Lesson 2: Raise a Ruckus
It was a throw away line by an out of town pipeline representative but it struck a nerve and came to define much of the resistance to the Byhalia Pipeline. In this episode hear the origin story of the phrase that rang throughout the fight: “the point of least resistance.” Intended as an engineering answer to a question about the pipeline route, it came to encapsulate so much of what the pipeline fight was about. And getting it out publicly began to draw new resisters to the fight.
Broken Ground Season 5: Episode 2
July 13, 2022
Host: There’s a line about the Byhalia Connection pipeline’s path that you’re going to hear again and again this season.
Rev. Barber: They said the reason that they brought the pipeline through South Memphis, because it would be a point of least resistance. Well you woke us up now!
Justin J. Pearson: They said, ‘Well, we chose basically a path of least resistance.’
Kathy Robinson: Then they say we were the path of least resistance.
George Nolan: It was the point of least resistance.
Roshun Austin: It was the ‘path of least resistance.’
Amanda Garcia: … the point of least resistance.
Reporter: They were going to take the path of least resistance …
Batsell Booker: … the path of least resistance!
Host: ‘The path of least resistance.’ It’s the sort of thing you might imagine powerful corporate execs saying to each other behind closed doors. It implies that ‘the people who live here in this place won’t fight this pipeline, or landfill, or highway. They won’t have the resources to hire lawyers. It implies nobody will raise a ruckus. Nobody will really care. The problem is: here in Memphis, the pipeline company says the quiet part out loud. And so it becomes a rallying cry for the Byhalia pipeline fight.
Al Gore: Memphis, Tennessee is NOT the path of least resistance.
(BROKEN GROUND THEME MUSIC COMES IN)
Host: On this episode of Broken Ground, we’ll reveal the origins of that now infamous line.
(THEME MUSIC UP FULL)
Host: This is Broken Ground, a podcast from the Southern Environmental Law Center. I’m Leanna First-Arai, your host. Here at Broken Ground, we dig up environmental stories in the South and introduce you to the people at the heart of them. People like Boxtown resident Samuel Hardaway, who we met in our last episode.
Samuel Hardaway: And what got me – a lot of people kind of dismissed it, well they gonna to do what they want to do I said well I’m not. Hey, I’m going down fighting.
Host: If you missed that episode, I hope you’ll go back and listen.
(THEME MUSIC OUT)
Host: This season on Broken Ground, we’re telling a complicated story. One full of fury, and heartbreak, solidarity and joy. But also, you know, permitting decisions, and wellhead maps, and city council ordinances. Through it all, I want you to keep an eye out for some red flags. Things pipeline companies do to get their way. For instance:
Amanda Garcia: Get as much permission to proceed without involving the public as they can. (laughing)
Host: Attorney Amanda Garcia heads the Nashville office of the Southern Environmental Law Center. With the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and others, she’s seen the tactics companies use when trying to force a pipeline through. Another tactic?
Amanda Garcia: To try to keep as much as they can behind closed doors, out of sight. And to the extent that they can’t do that, to come into the community, give a lot of money to various organizations and basically say there’s nothing to see here.
Host: So showering a community with donations is one tactic. Keeping a pipeline project on the down-low is another.
Amanda Garcia: And of course there’s an effort to try to get landowners to give up their land, sell their land voluntarily rather than having to go through the legal process.
Leanna First-Arai: Mm-hmm.
Amanda Garcia: But I think all of these are elements of a campaign by a company to try to build a project without stirring up any opposition.
Host: One way I’ve noticed Byhalia tries to avoid stirring up opposition in Memphis is by keeping things purposely vague. Unlabeled maps. Questions they’ll have to “put a pin in” and “circle back on.” I mean, how can you protest something, when you’re not sure what it is you’re protesting? This tactic became pretty clear to me at the meeting in White’s Chapel church – that gathering of all Black residents – where I first met Samuel Hardaway and Mozell Smith. I want to take you back there now, because – with the benefit of hindsight – I can see how important that meeting really was.
