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Something that gave me hope this week: my conversation with three people who organize, educate, and work on the ground every day in rural America. 

Thanks to our friends at Rural Assembly and Daily Yonder, we were able to host this conversation about how rural communities in Texas, Louisiana, and California are adapting and responding to extreme weather and the pandemic, while ensuring the solutions are racially and economically equitable. 

The panel was Shirell Parfait-Dardar, traditional chief of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe in coastal Louisiana (Barry Yeoman wrote last month about how the tribe has adapted their food systems in ways that helped them prepare for the pandemic and chronic flooding); Dr. John T. Cooper, who is director of the Texas Target Communities program at Texas A&M; and Steve Wilensky, president of Calaveras Healthy Impact Product Solutions (CHIPS) and former supervisor of Calaveras County, California. 

All three spoke about their efforts to get funding and help people navigate climate change effects — and to do so in a way that ensures people have a say in what happens to their local economy, culture, and social fabric. "Hurricane Katrina was the first time that this phenomenon caught the nation’s attention. People who studied disasters and work in disasters had known about this for a long time. And that’s not to say that disasters discriminate. But there are certain comorbidities, if you will, like they talk about in public health, that make certain populations more vulnerable to environmental disasters," Cooper said. "Again, poor, elderly, people who have a much harder time preparing for disasters in advance. So the challenge for me in my work is, how do you build capacity, get people into position, so that they’re better able to prepare for, survive, and recover from disasters on their own?"

We talked quite a bit about these racial and economic disparities, about learning from Indigenous knowledge for land use and protection, and about wildfire and storm preparedness and adaptation. The work is tedious and difficult at times — these folks are dealing with federal, state, and local stakeholders and agencies — but they see progress.  

"It’s happening very, very slowly. But all in all, in my 11 years in representing my people as Chief, I am really, really proud of all of the people that I’ve had the chance to work with, even our elected officials. Maybe they were looking at it one way, didn’t see the bigger picture. When you show it to them, they’re like, 'Oh. Okay.' So it’s heading in the right direction, right?" Parfait-Dardar said. "And I think the more we open our arms to work with everyone across our great nation, and even across the world, the better off we’re going to be. And I see that happening."

Watch the video or read the transcript here

—Lyndsey Gilpin, Founder, Editor, Publisher

Stories worth your time

Mississippi Today has a full list of the businesses, cities, and universities that have called on the state to change its flag. The chair of the state's Republican Party announced today the flag needs to change, too, which bucks what many other GOP officials have said. Reporter Anna Wolfe went to a mostly white town called Kiln along the Gulf Coast and spoke to folks who aren't happy to have their flag, which displays the Confederate emblem, changed. 

InsideClimate News has a Q&A with Robert Bullard, often called "the father of environmental justice." He relaunched the Black Environmental Justice Network, which he co-founded in 1991. "We're going to 186 historical black colleges and universities in our nation—HBUs—and mobilizing the student groups and leaders. We're organizing around the presidential campaign and around voting. We have to do as much as we can every which way we can—Zoom, social media, social distancing. We can't let this pandemic stop us because there are forces arrayed to kill us." 

The New Yorker profiled Corina Newsome, a 27-year-old graduate student in ornithology living in Georgia who helped organize #BlackBirdersWeek in response to a racist event on Memorial Day when a white woman, Amy Cooper, called the police to report that “an African-American man” (a Black birder named Christian Cooper) was threatening her life after he asked her to keep her dog on a leash. 

Also from InsideClimate News: A piece on the Black Lives Matter movement in Louisville, Kentucky, where Breonna Taylor was killed by police when they raided her home in the middle of the night. Black activists have been fighting toxic pollutants in the city’s Rubbertown district for decades.

A company called Active Energy is trying to build a wood pellet plant in Robeson County, North Carolina, which is home to Native American and Black communities. NC Policy Watch has an in-depth piece on it: "Based on modeling of emissions data from two Enviva wood pellet plants in North Carolina, Active Energy would also emit nearly 2.5 tons of hazardous air pollutants annually, as well as smaller amounts of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter." 

A must-read from DaLyah Jones at Texas Observer on what the Black Lives Matter protests mean to East Texas, where she grew up. "Once, when I was about 8 years old, I sat with my cousin in the back seat of my aunt’s car as she drove us through Splendora, 40 miles northeast of Houston. We passed a group of men draped in white sheets parading on the side of the road, and we pointed excitedly out the window at what we thought were ghost costumes for an early Halloween. My aunt told us to close our eyes and put our heads down, as she gripped the wheel and continued to drive. Those figures continue to haunt my home. I see now it’s time we pull over and face them."

Photos: New Orleans sanitation workers strike for protections and better pay

Hoppers are demanding higher hourly wages, hazard pay, and PPE during the coronavirus pandemic. View photos from their picket line

Struggling Florida Panhandle towns face tough reopening decisions

The coronavirus pandemic has stalled local economies still reeling from the effects of recent hurricanes. Read the story. Download the PDF with tips on how to stay safe while vacationing. 

News flying under the radar 

A federal court judge has struck down North Carolina’s “ag-gag law,” ruling that several of its provisions are unconstitutional and violate the First Amendment. As Lisa Sorg reported for NC Policy Watch, the law, passed in 2015, "allowed courts to assess civil penalties on employees who took videos or photos of a business’s non-public areas to document alleged wrongdoing, and then passed that information to anyone besides the employer or law enforcement."

Lisa Sorg also reported on how the Trump administration overruled North Carolina’s objection to seismic testing for oil and gas drilling off the state's coast, saying the activity is in the national interest. 

Formosa Plastics is a Taiwanese company building a $9.4 billion petrochemical complex in St. James Parish, Louisiana. Truthout reported this week about how the company tried to stop a Juneteenth ceremony that honored slaves buried in the area.  
 
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