‘Victory today is mine,’ Louisiana pollution foes sing in Juneteenth celebration

Clad in white, RISE St. James T-shirts, an ammonia plant behind them, a handful of St. James Parish residents gathered Saturday at a stage near the Lemannville community, clapping and singing in celebration of the first federally recognized Juneteenth holiday. 

“I told Satan, ‘Get thee behind’,” sang Rev. Harry Joseph, swaying as he led the song. “Victory today is mine.”

Sharon Lavigne never imagined herself an environmental activist. The retired teacher had spent much of her life working with special education…

More than 80 people turned out for the group’s second annual Juneteenth commemoration, held inside the pink Rose’s Catering building due to rain one year after the inaugural event took place outside on the gravesites of enslaved people where Formosa Plastics plans to build a $9.4 billion, 2,400-acre manufacturing complex. 

The local environmental group is one of several in the River Parishes rallying against new industrial plants in a chemical corridor where they fear more air pollution and health risks. The Formosa complex will consist of 16 plants over an area about the size of 80 football fields. 

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In 2019, a joint investigation by The Advocate, The Times-Picayune and ProPublica, using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data, found that Formosa and other new industry in St. James since 2015 pose an acute risk for predominantly poor, Black residents along the river, although white residents hardly escape the effects of the pollution.

On Saturday, RISE St. James was joined by a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator, Heather McTeer Toney, who now serves as environmental justice liaison for Environmental Defense Fund and a senior adviser for the Mom’s Clean Air Force.

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Members marked a holiday that honors the emancipation of Black Americans, on the 156th anniversary of the day that slaves in Galveston, Texas, were notified by the U.S. Army of their freedom.

“Juneteenth is a celebration to acknowledge the emancipation, the freedom, the liberation, but that’s just when the work starts,” Toney said. “Everybody has a job to do. So find your place, insert yourself in this work, because it will take every single one of us to clean up and to make sure we are holding companies accountable.”

After years of urging state and federal authorities to reduce harmful chemical emissions from the Denka Performance Elastomer manufacturing pl…

Robert Taylor, who leads the Concerned Citizens of St. John, encouraged attendees to create change and influence their political representatives through voting. He said Black people along the Mississippi River are treated like “sacrificial lambs.”

“It’s our people who we elected to represent us who are betraying us,” he said. 

Activists see candidates Troy Carter, Karen Carter Peterson as more vocal than former representative

Unanimous City Council concerned how $9.4 billion complex would affect constituents 65 miles downriver

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