It’s a Saturday morning in the first few weeks of 2020, just before COVID begins packing hospitals and shutting down schools. It’s only February, but in Memphis the daffodils are blooming. I arrive a few minutes late to White’s Chapel, where a meeting I’d heard about through the grapevine is being held. The chapel is packed with members of the Boxtown Neighborhood Association. They’ve invited all of their local elected officials, but – as I would learn – none have shown up. At the front are three representatives of Plains All American, wearing their signature blue polo shirts. I sign in, and squeeze into a squeaky pew in the back.
Audience Member: We’re not too happy about hearing that there’s going to be a pipeline coming through our neighborhood.
Host: From minute one, it’s clear that Boxtown residents are not here to mince words.
Audience Member: Why this neighborhood? Why everything have to come down to this neighborhood?
Host: So one quick thing about the audio quality here. I recorded this audio on the voice memo app on my iPhone. It was just for reference in case I wrote an article. I never imagined it would be on a podcast. So I hope you’ll forgive the quality.
Audience Member: What is the life expectancy of a pipeline? How long do you plan to have it in use for?
Deidre Malone: I, you know, I can’t answer that question. As long as there’s a need for it, I’m sure it will be in effect.
Host: The pipeline reps here today – two White people from out of town and a Black woman who heads a local PR firm – side step lots of questions like this. Which is interesting, because this is the fifth community meeting pipeline reps have attended. Seems like they’d know what questions to expect by now.
Mozell Smith: We go back five generations in this neighborhood.
Host: Ms. Mozell is dressed in a red sweater with matching red lipstick and a leopard print hat. And she’s just found out that the proposed pipeline will cut close to her home. As she describes it, ‘right there outside my backdoor.’
Mozell Smith: We live in this community and we are proud of our community. Because the majority of this community was owned by Black people. We own property down here. And you can’t say that too much throughout the city. It breaks my heart that I’m going to leave here knowing there’s a pipeline next door to me.
Host: As she says the words “leave here,” she points to the sky.
Mozell Smith: That’s all I got to say.
Host: It’s in this setting, with a crowd of upset, mostly Black, mostly senior citizens, that the land agent tries to explain developers’ choice for the pipeline’s path.
Wyatt Price: Well, there are times when people have ideas of utilizing their property. And that’s one reason the route’s going where it is. We took, basically, a point of least resistance.
Host: Did you catch it? I know it doesn’t seem nearly as dramatic as it sounds when it gets repeated later in protest chants but trust me. In the chapel, people are looking around in disbelief at their neighbors to make sure they really heard what they heard. The land agent, a guy named Wyatt Price, continues.
Wyatt Price: We encountered communities that were newly being built. We rerouted around them.
Host: In other words, they decided NOT to build through wealthier suburbs or new subdivisions.
Wyatt Price: Most everything that we encountered, we backed up and went around it.
Host: As the meeting draws to a close, I jump up hoping to talk to Ms. Mozell. She’s headed to the front of the chapel to look at the pipeline map.
Leanna First-Arai: Hey, my name is Leanna. I’m an independent journalist, and just asking folks today kind of about your thoughts on this whole situation and how it affects you.
Host: At this point, a surprising thing happens. Ms. Mozell falls into my arms. After a moment, she rights herself, hugs me and apologizes, explaining that she forgot to take her blood-pressure medication this morning. Ms. Mozell is also a breast cancer survivor and has been dealing with some serious health issues. But today, her attention is fully focused on this pipeline.
Mozell Smith: It’s just too much. There’s only so much. We got the refinery. We got the steam plant. We got all that foul odor coming into the neighborhood.
Host: And it’s not just the foul odor that bothers her. It’s the illnesses that she suspects these industries bring.
Mozell Smith: A lot of people in this community have came down with breast cancer. So we don’t know what’s in the environment doing this to us, you know? Because when we was coming up, we was some healthy people down here. We didn’t have all this stuff that was in our area. I’m very disgusted in our city leaders for allowing this to come through a community. Who’s representing us? Nobody.
Samuel Hardaway: And that’s the hurt.
Host: “And that’s the hurt,” says Mr. Hardaway, the first time we speak.
