The pursuit of environmental justice in Michigan brings urban activists to the country, rural activists to the city.
by Timothy Lesle
It would seem that Lynne Henning and Rhonda Anderson live worlds apart. Henning is a farmer in rural Hudson, Michigan, whose family has worked the same land for generations. Anderson grew up in Detroit amid the turbulent politics of the 1960s and is a community activist tackling issues like inequality and homelessness. But when Anderson and Henning met in the Michigan statehouse, they shared an important goal: environmental justice.
|Common Justice: Farmer Lynne Henning and urban activist Rhonda Anderson share their respective struggles for healthy communities.
Henning is fighting the massive CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) that have contaminated the countryside with untreated animal waste. Anderson is protecting an African-American neighborhood from pollution emitted by an oil refinery in an area dubbed “Cancer Alley.” They discovered how similar their struggles were, despite their different backgrounds, and decided to bring their respective communities together in a “Common Justice Tour.”
They rented a bus for a day and brought Detroit residents to see the CAFO problems in Hudson, then brought Hudson residents to witness industrial pollution in Detroit. Anderson said if she had driven through Hudson herself, “it would have just looked like a pretty rural scene. I wouldn’t have even realized what I was looking at if I didn’t see this through Lynn’s eyes.” In Detroit, Henning decided that CAFO and industrial pollution are “all the same—they’re dumping, and some community is going to have to deal with the mess.”
The tour ended at a Detroit church, where both groups discussed possible action, such as a joint lobby day. Says Anderson, “I think it’s going to be very powerful when a white farmer accompanies a black community leader into a meeting with a legislator to say, ‘Their issues are our issues, too, and we’re going to keep coming back here with them until you start listening to the people instead of the polluters.’”
photo by Orli Cotel
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