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>> 169 6 Passive Revolution and Resistance In 2007, I was invited back to New Orleans to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB) and participate in a weekendlong retreat to establish a strategic vision for the organization’s future. On a not-yet-steamy Saturday morning in July, LABB staff, board members, volunteers , and community partners congregated in a restored Creole villa in the Treme, home to the New Orleans African American Museum. We began by reflecting on LABB’s major activities and achievements, and the “learnings ” that had come from them. Participants recalled working with Greenpeace on campaigns in southwestern Louisiana that included nonviolent resistance and giant banners hung illegally from highway overpasses—tactics that, founding director Anne Rolfes noted with some regret, had faded away from LABB’s work. The relocation of the Diamond community was of course also added to the giant timeline we constructed on one of the few walls in the villa not hung with artwork. So, too, were LABB’s more recent activities in Chalmette: there, together with St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality and an especially skilled full-time volunteer, the organization had 170 > 171 reach the discovery phase, when additional information about the refinery’s environmental record would have been revealed—were blatant, manipulative exercises of corporate power. As significant as these factors are, the assessments offered at the LABB retreat underestimate what community campaigns like that in New Sarpy are up against. Deeply ingrained understandings of what it means to be a responsible person and a good citizen—shaped by our nation’s liberal traditions and its neoliberal practices—make the costs of environmental justice campaigns exceptionally high for communities, perhaps especially so for the low-income and/or minority communities that are most likely to need to resort to collective action in order to protect their health and environment . Asserting that they were stuck in a toxic environment not of their own choosing jeopardized New Sarpy residents’ status—and sense of themselves —as enterprising individuals, capable of and committed to pursuing a good life for themselves and their families. By declaring their neighborhood toxic, they risked tarnishing the image of the small town in the eyes of outsiders on whom future investment depended. And in refusing to engage with Orion representatives without the support of nonprofit allies who could call into question the presumption of equality structured into industry-sponsored talks, they were all too easily dismissed as simply impossible to reason with. Notions of responsible choice, entrepreneurship, and reasoned, egalitarian discussion thus create significant ambivalences for residents of fenceline communities. Collective action may be the only choice for a community wanting to improve its environment and mitigate the health effects of industrial pollution; however, resting on the premise that, acting alone, even enterprising individuals cannot persuade a powerful company to change its practices, it is far from a natural or obvious choice for many, if not most, communities.1 This endemic ambivalence certainly made it possible for Orion to manipulate New Sarpy residents—and the more explicit, coherent campaign goals that Rolfes would have liked CCNS to have had may or may not have been enough to overcome deep-seated biases against collective action. But the same understandings of personhood and responsible action also make it possible in many circumstances for petrochemical companies to secure the acquiescence and even support of fenceline communities without resorting to Orion’s brand of heavy-handed tactics. Large, multisited companies with explicit commitments to social responsibility—companies like Valero and Shell—have acknowledged and now work to address many of the justice issues raised by grassroots environmental campaigns, albeit within 172 > 173 communities and defeat community opposition—should be taken very seriously, the analysis here offers an additional lesson: such raw exercises of power are a last resort for most companies, at least in the United States. Rather than cutting down or rolling over community opposition, corporations with resources will work to accommodate a wide range of community concerns and complaints. In doing so, though, they transform their substance: allegations of unjust hiring practices become vocational education programs, for example, and critiques of frequent flaring are answered by better and better explanations of flaring’s function. The transformations turn criticism away from areas in which petrochemical companies claim expertise—namely, plant performance, operational safety, and environmental impacts—and shepherd it into areas where companies are willing to grant outsiders a voice. Accommodating enough to satisfy most community complaints but strategically...


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MARC Record
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