Samuel Hardaway: Instead of letting the people make the final decision, they want to make the final decision. You can’t tell me what’s best for us because you don’t even live here.
Host: Before I leave, I jot down a few phone numbers including Ms. Mozell’s and Mr. Hardaway’s.
Samuel Hardaway: Thank you, Ms. Leanna.
Leanna First-Arai: Thank you, I appreciate it.
Samuel Hardaway: Alright.
Leanna First-Arai: Nice speaking with you.
Host: At this point, I’m convinced that there’s an important story to be told here – about the people I’ve met, about the community they’re trying to protect. The only problem is … well, you remember the problem.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: And we’re deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction.
Host: March 11, 2020 – less than a month after that White’s Chapel meeting – the World Health Organization officially declares …
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: … that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.
Host: Two days later, then-President Donald Trump declares a national emergency.
Pres. Trump: To unleash the full power of the federal government through this effort today, I am officially declaring a national emergency. Two very big words.
Host: Everything grinds to a halt. The pandemic takes over the news.
WREG News Channel 3 Reporter: Now boarded up bars and restaurants on Beale street, the music street dedicated to the blues…
WREG News Channel 3 Reporter: 70 people now under quarantine in Shelby county.
Fox 13 Reporter: Wearing a mask as you leave your home could become the new normal in the city…
ABC 24 Reporter: Sunday was another bad day for Shelby county’s daily case total.
ABC 24 Reporter: Hospital systems in Memphis and across west Tennessee scrambling.
Host: Looking back, it seems particularly unfair that at the same time Memphians are struggling to fend off a fossil fuel pipeline, a respiratory pandemic is ramping up. A pandemic that would have a disproportionate impact on Black people and older folks. And it’s all even more egregious since we now know that long-term exposure to air pollution is linked to higher COVID mortality rates. But the pandemic doesn’t seem to have impacted Byhalia’s plans. Construction is still set to begin by the end of the year, and I’m running out of time to tell the story before that happens.
So, I’m pitching the idea to newspapers and news magazines. But no one’s biting. All together, I send out 15 separate pitches, striking out again and again. Unti, three months after that White’s Chapel meeting, I finally get a bite. It’s from a regional publication called Southerly, which focuses on environmental injustice in the South. The editor was interested, and wanted to partner with a local independent newsroom in Memphis called MLK50. Both Southerly and MLK50 are non-profit, women-led, justice-oriented newsrooms, and are actively filling news deserts in the South. If you’re not familiar with their reporting you should check them out at SoutherlyMag.org or MLK50.com.
Mr. Hardaway proved to be my most steady informant. He was determined to get this story out there. We talked and texted all summer while I worked on the article. Then finally, in September 2020, after many rounds of edits, the story published. In it, I wrote about the people I’d met in Boxtown, about the 7-mile stretch of pipeline that would pass near their homes, about the permits Byhalia still needed to secure before construction could begin. And, of course, I included that infamous “point of least resistance” line that had shocked us at White’s Chapel.
Wyatt Price: We took basically, a point of least resistance
Host: The article – in part I think because of that quote – ricochets around social media. On Twitter, it catches the attention of a woman who’s crucial to what happens next in the Byhalia pipeline fight in Southwest Memphis. Meet Kathy Robinson.
Kathy Robinson: Everything about meI think is Southwest Memphis.
Host: When Kathy Robinson says “Southwest Memphis,” she means Walker Homes where she and her 3 brothers grew up, Boxtown where she attended church with her Mom, West Junction where Great Grandma Leara lived.
Kathy Robinson: That’s where actually we spent most of our days. She, like, worked this garden. She would be outside all day. And so we could be outside all day. So it was like okay, we’re going over Grandma Leara’s house.
Host: But Great-Grandma Leara could be a task-master too.
Kathy Robinson: She was the sweetest little thing, but when you came to work in the garden, like it wasn’t no in between, like, this is serious right here so make up your mind. If you were going to half step, just go out there and play. (laughing) Man, we had a lot of meals out of that garden. That community is just – it means so much to me.
