Today it’s hard to imagine an American neighborhood without blue bins on the curb and at least one type of “green” product in each of its houses. Environmental assessments are first and significant elements in the construction of new neighborhoods and citizens expect no less. Thirty years ago, however, a small community in Upstate New York (including an elementary school) sat atop a landfill of toxic waste, its residents totally unaware of the chemicals to which they were exposed. That community, Love Canal, became synonymous with chemical exposures and their adverse human health effects. One young mother and homemaker, Lois Marie Gibbs, became a key figure in the fight for justice for its residents and has been nationally recognized for her efforts and is known to many as the “Mother of the Superfund.”
“Thirty years later, I’m still fighting the Love Canal battle,” said Gibbs in a recent press release issued by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), the organization she founded to help other communities and families in similar situations, and of which she is now executive director. Thirty years ago, she went door-to-door asking her neighbors about children’s illnesses. Ultimately, she successfully prompted her neighbors and community to pressure the government to evacuate more than 800 families at risk in the Love Canal area and close the elementary school there.
On Thursday, Nov. 20, Gibbs will return to Upstate New York to visit HWS and present a free talk, “Environmental Movements and Citizen-Activism: Lessons Learned from the Last 30 Years — Where Do We Go from Here?” The talk follows a screening of a film about Love Canal the night before. On Friday, Nov. 21, Gibbs will meet one-on-one with students and community members. The public is welcome and encouraged to attend.
“We are incredibly fortunate to have Lois Gibbs come to campus to discuss the Love Canal crisis, which illustrates how public outcry can work to protect the public health,” says Devparna Roy, assistant professor of sociology at HWS, who organized the event. “Dangers such as chemical contamination – in the ground and in processed foods and products – still exist today and there’s much to learn from her grassroots successes.”
Recognized extensively for her critical role in the grassroots environmental justice movement, Gibbs has spoken at numerous conferences and has been featured in hundreds of newspaper articles, magazine and textbooks. Additionally, she has appeared on many television and radio shows including “60 Minutes,” “20/20,” “Oprah Winfrey,” “Good Morning America,” “The Morning Show” and the “Today Show.” In 1982, CBS produced a two-hour prime-time movie about her life titled “Lois Gibbs and the Love Canal,” staring Marsha Mason.
Gibbs is the author of “Love Canal The Story Continues,” published in 1998. Among the most recent awards she has received are the 2007 Business Ethics Network Individual Achievement Award for Outstanding Contribution to Corporate Ethics and the 2008 Green Corps Environmental Leadership Award. She has received honorary doctorates from the State University of New York (SUNY) Cortland College and Haverford College, Haverford, Pa. She also sits on numerous boards and advisory committees. She lives in Virginia with her husband and two of her four children.
Schedule of events for Gibbs’ visit:
Wednesday, Nov. 19:
7:30 to 9:30 p.m., in Albright Auditorium: “In Our Own Backyard: The First Love Canal.”
Thursday Nov. 20:
7:30 to 9 p.m., in Albright Auditorium: Lois Gibbs’s talk titled “Environmental Activism and Citizen-Activism: Lessons Learned from the Last Thirty Years–Where Do We Go from Here?”
Friday Nov. 21, 2008:
2 to 4 p.m.: Lois Gibbs will be available for one-on-one meetings with members of HWS and the public in Stern Hall 217.
All three events are free and open to HWS community and the public.