Sharing Stories of Local Leaders
The core of the Environmental Justice movement is powered by communities and local organizers. CHEJ exists because of grassroots activism, and our mission is to empower this very same community action across the country. At CHEJ, we feel incredibly lucky to have been able to work with some of the most inspiring people organizing grassroots movements to restore health to their communities. Here, we want to highlight the stories of some amazing local leaders who are raising awareness for environmental issues in their homes.
Ginger Juel, Twin Ports Action Alliance (TPAA), Duluth, MN
On April 26th, 2018, a massive plume of black smoke exploded into the sky above Superior, Wisconsin. When Ginger Juel saw the ominous black cloud from her Duluth, Minnesota home across the water, and she immediately knew that something was wrong. However, when she turned on the news to see what was going on, there were no reports of any black smoke. Being a lifetime Twin Ports (Duluth, MN and Superior, WI) resident, she was especially concerned because she knew the smoke was billowing from Husky Refinery, and she knew that all five K-12 schools in Superior were located within 1-2 miles of the refinery. So when the news failed to provide any information on the potential disaster, Juel turned to social media. As she began to comb through tweets about the area, she noticed that there was a Facebook live stream of the plume, warning people it was coming from the refinery.
Nick Teti, Coshocton Environmental and Community Awareness (CECA), Coshocton, OH
When Nick Teti and a group of friends founded Coshocton Environmental and Community Awareness (CECA), they did so because they were thinking differently from the people around them. They wanted to bring environmental justice, green thinking and health information to Coshocton County, Ohio since the Iraq war, and in 2013 they decided that forming a nonprofit would be the best way to get their message across. The only dilemma was that in 2013, Coschocton County wasn’t ready to be thinking about environmental reforms. Most people there were too caught up in their daily lives to engage with an environmental movement, like what play they wanted go see at the town recreation center that evening, or whether their friends would be available for a picnic in Coshocton Lake Park the following Sunday.
Charlie Powell, People Against Neighborhood Industrial Contamination (PANIC), Birmingham, AL
If toxic air was causing your friends and family to get sick and die from cancer, what would you do? This is the terrifying reality Charlie Powell and other Birmingham activists have grappled with since 2009, when it became clear that toxic air in Northern Birmingham was making residents sick. The toxicity isn’t equal for the whole city, however: it is concentrated in four neighborhoods in Northern Birmingham: Harriman Park, Fairmont, Collegeville and North Birmingham. All four of these neighborhoods surround the ERP Coke plant, which produces high grade coke for industrial furnaces. Coke production is notoriously dirty, and the emissions produced are dangerous to inhale: it’s created by essentially baking coal. If a facility doesn’t have proper scrubbers and air purification technologies installed, exposure to emissions can result in cancer.
Learn about CHEJ’s history post our beginning as a grassroots activist group with Lois Gibbs and Love Canal.
Lois Gibbs was once a grassroots activist herself— listen as she describes her journey from mother to environmentalist and the mother of Superfund.