GENESIS II: An Ecofeminist Reclamation Project

GENESIS II: An Ecofeminist Reclamation Project

by Lynn Wenzel

A few years ago, the New York Times reported that 100 million women are “missing” worldwide: victims of infanticide, starvation, murder, lack of health care, or simple disinterest. Recently, I read that the Clinton Administration had approved oil drilling on the site of Grand Staircase National Monument in Utah, established last year as a “protected” wilderness. The future of this pristine area now involves roads and pipelines, ballfieldsize drilling pads, and concoctions of toxic drilling mud overflowing into plant and animal habitats. Do we merely read this over morning coffee and go about our own business? Do we wait to act until our children spend their summers indoors because of smog alerts? Do we wait until we discover that the houses we live in were built over toxic dumping sites? Do we wait until nuclear waste is spilled during its transportation, contaminating thousands of square miles? Or is this the morning we finally say we’ve had enough?

Ecofeminists say “no more waiting.” We are in a state of emergency and must do something about it now. Many threads of thought make up the ecofeminist quilt. Cathleen and Colleen McGuire, founding members of the early-1990s grassroots group Ecofeminist Visions Emerging (EVE), call today’s ecofeminism a “meta-feminism,” that includes analysis of prepatriarchal history, an embracing of spirituality that validates female divinity, and a commitment to challenging all forms of oppression born of patriarchy. Ecofeminists see the current system, in existence for four to five thousand years – less than two percent of the time humans have existed on the earth – as an aberration rather than a normal state of affairs. Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor, authors of The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth, call it “just a brief forgetting.” Now, ecofeminists are remembering, and drawing on those memories as they seek to recreate a sense of a world where nature and humans are symbiotic, our fates inseparable, as indeed they are.

Nature on the Rack

Modern scientific and technological revolutions split a unified world into dualities. This world view split mind from body, spirit from matter (from the Latin mater, for mother), male from female, humans from nature (from the Latin nasci, meaning “to be born”). A hierarchy of value was arranged in the following order: God-Men-Women-Children-Animals-Plants-Nature. This ideology was also used to justify the inferiority of black races (more animal) as well as the enslavement of “childlike” cultures. All of us who have been raised in this tradition, says feminist theologian and environmentalist Elizabeth Dodson Gray, have been socialized into this way of seeing the world. This pyramidal view of reality was known as the great chain of being. Sir Francis Bacon sought a scientific method that could “put [Nature] on the rack,” uncovering “secrets of excellent use…in her womb.” Bacon was followed by Rene Descartes, responsible for Cartesian rationalism wherein mind and matter became two entirely separate spheres, then by Newton, a master of the mechanical world view. He was followed by linearism, a one-dimensional concept of time and evolution which became a rational faith in progress and the accumulation of property.

Under this dualist paradigm, religion and mythology characterized female power – like nature’s power – as elemental and fearsome, potentially engulfing if not contained at all times. Theology professor Rosemary Radford Ruether has inventoried the myths that underpin the anti-woman principles of Western religions. In the Hebrew creation story, males are selected as representatives of God and females, rib extracts that they are, as servers. In the Greek creation story, the hierarchy of mind over body, male over female and human over animal is bolstered by the notion of the well-ordered self. In the Christian ethic, the rejection of the body in favor of the spirit linked death and shame to the life-giving fluids of sex and reproduction – producing, says Ruether, a phobia of women as birth givers. St. Clement said, “Every woman should be overwhelmed with shame at the very thought that she is a woman.” St. John Chrysostom said, “Among all savage beasts none is found so harmful as woman.”

No discussion of ecofeminism is complete unless we ! look at the language used to link women with nature and men with the conquest of nature – and with nuclear weaponry. As ecofeminist Karen J. Warren points out, nature is feminized and then raped, conquered, mined; virgin timber is felled; land that lies fallow is barren. Carol Cohn has described a nuclear linguistic world of vertical erector launchers, soft lay downs, deep penetration, penetration aids, and what one military advisor to the National Security Council has called “releasing 70 to 80 percent of our megatonnage in one orgasmic whump.” India’s explosion of a nuclear bomb is spoken of as “losing her virginity.”

