The Long March Against Chemical Poisoning in Death Alley

New Orleans         In a close vote, the Louisiana legislature recently rejected an effort by the oil, gas, and chemical industry to allow companies in the state to self-report to the state environmental quality agency any violations of pollution standards from their operations.  The other gift the industry was seeking was the ability to restrict any report and evidence of violation from public inspection and freedom of information requests.  In essence they wanted to report that they had polluted, but keep it secret from everyone and have the state simply take their word for the fact that they had done it, and they were truly, truly sorry, but mum’s the word.  The shocking surprise was not the pure, unadulterated impunity of the industry, but the fact that the arch-conservative Louisiana legislature, long a lap dog for the oil, gas, and chemical lobbyists, didn’t rollover for a tummy scratch, but instead barked a bit.

The stretch of the land along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans has long been known as “cancer alley” because of the number of refineries and chemical plants located alongside the easy shipping access, and the level of pollution and contamination that comes with such industries.  Many of the communities most victimized have been lower income African-American areas so the evidence of environmental racism has been long established.

The Coalition Against Death Alley (CADA) has recently been organized by a variety of environmental and community groups hoping to bring attention to these issues and the continuing alarming health hazards in these communities.  ACORN’s affiliate in Louisiana, A Community Voice, is a member of the coalition, as is the progressive forum for many groups called Justice and Beyond.

CADA has called a five-day marathon action that would convene at Whitney Plantation, the restored operation highlighting the horrors of slavery near Convent, Louisiana.  From there they are hoping to march from five to seven miles each of three days back and forth across the river to highlight the tragedy, sleeping and eating in various churches along the route until a final rally on the fifth day at Southern University in Baton Rouge.

Part of the route includes traversing the famous Sunshine Bridge, so named in the Long era because it seemed to be connecting little more than sunshine from one side of the river to the other.  That climb would be 2.8 miles, so the flesh would need to be as strong as the spirit there, if it’s allowed.  The two parishes of St. James and St. John are both trying to deny the CADA marches permits that would allow some marches along the highway and over the bridge.

Admittedly, CADA faces a number of barriers to make this all come together in the blend of civil rights tactics and human rights and environmental concerns that they are seeking to merge in order to continue to bring attention to the imperiled communities facing major corporate and industrial interests.  Raising issues of climate change is front page news, but these issues have to come to the fore from the back pages, so here’s hoping they attract the attention to this march that it deserves.

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