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E-M:/ Human Rights at a Detroit Dumpsite

Enviro-Mich message from CSim592951@aol.com

Human Rights at the Detroit/Wabash Dumpsite
July 3, 2000
charles simmons

Following decades of numerous national reports about the severely negative 
impact of a polluted environment on the health of our children and seniors, 
the noisy opposition to the call for environmental consciousness in the 
Michigan statehouse and in the Detroit city hall makes one wonder--are there 
no limits beneath which the human soul will not descend?  But on the other 
hand, there are beautiful roses and velvet pansies growing amidst the tough 
weeds, perhaps fertilized by the blood of noble spirits from generations 
past. An indication of that is what happened recently at a meeting at the 
historic King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit, when a multiracial gathering 
of simple and honest folk --mostly strangers to one another--who dedicate 
their lives to making the world a better place, one inch at a time, came from 
around SE Michigan. They were responding to a statewide grassroots call to 
the campaign: "Don't Dump on Us." The call focused on illegal dumping in 
Detroit but it is clearly a problem throughout the Great Lakes and beyond.

Those who gathered may have felt the presence of such giants as the late 
Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall whose fiery tongue had championed 
desegregation of the nation's schools in the 1950's. In 1954, a visitor might 
have seen the vacant gaze of the young mother of Emmett Till, that 
14-year-old youth lynched in Mississippi after being accused of whistling at 
a white woman.
Anyone sitting in the auditorium in the early 1060s would have heard the 
passion of Malcolm X insisting that the struggle for justice ought to be 
taken to the United Nations and the World Court.
This time those on a mission for justice joined together at a 3-year old 
demolition-dump site to support the efforts of one little and abandoned 
neighborhood populated largely by blue-collar senior citizens and their 
grandchildren. Sitting in the tight pews of a southern Baptist church, there 
were public health experts, lawyers with a conscience and trade unionists. A 
beautician and a cleaning lady took their lunch hour there beside a retired 
judge. A nurse gave a ride to high school and college students who are 
involved in planting wonderful gardens and painting striking murals around 
the city. A librarian, who commutes to Ypsilanti, chatted with advocates for 
the homeless, the unemployed, and those who are fully employed and still 
homeless. There were factory workers and their grandchildren, civil servants 
and environmentalists from three counties. There were passersby on foot and 
drivers who stopped their cars in the middle of the street to witness such an 
assembly, but also heard the articulate and energetic youth of the Detroit 
Summer speak with passion about their efforts to beautify the city which had 
caused so many of their elders to throw up their hands and move south, north, 
west or east--anywhere but here.

Well-wishers sent greetings of encouragement from the Upper Peninsula, 
western Michigan, college towns, down river, Hamtramck. Visiting conferees 
from Missouri, Georgia and New York signed our call. Among the participants 
were the Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical contamination (CACC) donated a 
bunch of "No Toxic Dump-Incinerators" signs, and together we planted them 
around the brownfield. Nobody said it then, but these were acts of enormous 
love.  Community newspapers and photographers captured all of this, but 
perhaps because there were no shootings or drug busts, no acts of outrage or 
hopelessness, the daily media was conspicuously absent. 

But these are times that require the spirit to soar upward and to join forces 
with other warm souls. These are the times when an embattled planet cries out 
for unity of its human inhabitants to reach across borders and issues, 
whether they are family farmers who feel the threat of urban sprawl and 
genetic seeds. Or, whether they are neighbors in the inner city who feel the 
chronic tickle in their lungs from the emissions of hospital and municipal 
incinerators spewing mercury and cadmium. Read the headlines on any day of 
the week and ask yourself if these are the times to quarrel about the 
differences between the loss of marsh and wetlands or the need to rid an old 
school of asbestos? Who can honestly make a comparison about whether the harm 
is pesticides, noise pollution, hazardous work sites or leaking underground 
storage tanks? Who can say that a fire blazing across the toxic land of a 
buried nuclear site is worse than a child devouring chips of lead paint? Who 
among us will take a dip in any of the once pristine Great Lakes without 
wondering about the consequences? What vacationer will eat these fish without 
having second thoughts about the timid and bothersome state advisories? 

Will it take an expert to convince the unsuspecting owner of that new upscale 
suburban house which burst into flames from methane seepage because it was 
built on a toxic landfill that poor environmental policy is part of the 
problem just as it is in Detroit?  Did anyone notice that in the scattered 
lots of tall grasses surrounding the inner city dumpsite, that several 
families of colorful pheasants have nested, perhaps mistaking these fields 
only a few miles from a glistening downtown gambling casino, for the forest 
they once called home.   If the rustic pheasants are losing their bearings, 
what is to become of their proud two-legged neighbors who have yet to learn 
that humanity that labors must also be able to breathe clean air and drink 
clean water. Right now, let us heed the ageless words of sages that these 
things are all related and there is an intimate connection between everything 
that lives.
These are not the times to clog our ears with the cynicism and negativity of 
the naysayers.  These are the times when Chief Seattle's words are being 
painted with delight by our youth on murals and planted in new gardens from 
this historic old church to the sandy outskirts of the Great Lakes. These are 
the times for those who love Mother Earth and all her inhabitants to 
globalize the forces of justice and love. This is the moment for the meek to 
take responsibility, to unite across borders and barriers, and to take action 
now under the banner of Human Rights so that we will not be the playthings of 
circumstances any longer.
Charles Simmons;Don't Dump On Us Campaign
Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice
Co Chair, Committee for the Political Resurrection of Detroit

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