Cohn also points out that military linguistic distortions – calling the MX missile “Peacekeeper” and human deaths “collateral damage” – lead us to disregard the effects of nuclear technology on the earth and her creatures. Did you know that a single pound of plutonium, distributed around the world, could cause lung cancer in every living human being? Did you know that NASA has launched almost two dozen plutonium carrying rockets? Did you know that in November 1996, a Russian space probe containing 7-9 ounces of plutonium fell to earth and that no one has since been able to find it? Did you know that the part of space called “near Earth orbit” has been turned into a giant garbage can with over seven million pounds of man-made junk – old spacecraft, satellites and rockets – orbiting the earth; that any one of these pieces of “space garbage” could slam into a plutonium-carrying rocket, releasing particles with the potential to cause death, illness and genetic mutations to all life forms on earth? NASA has launched the Cassini deep space probe, carrying over 72 pounds of deadly plutonium.

The “rational,” technological mindset that glorified war has led to the development of some of the most toxic substances on earth. According to biologist Sandra Steingraber, technologies developed for World War II changed chemistry and physics forever. Not only the nuclear bomb, but such products as disinfectants and pest killers, originally developed in secret for germ warfare entered our lives. After the war, the goals of conquest and annihilation were transferred from the battlefield to our kitchens, gardens, forests, and farmlands, though their long-term effects on humans or the environment were not known. During the Vietnam War, the offspring of these chemicals “decimated forests, rubber plantations, and rice paddies, leaving whole sections of the Earth dead, and institutionalizing ecocide as an integral part of U.S. military policy,” writes ecofeminist Irene Diamond. One has only to read the trade names of some chemical pest controls in common use on bean and corn fields today – Assault, Assert, Bullet, Chopper, Conquest, Lasso, Marksman, Prowl, Squadron, Stomp, and Storm – to see the connections to war, battle and dominance, says Steingraber. These triazine herbicides show up as contaminants in drinking water and as residues on food. Three of them – cyanazine, simazine and atrazine – are classified as possible human carcinogens, under particular scrutiny for their role in breast and ovarian cancers.

Standing Inventory

Around the world we see other consequences of the “rational” mind. Taking Bacon’s admonition to heart, we have tortured the earth almost beyond her ability to heal. In the doublespeak of the forest service, “virgin forests” have become “standing inventory.” In the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein dumped crude oil into the Gulf and eight hundred oil wells were torched. They burned for months in the aftermath of the war, creating a biological “dead zone” and contributing to uncountable future deaths from airborne toxins.

Around the world, economies, cultures and natural resources are plundered, so that 20 percent of the world’s population (privileged North Americans and Europeans) can continue to consume 80 percent of its resources in the name of progress. This system “converts kangaroos and whales into dog food, ancient forests into toothpicks, and the oily black blood and metallic veins of earth into nuclear missiles, beer cans, and smog,” write Sjoo and Mor. Chlorofluorocarbon-caused ozone holes in the stratosphere are responsible for tens of thousands of fatal skin cancers. Worldwide, five million children die of diarrheal diseases each year caused by polluted water sources. Many tons a day of banned chemicals such as DDT are exported to Third World countries from the United States because of corporate loopholes in the law. The chemicals poison the inhabitants then return to poison us in imported food or in the air. Radioactive fallout from accidents such as the one in Chernobyl, toxins from burning waste, aquifers contaminated by mining and landfills know no national or political boundaries. That sweet, warm breeze that lifts your hair in the afternoon is full of DDT from the Sargasso Sea. Soon, millions of species will become extinct because of rainforest destruction. Since 1900, half of the rainforests, the ‘lungs of the earth,” have been destroyed. Fifty acres were eliminated in the time it took me to write this sentence.

