As I write this I’m on my way back from St. Louis, Missouri. Yes, I there are riots in the streetand it was a bit risky to go now rather than postponing the trip for another day when the city settles down. But, this is a city of so many injustices, and honestly the “quiet” after the protests only means the world stopped paying attention. The problems don’t go away when the media leaves. It’s because people took the voices and bodies to the street that a light is shining on one of the problems today, but there are many serious injustices that exist in St. Louis. The local group Just Moms STL have been planning this training and educational event for six months, so I needed to go.
Just a short distance from the center of the unrest is another form of injustice, a landfill which is burning underground. The fire is slowly moving beneath the surface toward the neighboring landfill which contains radioactive wastes. What happens when the fire reaches the nuclear waste, no one knows? It’s very scary for families with small children who have no idea when the fire will reach the radioactive material or what will happen when it does. This waste travels through Ferguson but originates from a neighboring subdivision.
The truth is, all of North St. Louis is in a fight for justice. CHEJ is moving forward to provide assistance, but only where we have expertise. Our work is focused on the families living in the Mobile Homes Park and single family homes that have been exposed to smoke, odors, toxic chemicals and likely radioactive waste for over a decade without relief. Their children are sick, the community riddled with cancers and nothing has been done. The fire continues to burn and release toxins into the air, government continues to test and continues to find dangerous chemicals, and the responsible company, Republic Services, is doing less.
What makes this site even more symbolic of injustice—on one side is the rich, powerful, protected people and on the other side the poor. Bill Gates, the wealthiest man in this country is the largest shareholder in Republic Service. He alone has enough money to move the families who need to be evacuated out of harm’s way. He wouldn’t even miss the funds. Certainly, as the largest shareholder, he could convince Republic Services to pay him back. Or with his power as the largest shareholder get Republic Services to move the innocent families and permanently clean up the sites. But he hasn’t lifted a finger to help.
I have to wonder if Bill and Melinda Gates saw the story of unrest on T.V. or if either of them realizes that the company that is paying him over $30 million dollars a quarter in dividends is responsible for another form of violence on the local people. They both give generously to children’s hospitals across the country (and should continue) but in St. Louis children are the being made sick daily because of the fire and landfill related pollution in which he could do something about. He has the power to get Republic Services to move the families that live in harm’s way and clean up properly the dump sites.
One participant at the community training said, we need to tell Bill Gates, “We can’t open our windows.” They aren’t describing his windows program but rather that the pollution and odors are so bad that they need to keep the windows of their homes closed and air conditioning running, for those who can afford air conditioning.
Try to imagine living in a community with a burning landfill moving slowly toward a radioactive waste site and no one seems to care. Although I do not support violence, however, it seem people raising their voices in the street is the only way people can expose their suffering to the public and their best hope of getting ant action.