What do you do when your heart and your mind tell you something needs to be addressed, but the powers that be seem insurmountable? How do you decide which fight is yours, and which fight you just pray someone else will take up before it’s too late?
This is a really hard one. Those of us living in the Kanawha Valley of West Virginia have known for many years that we live in the only place left on planet earth that stores the deadly chemical know as MIC in quantities vast enough to wipe out human life to the tune of thousands of people from a single tank breach. This is what happened in Bhopal, India, in 1984. This tragedy is often cited as the world’s worst industrial disaster.
In August 2008, the Bayer plant in Charleston had an explosion that narrowly missed releasing MIC into the atmosphere. (For more on the event, see http://blogs.wvgazette.com/watchdog/2009/04/27/bayer-stories-collected/) The pending threat went from theoretical to very real overnight. For the record, the explosion literally shook my home miles away. While the powerful chemical industry continues to evade responsibility for the threat they pose to our community, one young woman is standing up to them and leading local residents in a public conversation with the industry and state and federal authorities about the truth of what is happening – and not happening – at the plant.
I’ve been disturbed by the way the plant’s PR reps attempt to paint her as a radical, when her approach is clearly common sense. I feel the same admiration for her I feel for the young man who addressed the Kanawha County School Board’s diversity policy. She is stepping out on her own, speaking the truth, trying to help people, and risking isolation and aggression for her efforts. I am awed by her willingness to fight a corporate giant, when so many people in our community who are on some level much more equipped to take this on stay silent; and on behalf of my family and my home, I am grateful for her leadership.
For more on her work, see http://www.peopleconcernedaboutmic.com/ .