Of course, ecofeminists have never been completely silenced – and we continue to speak. Matilda Joslyn Gage talked about the twin oppressions of women and nature in the 19th century. Simone de Beauvoir drew the attention of feminists when she wrote, “But to say that Woman is Flesh, to say that Flesh is Night and Death…is to abandon terrestrial truth and soar into an empty sky.” In the early 1970s, Francoise d’Eaubonne was one of the first European feminists to speak to the clear connection between patriarchal power and environmental destruction and she is credited with coining the word, ecofeminism. Reclaim the Earth: Women Speak Out for Life on Earth, the first collection of essays on ecofeminism (in which Ynestra King first defined the “Eco-feminist Imperative”) appeared in 1984. Other essential texts appeared through the 80s: Judith Plant’s Healing the Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism (1989), Carol Adams’ The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory (1991) and Gita Sen and Caren Grown’s Development, Crisis, and Alternative Visions: Third World Women’s Perspectives (1987). Women began organizing, finding their voices and their power. The women of Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp in England stayed for over ten years until nuclear missiles were removed. Lois Gibbs exposed Love Canal as a toxic waste site and founded the Citizens’ Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste. Judi Bari, the late Earth First! activist, was permanently disabled in a car-bomb attack while trying to save old-growth redwood forests in Northern California. Grassroots activists forced the mapping of toxic releases and created Right-To-Know laws. Bernadette Cozart, founder of the Greening of Harlem, organized the community to transform vacant, needle-strewn lots into gardens. In Arlington, Massachusetts, the women of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), work in states across the country to reduce the military budget and prohibit the transport of nuclear waste. Judy Brady, diagnosed with breast cancer in 1980, went on to found the Toxic Links Coalition, a coalition of cancer activists and environmental justice organizations. Mohawk women along the St. Lawrence River established the Akwesasne Mother’s Milk Project to monitor PCB toxicity while promoting breastfeeding for women and their babies. Wangari Maathai of Kenya founded the Green Belt Movement, a grassroots organization of women and children who planted more than ten million trees and produced income for 50,000 people as a result. Scientist Vandana Shiva organized India’s Chipko movement, in which women embraced trees to prevent forests from being destroyed by corporate interests.

What can we do? On the simplest level, those of us who are privileged can change our diets and eat less meat because of its demands on space, water and vegetation. We can alter our living and working arrangements to make more efficient use of energy and water. We can cease being consumers of so many things we don’t need. We can use canvas shopping bags instead of plastic and we can support local, organic farmers by buying fruits and vegetables seasonally. We can join grassroots organizations and raise a ruckus.

We cannot have our cake and eat it too. We are a part of the problem as we drive larger cars, consume processed foods, purchase goods packaged in chlorine-bleached cardboard, insist on the greenest chemically-treated lawns, and collect the latest technological toys. As Shiva and others have pointed out, these “things” have not raised the quality of our lives, given us more time, or made us happy.

Did you know that in the U.S., 60 percent of all scientists do research paid for by the Pentagon? We must stop trusting politicians, talking heads, and scientists who speak for corporations. These are the same trusted leaders who said that nuclear energy was safe and that its waste was easily disposed of, and that genetic engineering would help women. These same leaders tell mothers to “Be Kind to the Air” by not driving their children home from school, even as incinerators and industries belch out toxic clouds.

On a greater scale, we should press politicians for renegotiation of GATT and NAFTA. “Newly reconceived ecological-postmodern states,” writes Charlene Spretnak, “could regulate trade in ways that protect and enhance the well-being of communities rather than exploiting and endangering them.” Spretnak also suggests that under the auspices of the United Nations, nation-states send a representative to a macroregional council covering roughly the area of a continent, such as the North/Central Americas.

Each of those councils would then elect a representative to the Security Council of the United Nations. In that way, dominance by the Northern industrial powers would be replaced by a community of communities. She suggests abolishing the World Bank and strengthening public and private agencies already issuing micro-loans to small-scale, community-based entrepreneurs around the world. For Char McKee, one of the most powerful things we can do is to remember who we are, to understand that “in the dream we call reality, the patriarchal imagination has kept women motivated by fear and self-loathing, living in a cultural trance, divided and disempowered.” We can cast off that central belief of patriarchy she calls the Great Illusion of Separateness, ending our alienation from ourselves, and from other cultures and races.

We must remember that what has happened, can happen again. If, 5000 years ago, what Mary Daly calls a “possessing entity” caused a serious detour in evolution, who is to say that we cannot now take an evolutionary leap in our minds? We can refuse to accept the concept of hierarchy, to separate ourselves from nature. We can begin to understand – as farmers already know and practice – that regeneration is possible, even of the most poisoned earth.

We must remember we were all stars once. All the elements that make up our present physical bodies have been circulated billions of times throughout the 4.5 billion-year history of the earth. Each of us was once a spider, once a hemlock, once a fox, once a rock. Perhaps if we remembered our ecological connection with the cosmos, we might rediscover what Ruether calls “a profound spirituality…in our consciousness.” Joanna Macy, a Buddhist scholar and social action teacher, writes in World As Lover, World As Self that we must re-vision the world as erotic. “When you see the world as lover,” says Macy, “every being, every phenomenon, can become…an expression of that ongoing, erotic impulse.

