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Bigotry and poison.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Florence Robinson lives in one of the most polluted neighborhoods in Baton Rouge, an area where more than 90 per cent of the residents are black. At a recent hearing of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, she presented a report that combined census data with corporate pollution records, showing, she says, "a clear link between the location of polluting industries and race."

Robinson is a member of the Gulf Coast Tenants' Organization, which is organizing a mass-based movement to fight back against environmental racism--the polluting factories, dumps, and incinerators disproportionately located in minority communities.

The tenants' group was founded almost ten years ago by Pat Bryant, a former civil-rights organizer. Bryant wanted to help poor, Southern tenants challenge evictions and demand repairs. He believed that tenants in local communites should have the power to advocate for themselves. Today, more than 15,000 people in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi belong to the organization.

In 1985, these members began to notice that corporate pollution was endangering their health and lives. As Gulf Coast staff member Bettye Ewing says, "These were not people affiliated with environmental groups, just people looking out for their communities." Ewing helped launch the Environmental Justice Project to fight polluters.

And fight they have. In 1989 and 1990, tenants from around the South marched along the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, where, according to the Gulf Coast Tenants' Organization, 28 per cent of the nation's petrochemical production occurs. The Louisiana Marches Against Toxic Poisoning helped focus national attention on what is now known as "cancer alley."

"Each year we gather information about the toxic chemicals coming out of different companies and help our members analyze it," says Ewing. Using the Toxics Release Inventory, a national database on corporate pollution, tenants can find out how many pounds of various dangerous chemicals companies are dumping in their communities, and how those chemicals may affect their health.

Florence Robinson and members of her local group, the North Baton Rouge Environmental Association, have been helping to organize tenants in other communities as well. Besides presenting her community's case to the Civil Rights Commission, Robinson has helped grass-roots activists from as far away as Georgia.

One way companies have responded to citizens' new-found environmental awareness is by buying entire towns, limiting their future liability. A handful of towns sandwiched between chemical factories, with such names as Sunrise and Good Hope, now stand empty. Robinson says she wouldn't mind if nearby companies offered to buy her out, too. "I want to move," she says. "It's not safe here. The kinds of chemicals the companies handle are just too dangerous."
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Title Annotation:Gulf Coast Tenants' Organization, Louisiana
Author:MacLean, Alair
Publication:The Progressive
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Words:441
Previous Article:Boycott Colorado.
Next Article:On the night of November 3, 1992.
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