By Jenny COyle
Within two minutes I wanted to vomit.
We were in rural Mississippi, standing on the dirt road alongside a corporate animal
factory that houses 7,000 hogs. It was 100 degrees outside, with 90 percent humidity, so
it felt like I was breathing the wetness and stickiness of the hog manure itself, and that
it was clinging to my skin and tangling itself in my hair. We'd stopped there on our way
to dinner, but I wasn't certain I'd be hungry anytime soon.
For three years I have written about the nastiness of these massive facilities with all
the anger and fervor I could muster at my desk in downtown San Francisco. I know - because
organizers had told me so - that these operations pollute water and air, destroy ways of
life and traditions and provide insanely cruel conditions for the hogs and chickens they
In August I met the enemy, and it made me sick. We were just passing through, but there
are people who live with this stench day in and day out, people who've carved out a simple
living on a small piece of land for three generations. Ever since a hog factory went in a
mile up the road, these families can't garden, or barbecue or let their kids play in the
yard. I met some of them at a two-day workshop in the northeast corner of the state.
I was also introduced to the South. I rode to the conference with Louie Miller, the
Mississippi Chapter's legislative director and Environmental Public Education Campaign
In between fielding phone calls from a state senator, a lawyer and a Washington Post
reporter, Miller gave me some history. As we passed the Ross Barnett Reservoir, named
after a well-known segregationist, Miller explained that it was built in the late 1950s
and early 1960s using only state funding, because if federal dollars had been accepted,
then African Americans would have been allowed to use the reservoir. Mississippi leaders
didn't want that.
The workshop was held in a Mississippi elementary school. On the walls of the
auditorium were photos of each year's class members. Until sometime in the early 70s, all
of the faces were white.
About 30 local community members, some of whom work at the nearby Bryan Foods hog
slaughterhouse, attended the conference. A few of them, all African American, stepped
outside for a smoke during the conference, only to be confronted by a white Bryan Foods
supervisor who yelled from his pickup, "You boys have all got good jobs and all I'm
saying is, you better watch out who you're supportin' and what you're sayin'."
This corner of Mississippi, with its history of racial division, is a long way from the
Sierra Nevada forests where the Sierra Club got its start. That's why it's so significant
that black and white communities are standing together to fight these corporate hog
factories. And exciting to see the Club standing behind them, tackling, with careful
enthusiasm, the sticky struggle for environmental justice.
As local resident Howard Smart told all of us at the conference, "If we stand
together, it'll come down."
It'll come down.
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