Friday, July 21, 2006

Our Allies in Louisiana

Last year, from March 14 to 25, the two regular EAOP instructors and 13 master's students from Antioch University New England's Environmental Studies Department in Keene, NH visited Louisiana as part of a new ten-day field studies course entitled "Environmental Justice in the Mississippi Delta." During our visit, our class met with a diverse array of stakeholders, including elected officials, petrochemical industry executives, union leaders, scientists, EPA officials, environmental activists, and members of polluted communities along the stretch of the Mississippi River that many state officials call "the Chemical Corridor" and local people often call "Cancer Alley."

One of the most impressive activists we met on that trip was Marylee Orr, the executive director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, a coalition of over 100 grassroots environmental groups around the state that have been fighting for environmental justice and protection for years.

Since Hurricane Katrina last August, our faculty and staff have been practicing our fundraising skills and have helped raise thousands of dollars for LEAN's relief efforts. For more information on LEAN's efforts in this area, check out this interview with Marylee. Also, if you would like to financially contribute to LEAN's relief efforts and environmental organizing campaigns, check out their donation site.

We are currently working with Marylee in planning our upcoming March 2007 field studies trip to Louisiana, which will have an expanded focus because we'll also be exploring the ins and outs of how racial and class differences in power and social status badly mis-shaped both hurricane preparation and the governmental response after Katrina hit. We're also looking into how to build a strong service-learning component to our bi-annual trip to aid LEAN's hurricane relief/reconstruction efforts.

We already ended up doing an impromtu, after-the-fact, service-learning project last year when our faculty and students ended up leading a national campaign to support Willie Fontenot, another one of our Louisiana allies, after he was unfairly dismissed from his job as Environmental Liasion for the Louisiana Attorney General when all he did "wrong" was stand up for our legal rights against Exxon-Mobil's clumsy attempt to repress our study trip's research.

We are very eager to get back to Louisiana, learn more about environmental justice, and find ways to help our many allies there.

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