Women Pioneers of the Louisiana Environmental Movement

Women Pioneers of the Louisiana Environmental Movement

with Susan Tucker
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Women Pioneers of the Louisiana Environmental Movement
    Book Description:

    Women Pioneers of the Louisiana Environmental Movementprovides a window into the passion and significance of thirty-eight committed individuals who led a grassroots movement in a socially conservative state. The book is comprised of oral history narratives in which women activists share their motivation, struggles, accomplishments, and hard-won wisdom. Additionally interviews with eight men, all leaders who worked with or against the women, provide more insight into this rich--and also gendered--history.

    The book sheds light on Louisiana and America's social and political history, as well as the national environmental movement in which women often emerged to speak for human rights, decent health care, and environmental protection. By illuminating a crucial period in Louisiana history, the women tell how "environmentalism" emerged within a state already struggling with the dual challenges of adjusting to the civil rights movement and the growing oil boom.Peggy Frankland, an environmental activist herself since 1982, worked with a team of interviewers, especially those trained at Louisiana State University's T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History. Together they interviewed forty women pioneers of the state environmental movement. Frankland's work also was aided by a grant from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. In this compilation, she allows the women's voices to provide a clear picture of how their smallest actions impacted their communities, their families, and their way of life. Some experiences were frightening, some were demeaning, and many women were deeply affected by the individual persecution, ridicule, and scorn their activities brought. But their shared victories reveal the positive influence their activism had on the lives of loved ones and fellow citizens.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-940-2
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-1)

    Not long ago, Louisiana was renowned for the uniqueness and beauty of its landscape. This magnificence was the backdrop of my early life when I came to Lake Charles as a young woman of eighteen in 1959. Today, so many years later, I still think of the brilliance of the gifts of air, land, and water that we have. You will hear of those gifts in the essays of most of the women and men in this book, and, more, you will hear of the resilience of both the state and its residents. Touted as “the Sportsman’s Paradise” for decades,...

  5. [Map]
    (pp. 2-2)
  6. Chapter One “HOW COULD I STAND BY?”: Protecting One Place, Protecting Many
    (pp. 3-29)

    We begin with a group of seven women, united in one place, Morgan City in Saint Mary Parish, Louisiana. Their stories may seem familiar: like so many others, these women made a leap from the household and schoolroom to public arenas, passing petitions, writing press releases, and testifying at permit hearings. Their work united caretaking for children with caretaking for the environment. We start with them since they tell not only of horrors but also of appreciation, a garnering of strength that rested primarily on education and values located in their families, churches, and, indeed, Louisiana itself. Their stories are...

  7. Chapter Two “WE ARE BLACK AND WHITE, RICH AND POOR”: Crossing Boundaries, Remaking Louisiana
    (pp. 30-58)

    What would it mean to find that industries near you were evacuating their own workers because of potential dangers without telling you, a nearby resident, to leave the area as well? Let this question stand as a metaphor for this chapter, one that explores movement among people, some positive, some less so. The crossings take place within the soil of industrial waste, within races, religions, local and national governments, local and national news coverage. The women also talk about conversations over fences, neighbors in unison acting together, but also new fences going up in the estrangement that comes when there...

  8. Chapter Three “I KNOW THAT IT WAS A REVELATION FROM GOD”: Religion and Environmental Action
    (pp. 59-84)

    Louisiana, like other southern states, is known for a conservatism often framed by evangelical practices. Unlike other southern states, it is also known for the predominance of Catholicism, whose members make up 30 percent of the population, and an even larger percentage of residents in the coastal areas of the state. It is not surprising, then, that among the women in this book, twenty-two are Catholic women, alongside fourteen Protestant and two Jewish women. All of them speak of some attachment to religion, and most speak of considerable attachment.

    They do not, however, emphasize their work as Catholics, Protestants, or...

  9. Chapter Four “WHAT A FEW PEOPLE CAN DO”: Learning to Advocate for Others
    (pp. 85-109)

    Louisiana’s first environmental activists encountered numerous obstacles as they sought to protect their communities’ health and way of life. The political and economic climate in Louisiana pitted these women against individuals and companies wielding a great deal of power and not afraid to use it.

    As almost all the narratives have made apparent, the petrochemical industry was the state’s economic engine, but older industries, such as the timber business, were also revered and, at times, sacred. Most state leaders wanted to ensure maximum regulatory flexibility for businesses, and citizens had long been taught that such a hands-off policy would be...

  10. Chapter Five “YOU ARE NOT SOMEBODY PRETENDING TO BE A MAN”: Success, Politics, and Gender
    (pp. 110-144)

    Five decades separate the oldest of the activists in this chapter from the youngest. Like the other women in this book, the activists also come from vastly different backgrounds—from homes that propelled them into an elite education, from homes where the next meal was considered first upon the day’s agenda, and from homes in-between these two extremes. Yet, again, as in all the chapters in this book, their workas womenoften informed them, motivated them, and connected them. In this chapter we take note then of how traditional roles of caretaking, always extending out into communities, came to...

  11. Chapter Six “WHEN SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT, YOU HAVE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT”: Career Activists Build Bridges
    (pp. 145-173)

    In this chapter, we hear from five women who made careers in environmental activism. Time and time again, these professionals energized a grassroots group’s flagging efforts by providing technical information, guidance on strategy, and moral support. In so doing, each of the women made a unique contribution to Louisiana’s environmental movement.

    Perhaps more than any other state in the country, Louisiana needed the knowledge, insight, and conviction these five women had to offer. Torn apart by the false dichotomy of economics versus clean air, land, and water, Louisiana had become a place where industry could exploit the state’s rich natural...

  12. Chapter Seven “WE AS A PEOPLE ARE BETTER THAN OUR POLITICS”: Allies, Experts, and Adversaries
    (pp. 174-227)

    To accomplish the goal of protecting the people of Louisiana, the women whose stories we have heard here regularly interacted with government and industry leaders and organizing and legal experts. Sometimes these people proved themselves a mixture of both allies and adversaries, and just as often, they proved one way or another. This chapter presents interviews with some of these people. Their perspectives offer insight into the complex issues that had to be considered before a law could be changed, a policy created, a permit granted, or a regulation enforced.

    The voices here do not, of course, represent an all-inclusive...

  13. Chapter Eight “THERE WAS NEVER A QUESTION OF DATA”: Perspectives from Ten Years Out
    (pp. 228-241)

    In 1962’sSilent Spring, the book many people credit with giving birth to the modern environmental movement, Rachel Carson writes: “We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress at great speed. The fork of the road—‘the one less traveled by’—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth.” By 1970, Louisiana’s elected officials and business leaders had made their choice and were...

    (pp. 242-244)

    This book does not include interviews with all of the courageous and visionary women who worked to protect Louisiana’s environment in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Some of the women died before the project began, and some we were unable to speak with because of time and resource shortages. Although they are not featured in the book, they nevertheless made extremely important contributions and we are indebted to all of them.

    Please forgive me if your name is not on the following list. I did not intentionally omit anyone. Listed are the names of some of the women I met...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 245-250)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 251-259)