible. Just to show that gratitude doesn’t equal obsequiousness, or maybe just to be our usual contrary selves, we’ve tossed in Kent Patterson’s story that criticizes some of the very groups that contributed to this issue. As much attention as we devote to it this time, though, we recognize that environmentalism is an issue as big as the planet, or even Texas. We hope to continue our coverage of these topics in future issues. Our readers can contribute by informing us of environmental issues of note in their own communities. Please help us out. If there’s anything we’ve learned from the new emphasis on ecology, it’s that we’re all in this together. B.0 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29
You May Also Like
The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.