An Environmental Justice Tour of Southern Louisiana November 2022

A preconference event, sponsored by the National Communication Association, co-led by the Environmental Communication Division and the African American Culture & Communication Division

Land Acknowledgment 
(Adapted from Dr. Jeffrey Darensbourg & the American Studies Association)

For many centuries before any lands were known as the Americas, groups of Indigenous Peoples lived and traded at this confluence of waterways, naming it “Bulbancha,” a Choctaw word meaning “the place of other languages,” reflecting interaction between peoples of differing language groups. The original First Nations of the area include, but are not limited to, the Biloxi, Choctaw, Chitimacha, Houma, Acolapissa, Natchez, Bayougoula, Ishak, and Tunica. Indigenous Peoples still live in this city, and Bulbancha is still a place. French colonists first visited this area in 1699, and began calling it “New Orleans” in 1718. Europeans established chattel slavery of Africans and Indigenous peoples, establishing enduring systems of discrimination and exploitation. The struggle for justice and equality has been waged here for over 300 years, and we hosted this tour to acknowledge heroes of that ongoing struggle.

The tour guide Darryl Malek-Wiley (@DarrylMW) was featured in Pezzullo’s award-winning book, Toxic Tourism (2007), on his tours of “Cancer Death Alley.” He will recall the 1988 Great Louisiana Toxic March (the Library of Congress) and Katrina as a racial, ecological, and climate storm, as well as highlight ongoing campaigns. For a map in the local paper on why the route we’re traveling is called a “Chemical Corridor.”

Stop 1: Norco/St. Charles Parish features Anne Rolfes (@annerolfes), the Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, who will talk about their grassroots citizen science work. Their website offers lots of tools and resources of interest. She will address air quality testing and maybe share some about how they traveled to where Pres. Biden vacations to ask him to stop putting gas export terminals in their home: check out the Rehoboth campaign website.

Stop 2: The Whitney Plantation in Wallace features Dr. Joy Banner, the Co-Director of The Descendants Project (@project_descend) with her sister Jo Banner, who will talk about their organization’s commitment to the intergenerational healing and flourishing of the Black descendant community in the Louisiana river parishes, including reparations. Learn about the proposed Grain Elevator & Sign the Petition to support the Whitney Plantation (the only one in the state run by ancestors of formerly enslaved people) and the historic Black communities in Wallace, Louisiana. We won’t have time for the gift shop, but you can make purchases on their website. The American Studies Association created an Abolitionist Orientation Guide for those who want to explore more related sites while visiting New Orleans.

Stop 3: Burton Lane Church in St. James Parish features 2021 Goldman Prize winner, Sharon Lavigne (@risestjames), the Director of RISE St. James, which has been a fenceline community leader in resisting the harms of the petrochemical industry. She will focus on one of their campaigns, which you can support by taking action to say no to single-use plastic and to Stop Formosa Plastics. Sign a petition to support #StopFormosa allies in Vietnam. For another map of the region: #BreakFreeFromPlastic virtual map.

Also on the bus will be Tim Schütz (@tmschtz) who can share more about the Disaster STS Network, which he has co-designed to support community organizations, and EcoGovLab, of which he is a member. Through this work, he has partnered with the Whitney Plantation, the San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper, and Justice for Formosa‘s Victims. His work includes a virtual tour of Cancer Alley you can use in your classroom.

Best practices of toxic tours:
Compensate local guides for sharing their expertise about the treasures & challenges their community faces
Confirm with local community that you are welcomed
Ask permission if you want to record audio or take photographs
Listen to local community voices about ways you can be helpful after the tour is over (sign petitions, spread the word, donate, etc.)
Network with tour participants, sharing inspiration, resources and commiseration about teaching, research, and service related to the tour themes