Host: So, fast forward 25 years. Kathy Robinson now works in public health and lives in Nashville, three hours to the east of Memphis.
Kathy Robinson: I was just, like, at home, doing nothing, hanging out on Twitter.
Host: And she sees the article I wrote about the pipeline planned for Boxtown.
Kathy Robinson: Whoa, this is my neck of the woods, right? Like I have a cousin that lives in Boxtown. I went to church as a kid in Boxtown, like, let me read this. I’m fired up. I see, you know, they want to take people’s land. They want to come in this community. I’m like WHAT!? And then they say, we were the path of least resistance. Like we weren’t going to do anything.
Host: Kathy’s ready to raise a ruckus from Nashville, but she doesn’t want to step on any toes, so first she checks in with her cousin who lives in Boxtown.
Kathy Robinson: Are you for this pipeline? And he said, no. (clap) And I just took off. Like, it’s like all I needed was his blessing.
Host: So Kathy shares the article on Facebook, expecting that her friends back in Southwest Memphis will be as outraged as she is, and …
Kathy Robinson: Nothing really happened.
Host: She says two people liked her post. Otherwise, crickets.
Kathy Robinson: I’m like, man, people must don’t know about this or whatever. So …
Host: So she heads back to Twitter and starts tweeting at the pipeline company.
Kathy Robinson: So like, I’m going back to Twitter barking at these folks, Plains All American. I’m like, you know, stay away from this community. We don’t want you. Of course I don’t have that many followers on Twitter. You know, like I’m a nobody. Because I mean, who really thinks that something this big gonna come of this, like, I don’t even live in Memphis. You know what I’m saying?
Host: But then something kind of weird happens – or at least it felt weird to Kathy. She woke up one morning to a new follower on Twitter – the pipeline company itself.
Kathy Robinson: And at this time they were following nobody in the world. They weren’t following anybody. So I wake up and they’re following me and they messaged me like, ‘Hey, Kathy, let’s talk.’ And I’m like, ‘Nah, screw you! You know, stay out of my neighborhood. Don’t nobody want you.’ But all the time, I’m kinda like nervous, like, whoa, like this billion dollar company. (laughing)
Host: So Kathy takes a screenshot of the Twitter message and shares it on Facebook with her own note.
Kathy Robinson: I will not be intimidated. Y’all don’t know who y’all talking about. That’s what got Kizzy interested.
Kizzy Jones: Oh no. Oh no, no, what they’re not going to do to my friend is threaten my friend.
Host: This is Kizzy Jones. She and Kathy attended Mitchell High School together in Southwest Memphis. They played on the basketball team together. And they’ve been friends for nearly 30 years.
Kizzy Jones: Kathy is more of the quiet person and I’m more of the feisty person.
Host: Okay, I know this is a weird thing to fact check. Kizzy is, in fact, feisty. But as you’ll hear, this pipeline fight quickly brings out the feisty in Kathy too.
Kathy Robinson: I am not a radical person, but when it came to that, I was kinda like, oh hell no.
Host: Kizzy gets on board quickly, because she has her own deep connection to the area. Her parents moved here from Kansas nearly 50 years ago.
Kizzy Jones: When they moved to Memphis, they didn’t know anybody. They moved away from family. And when my mom and them started having kids, 38109 is who raised us.
Host: 38109 is the zip code for most of Southwest Memphis, from the neighborhood around the Valero oil refinery through Boxtown and all the way south to the Mississippi border. This is the part of Memphis that the pipeline would plow through before taking a 90 degree turn to reach its final destination.
Kizzy Jones: We had a community of people who grew food, showed us about morals and values. It’s fun and laughter and memories. Uh … and I’m pausing because when I sit there and I think about it, it brings tears to my eyes because some of these people are no longer with us. I’m really proud to say I’m from there. I’m really proud to say that that’s who raised me.
Host: Kizzy and her husband are now raising four kids of their own, but like so many young people who grew up in Southwest Memphis, they’ve moved out of 38109 to do it. Truth be told, Kizzy’s conflicted about that.
Kizzy Jones: I’m actually trying to convince my husband, let’s move back. Let’s literally move back. Because some part of me feel guilty. I feel guilty.