As Rachel Carson says, “Beginnings are apt to be shadowy.” But the shadow is merely the other side of the light. What we love we can embrace. What we know we can preach. What we envision we can do. We are already “Weavers, Spinners of Stamina…the Forces who can save the world.” As Alice Walker said, “Pass it on.”

What You Do To The Earth You Do To Yourself
June Hegstrom is Native American. Her people are Cherokee. Today, she is a member of the Cherokee of Georgia Tribal Council and a third-term Representative in the Georgia State Legislature, working to make the transportation of nuclear waste safer. To that end, she has introduced a bill to amend the Oiiicial Code of Georgia regulating the transportation ol hazardous materials, llcgstrom says the issue of nuclear waste is vital and believes the nay the government is attempting to ship and store it is dangerous. “I can’t control everything.” she says, “but I can make transportation safer. Did you know that the canisters the waste is packaged in have only been tested with computer models? A one-percent release would contaminate a 40-mile radius!”
By the year 2000, there will be some 42,000 tons of deadly high-level radioactive nuclear wastes temporarily stored at commercial powcrplanls across the country. By law, the Department of Energy must take charge of waste by January 1908. But a planned permanent repository inside Yucca Mountain, Nevada has not yet been approved, and its opening may be delayed until well into the 21st century.
Hegstrom’s bill asks that nuclear waste shipment be made an extraordinary thing, and that it include notification and emergency response personnel, with training in medical response to irradiation, to escort waste-material convoys.
“Shipments of radioactive waste and weapons waste will dramaticaly increase,” says llcgslrom. “The nuclear power industry goes around saying it’s safe, it’s clean. Sure it is, if you don’t consider the waste produced that will be highly radioactive for thousands of years. I grew up with an appreciation of the land,” llegstrom continues, “and I’m a grandma now and really focuses me. They’re all our children. This [earth] is our legacy lo them. What happens to any of us happens to all of us.” – LW
Revolving Doors
Maria Pellerano, associate director of the ERF, was born and raised in a toxic stew. “I grew up in Piscataway, New Jersey,” she says, “a working-class community one mile downwind from Johns Manville and the Union Carbide plant, in the town of Bound Brook. There was more industry per square foot there than in any other town in central Jersey.” Pellerano is convinced there is a primary connection between increasing deaths from cancer and environmental toxins and that government systems meant to protect people don’t work. “We allow chemicals to go down the drain from homes and manufacturing and commingle with human waste. The resulting sludge is highly toxic and nobody knows what to do with it.
Companies used to dump it in the ocean, but wildlife died so they had to stop that. Some corporations are not required to present a plan to get rid of waste and, anyway, there is a revolving door between the corporations and the regulatory industry. The EPA doesn’t even know where all the hazardous waste sites are. And it’s all run by money.”
Recently, says Pellerano, corporations and government regulatory organizations have come up with a harebrained scheme to get rid of another kind of waste – ash from garbage incineration, often contaminated with dioxin and other poisons. They’ve suggested spreading it into roadbeds before paving. This, says Pellerano, will spread the ash widely instead of keeping it in one place in the ground. “For many years,” says Pellerano, “activists tried to have ashes from incinerators labeled hazardous. After one meeting in 1994 between the EDF, Congress and the waste industry, officials announced that ash wasn’t hazardous! The EDF claimed this agreement was the ‘best they could do’. We call this the ‘Tyranny of the Possible.’ It is so easy for large environmental organizations to become co-opted by it.” Pellerano and the ERF take large environmental organizations to task at great risk to their funding, but she says these kinds of closed-door agreements are “patriarchal, hierarchical and dangerous.”
“My father died of prostate cancer 14 years ago,” says Pellerano. “Even though he was a smoker, when the doctors looked at his lungs, they found phenols substances derived from the deadly poisonous benzene) from chemicals made at Union Carbide. My mother, who worked for a company making cleaning products and No-Pest strips, had her throat burned so badly from the chemicals that she suffers chronically from it today. On the other side of my hometown, it used to rain asbestos from the Johns Manville plant. We called the workers ‘snowmen.’ The children of these ‘snowmen’ are now getting cancer. That was 30 years ago and not a whole lot has changed,” says Pellerano. Still, she has hope. “I will be, in some way, devoted to cleaning up the environment the rest of my life,” says Pellerano. “I do get burnout. You must ‘build a skin’ to survive. But it’s the people I work with in communities that keep me going. My best friends are all there.” – LW
