BOOKS & THE. CULTURE The Social Landscape BY ELAINE ROBBINS UNEQUAL PROTECTION Environmental Justice & Communities of Colbr. Edited by Robert D. Bullard. 400 pages. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books. $25 HE SIGNIFICANCE of space in landscape terms,” wrote land . scape scholar J.B. Jackson, “is that it makes the social order visible.” Jackson saw evidence of our social relationships in the placement of country clubs and highways, fast-food strips and office parks. But nothing speaks as loudly of the social order as where we place our garbage. Unequal Protection, a collection of pieces edited by Robert D. Bullard, a leading figure in the nascent environmental justice movement, takes us to dozens of communities of color that are fighting the toxic industries in their midstevidence of a pattern that he calls “environmental racism.” What would landscape scholars make of Louisiana’s largely African-American Ascension Parish, an eerie stretch of land 10 miles south of Baton Rouge where petrochemical plantsBASF, Vulcan, Triad, CF Industries, Liquid Airbonic, Bordon Chemical, Shell, Uniroyal, Rubicon, and Ciba-Geigybelch out 196 million pounds of pollutants each year? Or Vernon, California, near South Central and East Los Angeles, where the 58 percent African-American and 38 percent Latino-American population lives in a landscape of waste dumps, smokestacks and wastewater pipes? Or the wasteland in San Diego’s 99-percent Hispanic Barrio Logan, where nearly 100 companies in five square miles generate 63 million pounds of hazardous waste? \(By contrast, San Diego’s pristine, largely industrial no-man’s lands built alongside neighborhood playgrounds, houses and schools, land-use regulations are not enforced and polluting industries count on politically powerless populations to keep quiet about the threat to public health. Three out of five African Americans live in communities with toxic waste sites, ac Elaine Robbins is a freelance writer living in Austin. cording to an oft-quoted landmark study by the Commission for Racial Justice called “Toxic Wastes and Race.” The study found race to be the single most important factor in the location of abandoned toxic waste sitesmore important than income, home ownership and property values. There are other historical reasons that contributed to this pattern, write Regina Austin and Michael Schill in “Black, Brown, Red, and Poisoned.” In some cases, “housing for Latino Americans and African Americans was built in the vicinity of existing industrial operations because the land was cheap. In other cases, sources of toxic pollution were placed in existing minority communities. Pollution tends to attract other sources of pollution, particularly those associated with toxic disposal.” For example, when Chemical Waste Management was looking for a place to build a new toxic waste incinerator, one reason it cited for choosing Kettlernan City, California, a community of mainly Latino farmworkers, was that the community already had a toxic waste landfill where it could dispose of its ash. Finally, “Historically, these communities are more likely than others to tolerate pollution-generating commercial development in the hope that economic benefits will inure to the community in the form of jobs, increased taxes, and civic improvements.” No longer. The essays in Unequal Protection chronicle the wake-up call and emergence of grassroots activism in local communities and regions from Texarkana to Triana, Alabama, from Black Mesa, New Mexico, to West Dallas. As Richard Moore and Louis Head of the Southwest Organizing Project write in “Building a Net That Works”: “We are putting industries, the military, the EPAas well as state, county, and municipal governmentson notice. No longer will we allow our communities, whether they be urban or rural, to be, the dumping ground for everything other people do not want in their communities.” That attitude was adopted in the early 1980s by six women in East Los Angeles who were concerned about, the unhealthy environment their children were living in. The Mothers of East Los Angeles mobilized a 3,000-member movement that successfully defeated plans to establish in their already-polluted neighborhood a state prison, then an oil pipeline, then a hazardous waste incinerator. IN ANOTHER ESSAY, activists Francis Calpotura and Rinku Sen write about a campaign, mounted by People United cate lead poisoning in Oakland, California. The author/activist team offers useful advice to other would-be organizers: “Make links with other organizations”; “Don’t be afraid to expose relationshipsthe structure is built on our ignorance of the way things really work.” They are frank about some of ^ the problems associated with organizing in a multiethnic community. For instance, they found that Southeast Asian participation in a campaign dropped dramatically as tactics became more militant. And sharp criticisms were heard from the traditional organizations of color when the campaign supported undocumented immigrants’ right to services. But by building alliances with sympathetic physicians, lawyers and public workers and among community members, People United for a Better Oakland managed to pressure the city council to vote in the most comprehensive lead abatement program on the West Coast. Although citizens facing similar battles in their own communities might find inspiration in the voices of grassroots activists included in this collection, most readers would be better served by a better-edited introduction to’ the environmental justice movement. These essays vary widely in their approach and scope, and the volume contains many repetitions that have the effect of weakening the basic arguments. Those coming to the subject for the first time are advised to start with chapter 15, journalism professor Karl Grossman’s brief overview of the environmental justice movement. Or better yet, try Toxic Nation, by Fred Setterbert and Lonny Shavelson \(TO Deeper Shades of Green: The Rise of Blue-Collar and Minority Envi ronmentalism in America \(Sierra Club , quent contributor to The Nation and The Progressive. Both books provide more readable and dramatic accounts of the rise of grassroots activism in communities confronting toxic hazards. 20 DECEMBER 9, 1994
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