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Pesticides (Spring 1991)

Farmworkers Fight Back * Alternatives in Agriculture * Organizing Strategies (Volume 2, No. 1: Spring 1991)

People who live in cities -- especially people of color -- should pay attention to the struggle of farmworkers against pesticides. Many African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos -- including some comfortably in the urban middle class -- are only one generation away from rural poverty themselves. They should easily understand the importance of joining with farmworkers to secure decent environmental conditions in which to live and wok.

The idea that pesticides are solely a rural problem needs to be re-examined. Contrary to popular opinion, pesticides directly affect urban residents - especially poor people and people of color. The use of pesticides does not begin and end in the agricultural field. For example, in Richmond, California, a largely African-American urban area, the community lives in the shadow of Chevron's massive oil refinery and pesticide manufacturing plant. Many of Richmond's residents live in poverty. Workers in the Chevron plant face exposure to a variety of hazardous chemicals on the job each day. Neighbors of the pesticide plant complain of constant odors, as well as respiratory illnesses and other pollution-caused diseases. Whatever pollutants don't go up the stack are taken to a toxic waste dump, often Chem Waste's Kettleman City facility, in a low-income Latino community in California's Central Valley. The pesticides produced are shipped around the country, where farmworkers face dangerous exposures.

Urban residents face other problems with pesticides. Pesticides poison our foods. Residents of housing projects which are routinely fumigated with dangerous pesticides, and children who play on lawns recently treated with pesticides are some of pesticides' many victims. Pesticide use is often more concentrated in urban areas, with household and garden users applying more pesticides per square inch to their living spaces, with less information about the chemicals they are using, than agricultural users in rural areas.


At the California Communities Against Toxics conference held in Kettleman City last April, about forty-five farmworkers were in attendance, mostly locals attracted to the event by the organizing efforts of the community group El Pueblo para el Aire y Agua Limpio. Two spokespeople from a major urban anti-pesticide group in Los Angeles breezed in on the second day of the conference, and gave an impassioned speech about the dangers of spraying malathion on Los Angeles to control the Medfly. Through an interpreter, the farmworkers listened to the speech, nodding in sympathy with the plight of the well-to-do urban residents. When the activists were done, the farmworkers were ready to talk about solutions - from the perspective of people who work, day in and day out, in fields where they are exposed to pesticide residues. They were about to speak, when they noticed that the urbanites had left, having made their pitch for support of anti-malathion efforts. The farmworkers shrugged, and another golden opportunity for building bridges was lost.

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1   Pesticides and the Poor in California
     by Luke Cole & Susan Bowyer

1   Urban Pesticide Problems?

3   Harvest of Hope: The Potential for Alternative Agriculture to Reduce Pesticide Use
     by Jennifer Curtis 

4   Organizing for a Change
     by Elizabeth Martin

5   Rachel Carson Remembered
     by Victor Lewis

8   Help Break the Circle of Poison!

9   The Circle of Poison (Chart)

12 Track Down Toxics and Send the Bill to Dow Chemical

12 New Money for Grassroots Efforts

13 An Open Letter to Environmentalists
     by Dennis Martinez

19 "Grape-Free Zones" are the Latest Boycott Tool

20 Farmworkers Tackle Pesticides, Launch Apple Campaign

6 Reportbacks

10 Resources

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