Hazel Johnson
A widowed mother of seven and a grandmother of five, Johnson founded People for Community Recovery (PCR) when she heard a newscaster report that Altgelt Gardens, a housing project of more than 10,000 residents on Chicago’s Southeast side, where she lived with her children, had one of the highest cancer rates in the U.S. and the highest incidence of cancer in the city. Johnson spent years researching environmental issues and uncovering information about the effects of pollution on health. The picture she paints is ugly.
Altgelt Gardens has been characterized as a “toxic donut,” surrounded as it is by 42 toxic sites and hundreds of potential sources of hazardous substances. ACME Steel’s coke ovens emit benzene (a deadly carcinogen); to the south and east lie the Dolton and Calumet Industrial District landfills. An estimated 126,000 pounds of toxic pollutants go into the air every day, and, not surprisingly, an estimated 75 percent of residents have some type of respiratory problems. PCR’s own health survey, completed in 1992 with assistance from the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, revealed that 51 percent of the 270 pregnancies reported during the last year resulted in abnormalities and 26 percent of the residents surveyed have asthma.
Johnson, in partnership with other local environmental groups, intends to stay in the face of major polluters. This includes acquisition of an abandoned public school building in Altgelt for an “Environmental Center for Excellence,” participation in the establishment of a comprehensive health clinic, and forging a consent decree with Chemical Waste Management requiring the company to hire residents to monitor the facility’s operation, the first time in the Illinois EPA’s history that residents have been involved in the monitoring of a chemical company in the U.S. In 1992, PCR was the recipient of the President’s Environmental and Conservation Challenge Award, the only AfricanAmerican grassroots organization ever to receive it.
People for Community Recovery, 13116 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago, IL 60827. (773) 468-1645, (773) 468-8105 (fax) – LW
Some other Groups
Women’s Cancer Resource Center, 1815 East 41st Street, Suite C, Minneai MN 55407, (612)729-0491. Activist organization provides information on the connec tions between cancer and the environment as well as support groups, a newsletter am various publications. Recently hosted “Turning the Tides,” a public forum on cancer’s environmental connection.
The Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WED0). 355 Lexington Avenue, 3rd floor, New York, NY 10017, (212) 973-0325. Grassroots work includes “Women for a Healthy Planet,” community groups organizing regional forums on the link between environmental pollution and breast cancer. Issues Community Report Cards on individual cities around the world, in the areas of environmental protection, politics, social priorities, and human development.
Urban Ecology. Rachel Peterson, Executive Director. 40514th Street, Suite 900. Oakland, CA 94612 (510) 251-6330.
Works on such issues as equality, green building and affordability in housing, improvements in public transportation, and creatini non-toxic environments and community gardens. L.W.
Being Poor In A Rich (Poisonous) World
In 1988, Peggy Shepard, Vernice Miller, and Chuck Sutton founded West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT) to clean up New York City’s West Harlem, a poor, mostly Latino and African-American community of more than 500,000. At that time, the main focus of protest was the North River Sewage Treatment Plant, where the city of New York had built a children’s playground, and the construction of a sixth bus depot across from an intermediate school and a housing development. But that part of northern Manhattan also hosted two marine garbage collection transfer stations, a crematorium, an Amtrak diesel-fueled rail line and a six-lane highway. The recent rise in numbers of asthma sufferers is in part a result of pollution from neighborhood bus depots. Currently, residents of northern Manhattan breathe in dangerous air at levels 200 percent greater than EPA standards. It is no accident this community hosts so many toxic sources. In 1987, a study by the United Church of Christ’s Commission for Racial Justice found that race, even more than poverty, was the shared characteristic of communities exposed to toxic wastes. In 1988, the Cerrell Study, commissioned by the California State Waste Management Board, advised companies wanting to build incinerators to choose poor neighborhoods, as the inhabitants would have fewer “resources to effectuate their opposition.” And in 1992, a study by staff writers from the National Law Journal uncovered race-based inequities in the way the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforced pollution laws. Penalties were 500 percent higher in communities with a larger white population and Superfund sites in minority areas took 20 percent longer to be placed on the national priority list.
