Catania If there is one thing about the climate fight that has become certain, it is that business and governmental leaders are not going to move quickly, unless they feel the heat coming up from the grassroots. Talking recently on Wade’s World to climate warriors in Birmingham, Alabama, and Jackson, Mississippi, it is clear the temperature has to be constant and increasing. I had “met” both of these women on Zoom and learned about their organizations in a series of training sessions on the principles of community organization that we had done for the Anthropocene Alliance. Wanting to learn more and to share their work, each of them joined me on the radio recently.
Susan Diane Mitchell and I talked about the efforts she has spark plugged in the Dynamite Hill/Smithfield neighborhood near downtown Birmingham. This largely African-American community’s proximity to the city center of course raises the specter of potential gentrification, but its history around the civil rights period and before has been violent and contested. Mitchell and others raised the issue of potential flooding and what is being done to protect residents environmentally, but their other big project has been protecting land ownership and creating affordable housing with a land trust. They had tried to get access to ten properties, but the pandemic had stalled their efforts. Now they have once again put their shoulder to the wheel and acquired their first property. Nothing about a land trust is ever easy. ACORN in many cities where we established them found the concept difficult to maintain. In New York City, mutual housing with common systems under the same roof has been viable, but for single families we had to walk back many projects. ACORN affiliate, A Community Voice, is far along in developing a bioswale in one property now.
I also talked to Romana Taylor Williams about the work of MCUP, Mississippi Communities United for Progress, and its work in and around Jackson. Juan Fernandez, a hydrologist, joined us on the program. His email says <jacksonfloods>, and maybe that says it all. The Pearl River runs through and around Jackson as it moves south, forming the border with Louisiana, as it heads to the Gulf of Mexico. Flooding always seems a problem every spring, and there are constant struggles with the Corps of Engineers in trying to get them to do right, all of which led us to talk about the One Lake project. MCUP and its allies have opposed the project on both environmental and equity grounds. Some developers from north Jackson have proposed the project in order to enhance their property values with lakeside mini-mansions, while leaving lower income communities more imperiled by flooding if the project continues. Like all fights involving developers and the Corp of Engineers, this is also an uphill battle. The money has been authorized by Congress, but has not been appropriated, so, as we know from the ongoing similar whack-a-mole battles with the Corp over the Industrial Canal in New Orleans, this will be a long, hard battle.
In Birmingham and Jackson, the odds are long for climate fighters, still struggling to build capacity and resources, but listening to Mitchell, Williams, and Fernandez, I would worry if I were on the other side and would never bet against them.