The Past Isn’t Past: The Indelible History and Current Struggle for Environmental Justice in Memphis
The largest (single) city on the Mississippi River, Memphis has an important place in the history of race and justice in America. In fact, it’s a story that’s still being written. The sanitation workers’ strike in 1968 is considered one of the initial battles in the fight against environmental racism and was the cause that brought Martin Luther King Jr. to town in what would be his final days. Today, environmental justice struggles still involve trash – often involving the siting of toxic landfills near predominantly black communities. One recent battle in Memphis pitted a construction company’s proposed demolition landfill against the predominantly black neighborhood that would have been forced to deal with its impacts. As is often the case, community organizing centered around the efforts of a church, and residents successfully blocked development of the project. We heard the story of the battle as we shared breakfast with the people who fought it and talk about what other issues loom.
When We Say “Get Out There,” We Mean It: Paddling the Mighty (Flooded) Mississippi
Too often when assigned a story, an environment reporter must settle for phone calls and Google searches to piece together information on a landscape they’ve never experienced first-hand. After today, our group of intrepid reporters won’t have that problem with the lower Mississippi River. We stopped in Helena at the Quapaw Canoe Company, where we had the opportunity to embark on a canoe trip out on the mighty Mississippi.
Telling Environment Stories Better: Tales Around the Campfire
Natural resource stories are some of the hardest to fit into the usual journalism mold. Or, as our esteemed founder always put it, “they don’t break, they ooze.” Adding to the difficulty, journalists have now traded the role of gatekeepers for one of sifters and winnowers in our digital world – finding facts in a deluge of information, often doing so outside of the walls of a traditional newsroom. Speaking of which – at the end of a long day in such newsrooms, it’s not like the environment reporter gets to go grab a drink with all of the other environment reporters and talk shop. They’re usually either the only person on the beat or, more and more, sitting at home in their PJs freelancing. We took this rare opportunity of having so many like-minded reporters in one space to start an informal conversation exploring some of the difficulties of doing good journalism on complex issues and to talk tips and tricks for getting the most out of our reporting and writing.