Children pay a huge price for environmental racism. A1990 report by the New York City-based Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) revealed that 96 percent of black children and 80 percent of white children of poor families in inner cities have unsafe amounts of lead in their blood. According to the August 14,1997 issue of Rachel’s Environment & Health Weekly, a publication of the Environmental Research Foundation (ERF), a nonprofit environmental information organization in Annapolis, Maryland, the incidence of childhood cancers per 100,000 children in the U.S. and England has been rising steadily for at least 20 years, with excesses of cancers among children living near such toxic facilities as oil refineries, solvents, plastics and detergents manufacturers, steel mills, crematoria, railways, highways, and harbors.
WE ACT’s Executive Director Peggy Shepard has accomplished much in nine years. In partnership with environmental organizations and with funding from both federal and private donors, they have gotten the Transit Authority of New York to purchase clean fuel and natural gas buses and to convert one bus depot per borough to natural gas. A WE ACT-sponsored group called Earth Crew, composed of 11 Latino and AfricanAmerican youths between the ages of 13 and 17, recently conducted an air-poll monitoring project at key intersections with the goal of improving air quality. Shepard, who is on the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, helped draft state legislation on lead screening. Two new health research projects – the “Committee-Based Initiative to Protect Infants in North Manhattan from Environmental Risks” and a major asthma intervention project co-sponsored with Harlem Hospital and the American Lung Association – are underway, both in collaboration with Columbia University. – LW
Karen Chapman
Situated along the Rio Grande border between Brownsville, Texas and Matamoros, Mexico, is the Sabal Palm Audubon Center & Sanctuary. Its director, Karen Chapman, is well aware of the irony of a bird sanctuary located in one of the poorest and most politically riven areas in the U.S.
Chapman explains that the river does not recognize national boundaries. Cholera and typhoid are still occasional problems on both sides of the river, mainly because of poor sewage treatment of water in Matamoros, a city where it’s common to find eight or ten people living in a one-room shack. In 1991, when several babies were born with partially-formed brains disconnected from their spinal columns, it brought a lot of attention to industries across the border who were dumping toxics and fouling the air with pesticides. The fault lies with [global] economics, says Chapman. “There is so much poverty here and a terrific drain on natural resources. The Rio Grande is the sole source of drinking water as there is no drinkable ground water in the valley plain. And right now we’re in a drought, making things worse. Just how much water can we take out of the river and still have it be a river? Unfortunately, only the environmentalists are asking that question.”
“We did have a big wake up call here in 1995,” says Chapman. “Because of a boll weevil problem, every field was aerially sprayed. It killed the boll weevils, but it also killed all the beneficial insects. Of course, the boll weevil came back even stronger since all its natural foes had been killed. Farmers are finally looking at natural controls such as predator insects. It’s small, but a step.”
In the midst of all these problems, what is the point of a wildlife center? “I believe the sanctuary offers children their first look at the possibility of a better quality of life,” says Chapman. “Besides reaching kids, our other mission is to protect the land and the wildlife here which has been almost completely decimated. At one time this place was home to an 40,000 acre oldgrowth palm forest hundreds of years old. We are protecting a tiny fragment – 527 acres, including 32 acres of old-growth forest and the habitat and ecosystems that came with it – of what was once here. After all, everyone and everything has a place in the great scheme of things. The sanctuary is one small part of that.”
Karen Chapman, Director, Sabal Palm Audubon Center & Sanctuary, P.O. Box 5052, Brownsville, TX 78523. (956) 5418034, (956) 504-0543 (fax) – LW
A Ring Is A Ring, But A River Is A Million Things
In Missoula, Montana, Women’s Voices for Ithe Earth (WVE, pronounced “Weave”) is taking on some of the mining and paper industries in Big Sky Country. “We work on a local, grassroots level,” says Zimbabweborn Bryony Schwan, founder and executive director of WVE. “We try to get people to understand that when you buy, it comes from somewhere and injures something. It’s so easy to separate the product from its origin.” One of WVE’s primary goals is to stop the nearby Blackfoot Mine from destroying a mountain and poisoning ground water in order to obtain gold. According to Schwan, the gold deposit at the proposed Blackfoot Mine is of such low grade that nearly 75 tons of mountain must be excavated to obtain an ounce-and-a-half of gold – enough for one bracelet! The mining corporation plans to mine five million times that amount. “To separate the tiny gold particles from rock,” says Schwan. “machines dig up a real mountain, create an artificial one of quarried ore, and spray it with cyanide. This separates gold from ore and leaches out the minerals.
