Toward TomorrowToward Tomorrow

lessons from yesterday, visions f0r t0morrow

Lois Gibbs Chapter Excerpt

In the spring of 1978, a 27 year-old housewife named Lois Gibbs discovered that her child was attending an elementary school built on top of toxic-chemical dump. Desperate to do something about it, she organized her neighbors,struggling for more than 2 years for relocation for the families of Love Canal. In 1981, now a single parent with two children and $10,000, Lois left Niagara Falls for the Washington, DC area to establish a national organization to help families living near other Love Canal-like sites.


"...Before anyone outside of her neighborhood has ever heard of her, or of Love Canal, Lois Gibbs was a mother and housewife. Married to her high school sweetheart, she lived in a comely, blue collar, middle class area of Niagara Falls, New York. By early 1978, she'd had two children and thought the orbit of her life- caring for her children, husband, and home- was set for the foreseeable future. But beginning late that spring, events began to shake Lois Gibbs' world in frightening ways. Discovering that her child's school and her entire neighborhood sat on land sodden with hazardous chemicals, she set about doing whatever she could to protect her children, one of whom had already had unusual medical problems. As she learned that a great many of her neighbors had serious health issues as well, her maternal impulse found itself directed far beyond her own two children, and toward organizing her neighborhood to secure a solution to this exploding health and financial crisis. The ferocity of that protective instinct guided a community through a confusing and terrifying period, and eventually, changed the course of her life and the lives of thousands of citizens across the United States..."

"...Gibbs hopes that this heritage of community people organizing themselves in a democratic manner is an important influence on subsequent generations of activists and leaders. She says, "I'm hoping that they'll read the environmental history and be inspired by it, because so much of that history is of the environmental grassroots network which is really about women who started in some basement in their house, in their back yard... and in 10 years, we'll have these policies, and it all will have started from somebody sitting in their living room one day and saying, 'Oh my God, my kid's sick. There must be some connection...' I hope they're inspired to say, 'Look, here's a bunch of folks who didn't know a whole lot about this stuff who worked their way through it.'"

"...'A personal legacy, she says, doesn't even matter to me.' But Lois Gibbs has created a rich endowment that includes a model for potent citizen activism; a dense network of people and groups focused on moving issues at both the local and national levels; a vision for precaution that's anchored in the American Promise; and an enduring belief in the power of people to advance the agenda of human and environmental justice... That's what I want people to see...that in America, pat of our promise is, if you get together and you practice democracy, you can win...Stand up for what's right, work hard, be fair, play well with others, and great things can happen.