A publication of Work On Waste USA, Inc., 82 Judson, Canton, NY 13617. Tel: 315-379-9200 MARCH 1996
Well, its over. It was only supposed to be three days, but it felt like a week, and for some of those involved with the logistics it felt like eternity! We expected about 300 people, we got nearly 600! People came from over forty states as well as several other countries.
We thought we were trying to construct a national dioxin campaign, but it wasnt long into the conference before many of us sensed that something much larger was happening. A movement began to emerge before our eyes and sing in our ears. For me it brought the meaning and the importance of the movement for environmental justice into much sharper focus. From the perspective of a white person, approaching the hundreds of years of oppression of both the indigenous peoples and Afro-Americans in this country, is a very difficult exercise. Through our readings and our listening, we can do our best to bring as much empathy to our understanding as we can, but we cannot truly understand it, because we cannot live it or relive it. We were not there. Even today, because it seldom happens to us, we find it difficult to fully appreciate what it means to be judged by the color of our skin.
When Mildred McClain began to sing at our conference it was for me a transcendental moment. I heard the pain of the past so clearly, because at the time I was so worried about preventing the pain of our future: our stolen future. I began to see the precious connection between us. Those who experience racial injustice first hand deal with the oppression of the past and the bigotry of the present. Those who deal with the issue of dioxins and other synthetic hormone disrupters are dealing with oppression of the future. These silent killers are building up in womens bodies and are going to be impacting children yet unconceived and yet unborn. We are all dealing with oppression in time. For both sets of oppressors, certain people dont count: in the past it was people of color, in the present, it is people who have yet to be born. We are facing overwhelming issues in the battle for maintaining the biological integrity of all species, and without incorporating environmental justice into every aspect of this fight, we will be strengthening the oppressors. Corporate injustice continues the link with the oppressors of the past. Trying to deal with this - trying to recapture our stolen future - involves tackling corporations which dont care about that future, whose only responsibility is to the bottom line earned in the present. This oppression has two faces: it has a toxic face and it has an over-consuming face. Many of the massive corporations are led by people who are living as if we had another planet to go to! What makes matters even worse, is that with their massive financial power they manage to put people into political office, who share the same sleepwalking mentality.
In addition to Mildreds singing, two unexpected events at our conference gave further dramatic focus to these realizations. First, the conference organizing committee received a protest from the youth attending who pointed out the planning of the conference had taken place without any involvement from youth and that none of the panels had participation from any young people (under 21!). While we had taken diversity into account it had stopped short of consciously including the young voice. A blind spot which was immediately addressed. Youths were invited onto each subsequent panel and made some very lively, insightful and important contributions to the conference.
The second event occured on Sunday morning, when several Cherokee Indians were treated miserably in a Shoneys restaurant. They were ignored and then received only partial and reluctant service. When this was made known to those attending the conference, participants quickly organized a march involving over 200 people. We went to the restaurant to demand an apology. In a very moving meeting, the tearful manageress apologized and said it would never happen again. It felt really good on that march. We had Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans and White Americans marching together. It felt like a microcosm of what we had to do. Just after we got back to the hotel, the heavens opened. Native Americans saw this as a cleansing.
At this conference, we saw the potential of a movement which could combine the wise insights of Native Americans who make decisions which take into account the seventh generation; with the efforts of scientists, doctors, economists and other experts who are prepared to work in the public interest, as opposed to the corporate interest; with the savvy of communities of color who have had so much experience dealing with oppressive political power; with the organizing ability of activists and groups like Greenpeace and CCHW; with the negotiating skills of workers, who will still need to have a job at the end of all our proposals; and finally, with the impatience and passion of youth who will have to live in more of the future than we will.