According to WVE, the jewelry industry and welath-hoarders account for 84 percent of worldwide gold consumption. Over 8,000 tons of gold are already stored in vaults in the U.S. – enough for the next millennium. WVE’s campaign, “Mine Your Jewelry Box, Not the Blackfoot,” encourages people to donate their gold jewelry to WVE. The recycled wedding rings, earrings and bracelets are used to support efforts to oppose the mine, and to provide a source of recycled gold. Eliza Frazer, who donated a pair of gold earrings, wrote WVE: “A ring is a ring but a river is a million things.”
Missoula residents are also concerned about a pulp and paper mill, owned and operated by Stone Container. WVE is trying to get Stone Container to stop producing white cardboard and consumers to stop buying white cardboard products. Creating white cardboard is a major problem,” says Schwan. “When chlorine bleach is combined with wood pulp to make it white, dioxin is a byproduct. Then the dioxin is discharged into nearby Clark Fork River.”
There are ways to create chlorine-free pulp, which produces no dioxin. More than 65 papermills worldwide operate Totally Chlorine-Free (TCF) facilities. Getting the industry to convert has been really hard, says Schwan. Packaging companies say they wouldn’t mind using brown boxes, but customers want white boxes. This is a game, says Schwan. “If consumers knew at what cost these containers were being made, I doubt they would care whether their pizza boxes were brown or white!”
Schwan is cautiously optimistic about making any profound changes soon. “This masculinist culture reveres technology,” she says. “But we’re in an ecological crisis and technology will not solve our problems.” Schwan does have hope, though. “The fact that women have been excluded from decision-making is a blessing in disguise,” she laughs. “We’re freer to come up with solutions because we don’t have a vested interest in the global market. We see the finks between oppressions – of people of color, women, poor people – that the mainstream environmental organizations don’t.
Schwan is buoyed by WVE’s successes such as the Pesticide Project. It resulted in a roughly 90 percent reduction of pesticide use by the county “This has been the most successful of our projects,” says Schwan. “We’re dealing with local government and they’re sensitive to what people want.” -LW
Margaret Williams
Margaret Williams, a retired school teacher, has lived in the shadow of illness her entire life. Her parents and an uncle died of cancer. One of her babies was stillborn and another died of respiratory problems at three months. Her daughter, who lived with her. pave birth to a child with six toes on each fool. Williams knows win. and in 1992. she did something about il.
Williams and her neighbors in Pensacola, Florida, live near two contaminated industrial sites, the Escambia Treating Company and Agrico Chemical Company. Soil samples showed residents’ yards contaminated with dioxin, arsenic, PCBs, lead, benzo(a)pyrene and dieldrin (a pesticide banned in the 1970s.) During an emergency removal of contaminated soil by the EPA, many residents began to suffer even more acute health effects. The group organized, calling itself Citizens Against Toxic Exposure ((CATK). and demanded the EPA relocate all 358i families living in the shadow of “Mt. Dioxin.”
On October 3, 1996. the EPA agreed to CATE’s persistent demand lor permanent relocation of all the families affected. The plan is to appraise, negotiate and relocate at least five families a month. This will be the third largest relocation in EPA’s history after Love Canal, New Yor,k and Times Beach, Missouri. CATE continues to seek health treatment lor exposed residents, especially preventive care.
“This injustice is because of who we are, not what we are exposed to.” said Williams in an article in the Boston Globe. In the 1950s and 60s. the Mt. Dioxin area of Pensacola was one of the only places in the city where African-Americans could purchase property. Many residents ol’ the treelined, largely middle-class community worked just down the street at one of the factories.
There is no question the EPA dragged its feet on the relocation. In May 1996 they offered relocation for only 66 residents, then for 101 residents in August 1996, and finally, as a result of CATE’s unwavering pressure, for all 358.
Citizens Against Toxic Exposure, Margaret Williams, President. MOO Marianna Drive. Pensacola. FL 32504. (850) 494-2601. Frances Dunham. Research & Publications, (850) 932-3077. (850) 932( È4-J.”> (fax), e-mail: [email protected] -LW

Lynn Wenzel, former Managing Editor of New Directions for Women, is co-author of / Hear America Singing. Her syndicated features appear in antique journals across the country.