Politicians have chosen process over lives and the result has been rampant cancer in the region

Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people (Isaiah 10:1). I was reminded of this verse from the Bible when I read about the town of Reserve in Louisiana. It is the place in America with the highest risk of cancer due to air toxicity, caused by a raft of government and corporate failure that has deprived residents many of whom are poor and black of their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Reserve is home to the Pontchartrain Works facility, the only chemical plant in America to produce chloroprene, a likely carcinogen, that has spewed from the plant for almost 50 years. US government science has indicated this makes the risk of cancer in that area 50 times higher than the national average.

What is happening in Reserve, the subject of a year-long Guardian series, is ugly. It is tragic. It is immoral. And it is evil.

It is a clear example of what I describe as policy violence, which disproportionately affects poor communities of every race, but especially poorer communities of color. The plants operators, first the chemicals giant DuPont and now the Japanese corporation Denka, have for decades benefited from Louisianas lax environmental rules and tax breaks to essentially target a community for profit.

It has happened for generations across political lines. Both Democrats and Republicans have chosen corporate process over peoples lives in Reserve, and elsewhere in the area between New Orleans and Baton Rouge known locally as Cancer Alley. But would any politician; a governor of Louisiana, a member of the house of representatives or a US senator, stand for this if it were their community or their family? The answer, of course, is no.

Often, elected representatives in this region will say that these polluting giants are necessary because they create jobs. To them I say the answer is simple: invest in clean energy.

The history of state-sanctioned oppression in Reserve has gone back for hundreds of years. The Pontchartrain Works facility is built on the site of a former plantation, and many residents in this area trace their roots back to slavery. The continuation of these economies, built on greed and evil intent, is striking. First slavery, then Jim Crow and now petrochemical pollution.

But just as these forms of oppression were made legal by the state, so, too, did people with a clear moral conscience fight against them. There can never be an acceptance of exploitation, of death from cancer and pollution.

Slavery was fought with an abolition movement. Jim Crow was opposed by civil rights leaders. This era of toxic pollution must be stopped too.

Many people in Reserve, and elsewhere in Cancer Alley, have been fighting this for years, all too often ignored by their elected representatives. It is particularly telling that Louisiana has just passed a regressive anti-abortion law while doing little to help the residents of Reserve.

I would challenge every so-called pro-life politician in Louisiana who is not also advocating on behalf of the citizens of Reserve to rethink that moniker.

All of this is why I will come to Reserve later this month.

Our movement, the Poor Peoples Campaign, is built from the bottom up and aims to shift the moral narrative around this country. We want to make sure people dont just hear the facts and figures about Cancer Alley, but they see the faces, the humanity, and the people that are being impacted. We believe there must be a policy remedy to what is going on in Reserve.

Too often, corporate exploitation and government failures occur in the darkness, away from the media spotlight. We must expose what is happening there to the light now.

We hope the people in Reserve will become part of our nationwide struggle.

  • Cancertown: A Conversation on the most toxic air in America a series of events in New Orleans and Reserve will take place on 26 and 27 July. The event is co-sponsored by the Guardian and the Poor Peoples Campaign

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

 

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