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Community Mobilization for Environmental Problems: How a Grassroots Organization For ...

Chapter :  Introduction
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Community Mobilization for Environmental Problems:

of a group of community members who wanted to secure health data about suspected environmental contamination in their neighborhood’s soil. In the late 20th century, this debate was yet again resurfacing. A mere 20 years earlier and 20 miles north, in Love Canal, New York, Lois Gibbs and another community had fought for the same provisions of safety and health. The local news anchor quickly referred to Hickory Woods as “Love Canal II.” There it was—confirmation that the political system had failed its constituents once again, leaving ordinary citizens to navigate and negotiate their own guidelines of risk and safety.

The story of Hickory Woods illustrates a case of community mobilization in an area with an infamous chemical legacy. Situated in the heart of the nation’s Rust Belt, Buffalo’s Hickory Woods neighborhood is bounded by now vacated heavy-industrial land, a national Superfund site, and a children’s playground. The surroundings of this community speak to the juxtaposition of and conflict between industry and human health. Once a booming steel city, Buffalo has made sacrifices for the economic benefits of the past. Those sacrifices are visible in the Superfund sites that border homes and playgrounds, leaving residents with little sense of security about their health or that of their children and grandchildren. The story of Hickory Woods reflects that insecurity, framed by a sense of uncertainty about the extent of risk the that chemicals found in the community pose. It is a story of the complex ways citizens make decisions about their future in light of such uncertainty. It is most of all a story of the perseverance and commitment of citizens who are determined to secure justice for their community and to ensure the safety of the next generation.

This case illustrates the complexity of social movement mobilization. Mobilization is not an inevitable consequence once a problem is acknowledged in a community. In 1998 the Hickory Woods community was notified of the presence of chemical waste in soil throughout the 10-square-block neighborhood. To date, the extent of chemical presence and the risks associated with these chemicals have not been fully established.