At the conference, we heard from many first class presenters, including: Tom Goldtooth, Nina Laboy and Margaret Williams and others who gave brilliant articulation to the need to address the problems generated by environmental racism; Willie Fontenot and Diane Heminway and others who addressed the urgent need to involve impacted workers in the transition to a sustainable and dioxin-free economy; Dr. J.P. Myers, one of the authors of Our Stolen Future (March 1996), who gave us some of the horrendous details of the impacts of endocrine disrupting chemicals on wildlife and humans; Jack Weinberg, of Greenpeace, who reviewed the global efforts to address the phase out of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs); John Stauber, author of Toxic Sludge is Good for You, who told us about the tactics of chemical corporations and others to distort and conceal the science surrounding the impacts of their polluting activities; Dr. Wayne Roberts, co-author of Get a Life!, who gave us a brilliant and uplifting presentation about community based alternatives to the corporate control of our economy; Dr. Peter Montague, editor of Rachels Environment and Health Weekly, together with Ron Nixon of the Institute for Southern Studies, who addressed the urgent need to challenge the legitimacy of corporate power.
But this conference was far more than listening to speakers, as inspiring as some of them were, it was about preparing for action. Nine campaign strategy workshops met for a total of five hours in order to craft the details of campaigns that could be taken back to communities to improve their ability to fight local battles and to network with others involved in similar struggles. These campaigns involve halting all forms of incineration; getting chlorine out of the pulp/paper industry; phasing out all uses of PVC; phasing out the use of organochlorine compounds in manufacturing and cleaning; building a health movement to address dioxin; getting dioxin out of our food; developing tools to help poisoned communities; communicating dioxin issues to the public and the media; and creating a scientific and medical swat team to help communities. These campaigns will eventually emerge from the scribbled notes of the facilitators in the form of a recipe book. This will be made available to participants and others not able to get to the conference. We will keep you posted on this as well as the availability of an edited videotape of the conference.
Discussions have already begun on the nature of the next nationally organized event of the movement - will it be a fourth conference in Indiana, in August 1997 to coincide with Dioxin 97 (an international symposium) to be held in Indianapolis or will it be a march on Washington, DC, or something else? Again, we will keep you posted.
We thank all the readers of Waste Not who came to the conference, or helped to support it financially. In the following issue we are printing the resolution drafted by the organizing committee. We hope readers will get groups to which they are affiliated to sign on to this resolution. (PC)
The conference attracted the co-sponsorship and financial support of 74 groups and several individuals. Financial support for the conference was also received from The Jenifer Altman Foundation, Beldon Fund, Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste, Common Council, Christopher Reynolds Foundation, Environmental Support Center, The Funding Exchange, Greenpeace, New World Foundation, North Shore Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program, Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, The Tides Foundation, and Betty Wood.
The conference organizing committee were: Charlotte Brody, CCHW; Angela Brown, Youth Task Force; Leslie Byster, Silicon Valley Toxics; Jackie Hunt Christensen, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy; Gary Cohen, The Learning Alliance; Ellen & Paul Connett, Waste Not; Colleen Cooney, Ontario Health Advocacy Assoc.; Charlie Cray, Greenpeace; Ken Deal, National Agent Orange/Dioxin Committee; Billie Elmore, Citizens Conferences on Dioxin Inc.; Judy Enck, NY Public Interest Research Group; Willie Fontenot, Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN); Nina Laboy, formerly with the South Bronx Clean Air Coalition; Mary OBrien, Alternatives to Risk Assessments and Toxics Use; Marylee Orr, LEAN; Maria Pellerano, Rachels Environment and Health Weekly; Florence Robinson, North Baton Rouge Environmental Assoc.; Ramona Stevens, LEAN; Terri Swearingen, Tri-State Environmental Council; Connie Tucker, Southern Organizing Committee for Economic & Social Justice; Jackie Warledo, Indigenous Environmental Network; Jim Warren, NC WARN; Tom Webster, Boston University School of Public Health.
Editors: Ellen & Paul Connett, 82 Judson Street, Canton, New York 13617. Tel: 315-379-9200. Fax: 315-379-0448.