Environmental Justice & Over Burdened Communities
From Love Canal 38 years ago to Flint, Michigan today, Gibbs has fought alongside and stood up for communities that have suffered more pollution than other communities due to their economic status or race. Report after report documents the fact that communities of low wealth and/or of color are faced with a significantly larger burden of chemicals in their environment than wealthier white neighborhoods. The issue of environmental justice has been at the forefront of Gibbs’ work beginning at Love Canal, in 1978. Griffon Manor, located to the west of the Love Canal dumpsite consisted of 240 low income family townhouses that were also contaminated and later evacuated. Families received the same benefits as homeowners, however, neither the media nor government representatives publicly acknowledged them as victims of Love Canal. Gibbs’ uncovered and exposed the government’s and corporation’s written plans to build hazardous, nuclear and solid waste disposal facilities right in the heart of already overburdened communities. She worked quietly behind the scenes in places like Warren, North Carolina to assist in the planning of the first march that publicly introduce the concept of targeting communities and environmental injustice to the front pages of the news and today the history books. Gibbs was also on the founding planning committee of the First national People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit (1991) that was the impetus to the 1994 Presidential Environmental Justice Executive Order. In this presentation Gibbs takes her listeners on a journey through the history, from an intimate insider’s first-hand experience through the history (1982 Warren County to 2016 Flint, Michigan) of efforts to right the wrongs. Discussions with listeners often center around what happened, where were the national green groups throughout this journey and are there policies that have brought more justice to communities of low wealth or color?
Lessons Learned from Love Canal & 35 Years of Field Work
Over thirty eight years have passed since the crisis at Love Canal. Is our country and our communities better off today? In this presentation listeners will learn about government/corporate policies, practices and community experiences today compared to our first awakening at Love Canal. Through actual community situations and examples, listeners learn how environmental problems are discovered, what actions that are frequently taken by government/ corporations. This provocative presentation provides the opportunity for discussion about what listeners think about what they heard, if they have ideas, thoughts or suggestions for the future approaches to environmental health related situations. Additionally, Gibbs can speak to how programs have changed to assess the country’s environmental chemical pollution problems. For example, in Woburn, Massachusetts, (Civil Action) a local mother went door to door to check her theory that a cluster of children with cancer existed in the neighborhood. No health authority would take her seriously when she asked them to look at statistics of cancer in children. Today we have a federal agency that’s primary job is to investigate such situations. Listeners will learn about how effective the health investigations are and how difficult it is to define with any scientific certainty a result positive or negative. So what does society do about this problem? How should health authorities provide the protections and remedies for American families at risk?
Women in Leadership of the Environmental Health & Justice Movement
What does it mean to be a woman in a leadership role in this movement? Listeners will learn first-hand experience from Gibbs’ who not only is a woman but was a stay-at-home mom with a high school education. What were the challenges she faced as she moved from homemaker to activists; from local activist to a national movement leader. Gibbs established a national organization, which she ran for 35 years, which was led from the ground up by women of varying cultures and classes. Listeners will learn what makes women natural leaders within this movement and lessons learned about taking on social challenges and succeeding. Stories from the field about woman, like one in Georgia, who felt she couldn’t speak out or publicly protest and still be accepted within her cultural group, but did find away and win a significant victory. Gibbs will share with listeners examples around how women have turned the table on men in power who belittled, dismissed or looked at them as “eye candy” rather than another human with intelligence and a serious problem. This presentation opens a discussion on women and power; how women often don’t realize they have power or are hesitant to embrace their power. Also, this dialog and conversation often leads to a discussion about balancing school, work, home, family and self.
Love Canal - Ignited a Powerful Health & Justice Movement
In the spring of 1978, Gibbs’ a 27 year-old housewife discovered that her child was attending an elementary school built next to a 20,000 ton, toxic-chemical dump in Niagara Falls, New York. Desperate to do something about it, with no history in organizing, successfully brought her neighbors together to establish the Love Canal Homeowners Association. Opposing the group’s efforts were the chemical manufacturer, Occidental Petroleum, as well as local, state and federal government officials. Listeners will hear how the crisis unfolded, the challenges and strategies used by Gibbs’ and the organization and how the group won the first relocation in this country’s history due to pollution. Love Canal was the first crisis but not the worst site in America. In October 1980, President Jimmy Carter delivered an Emergency Declaration which moved 900 families from this hazardous area and signified victory for the grassroots community. Two months later In December a new federal program was established commonly referred to as Superfund. Open lively conversations usually happen after the presentation from participants interested in health sciences, engineering and social science perspectives. Additionally, those listeners interested in communications can learn quite a bit about how, without social media and the internet the group was able to secure front page news often.
Leadership – What it Takes to Become a Leader in Creating Change