Ecological Justice Tour Stops in GSOBy Yasmine Regester / August 16, 2018
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A crowd of nearly 200 people from across the state gathered at Shiloh Baptist Church in Greensboro on August 13 for a mass meeting on environmental concerns that have impacted communities across North Carolina.
“Tonight, we are here for movement building. We must have a movement that changes the moral narrative of this country,” said Rev. William Barber, national co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, to a packed sanctuary at the church on Monday night.
The Poor People’s Campaign Ecological Justice Tour made a stop in Greensboro, bringing along former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and his daughter, Kareena Gore of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York, to raise awareness on climate change and to build voter mobilization.
The N.C. Ecological Justice group took two days touring areas of North Carolina that are facing environmental concerns. Gore spoke about his visit to Belews Creek, where he met with people being impacted by coal ash created by electrical power company Duke Energy.
“Earlier today, we were on the shores of Belews Creek with the big smoke stacks of Duke Energy behind us in the distance there. It was a crime scene. And as I heard the testimony from people, I thought if this was a TV show we could call it, ‘CSI Belews Creek,’” Gore said to the crowd. “And we know who the culprit is.”
The mass meeting coincided with Moral Mondays, the North Carolina movement created and founded by former N.C. NAACP President Rev. Barber to give a voice to citizens bringing their concerns to the state legislature. The Ecological Justice Tour also held a worship service at Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro on Sunday, August 12.
The Ecological Justice Tour is part of The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival that is calling on people across the country to challenge systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and to uplift the nation’s morality. In May, the campaign launched its 40 Days of Moral Action, where hundreds of people spent weeks protesting at the U.S. Capitol for children and families living in poverty.
Modeled after the original 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the new Poor People’s Campaign has a list of demands that includes, but is not limited to, changes to federal and state living wage laws, a reinvestment in public housing, a repeal to the 2017 GOP-led tax plan, restoration of the Voting Rights Act, an end to America’s militarism and reallocation of resources from the military budget to education, health care, jobs and green infrastructure needs.
Gore and other guest speakers encouraged people to fight for alternative energy sources and to vote for candidates who will defend their constituents against ecological devastation.
“Rural communities and communities of color have been deprived historically and systemically of the proper economic and political defense against these insults visited upon where they live,” said Gore. “If we continue to do what we’re doing now we would put at risk all of human civilization on our watch. That is not who we are as human beings.”
Monday night was also an opportunity for the community to hear directly from those impacted by ecological damage in their communities. According to the PPC, the Duke Energy coal ash spill of 2014 released more than 39,000 tons of coal ash — the residue left from burning coal — and 27 million gallons of contaminated water into the Dan River, poisoning the communities of Walnut Cove, Goldsboro, Belmont and Lumberton.
Tracy Edwards, a resident of Walnut Cove, asserts the coal ash in the water made her mother very sick until the day she passed away. Edwards’ mother, Anne Brown, is one of many people whose name rings out as a motivating factor of the movement.
“Duke Energy doesn’t want to take responsibility. But there’s nothing else that could’ve made us sick. Look around, it can affect you too. You are closer than you think. It will happen to you if you allow it,” said Edwards, who stated she was also a survivor of three strokes and a heart attack.
Guest speakers spoke out against the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipelines, which are hundreds of miles of pipeline that will transport fracked shale gas through poor, Black, indigenous, and rural communities.
Belinda Joyner representing the Northampton County Town of Garysburg spoke passionately about the elected officials who have been and/or who soon will be swept from office primarily because they backed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and other environmentally hazardous projects that have endangered the lives of residents for generations to come.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline will run through Rockingham and Alamance counties, while the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will run through the communities of Northampton, Halifax, Nash, Wilson, Johnston, Sampson, Cumberland, and Robeson counties. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will cross through territory and sacred sites of the Lumbee, Haliwa-Saponi, Waccamaw, Coharie,Tuscarora and Meherrin Nations.
Recently, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered the temporary halt to construction on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, due to a decision by a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the building permits.
Donna Chavis, member of the Lumbee nation in Pembroke, Robeson County, spoke about how the government has allowed the dumping of radioactive material on Indian reservations for decades and the nations will no longer be silent.
“The pipeline will damage us greatly,” said Chavis. “They call it clean energy and it’s not, its methane gas. Methane gas is worse than coal in terms of heating the Earth. We don’t need it. It is up to us to save the dreams of our young people.”
William Barber III, Ecological Co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign talked about the pollution that comes from industrial animal farms and the release of a dangerous chemical called GenX into the Cape Fear River, impacting people spanning from Fayetteville to Wilmington.
“We need to ask ourselves why are rural communities in North Carolina being designated as dumping grounds for the state’s pollution,” he said. “At some point we have to stop believing the lie that our rural communities are less valuable.”
The Ecological Committee has pledged to continue to hold meetings across the state to keep people up-to-date on the issues with regard to the environment.
“This is about life and death,” said Barber.
For more information on the campaign, visit www.poorpeoplescampaign.org