Neighbors-opening.jpg

Feature story in The Bitter Southerner, January 19, 2016. David Hanson reports from Baton Rouge, Louisiana where a rare brand of social justice advocates have been fighting for citizens' rights at the raw boundary of petrochemical industry and community. Text, photos and audio interviews at bittersoutherner.com

"Down here it’s not conservation," Lt Gen. Honoré says. "It’s a direct affront to people’s health."

Willie is legally blind. Some of his close relatives married each other, resulting in a rare condition that affects 20 percent of offspring. 'We’re a family of eight kids so statistically we’re right about on track,' Willie says. You’d never suspect it, though. He directs me up Scenic Highway and points out the locations of existing and former chemical facilities and oil refineries as if he’s reading billboards.

The plant lights come on at night, the steam rises, the toxic flares flash, the heavy odor moves through the house like a thin curtain lifted off its rod, the brown dust falls on the cars. Even when you take a second to remember the smell or to see the rusting tanks through the fence, a hundred daily chores come ahead of picking up the sling shot and aiming at Goliath.