Host: Kizzy spent 14 years as a full-time Airman in the Air Force, but recently went part-time. Now she also works the nightshift at the Fedex facility at the airport here. She’s only got so much bandwidth. But an oil pipeline running through her old neighborhood? That felt worth her time.
Kizzy Jones: With the Air Force, we have this saying: never leave an airman behind. And so I kind of adopted that. With this pipeline fight, we had so many people who felt like they have been screwed in the process. I didn’t want that to happen. And I said, Kathy, we gotta do something about it.
Kathy Robinson: We were on the phone for hours. So I told her what I had done like emailed basically all of the politicians that represent that area.
Host: Kathy says she wrote to Boxtown’s city council representative, its county commissioner, the city and county mayors, state legislators too. And even though most of these people were not technically HER representatives in Nashville, she had a way around that.
Kathy Robinson: You know, I’m pretending to be my mom because of course I don’t live in the district, which was so stupid. I’m like, “Hey, you know, I’ve been living in this neighborhood for the last whatever years. And you know, I reared my children here.” You know, whatever, still got the same last name. (laughing) You know, I’m really like acting like my mom or whatever.
Host: Despite the ruse, not everybody replied, and those who did seemed unconcerned. The city council rep for the area Edmund Ford Senior sent a generic “thank you for your input” email. His son, county commissioner Edmund Ford Junior, who also represents Boxtown, said nothing. U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen said he was watching it. And Senator Marsha Blackburn said it was a state matter. Kathy was getting nowhere, until … representative Barbara Cooper wrote back.
Kathy Robinson: She’s like 90 something, I think.
Host: Cooper is 92. She’s a democrat, and she’s represented Tennessee House district 86 – which includes Boxtown – for 26 years.
Kathy Robinson: And I’m like so excited because the others just seemed so uninterested.
Host: But even Barbara Cooper’s reply just said basically, ‘I’m following the story, keep me posted if there are any community meetings.’
Kathy Robinson: And at the time I’m kinda like pissed, cause I’m just thinking, ‘Well, that’s all she going to say, keep her posted on other community meetings?’ Like, I don’t know anything about community meetings.
Host: But then Cooper emailed again, this time cc’ing the pipeline company and a few other residents who had apparently expressed concern about the pipeline, including Marcella Shepherd from the Boxtown Neighborhood Association who we heard from last episode.
Kathy Robinson: It was actually a blessing. So now, I’m connecting the dots. Since Barbara Cooper, you know, a little old lady kind of like messed up and cc’d everybody on the email, I’m like I’m finna to take their email address and I’m finna start emailing them too, it’s like we can build a coalition or something. So I did it and it was like they were already doing stuff!
Host: So Kathy connects with others on the email chain.
Kathy Robinson: I’m like emailing them, like, ‘What y’all need me to do?’
Host: Remember at this point, it’s been nearly 8 months since the pipeline company hosted those ‘informational meetings’ with stacks of diapers and minimally labeled maps. Seven months since the pipeline rep called southwest Memphis “the point of least resistance.” Folks on the email chain are upset, feeling ignored and ill-informed. And as far as anybody knows, pipeline construction is still set to begin in the next 2 to 3 months.
Kizzy Jones: Barbara Cooper said, ‘Hold on, wait a minute, this pipeline is saying that they talked to the community and the community is okay with this pipeline. Why am I getting letters saying that a lot of the people in the community don’t know anything about it?’
Kathy Robinson: The pipeline people email back and they were just like, ‘Okay, well, we can have another meeting.”
Kizzy Jones: Had it not been for her Barbara Cooper saying, ‘Hold on, wait a minute, we need to have a meeting,’ October 17th, 2020 would not have happened.
Host: That October meeting was held outdoors at T.O. Fuller, the historic Black state park that borders Boxtown. The pandemic is in full swing at this point, so everyone’s masked, doing their best to social distance.
Kizzy Jones: We had a big crowd. And a lot of people from the church I grew up in came. A lot of people from Boxtown, Westwood, Walker Homes came.
Batsell Booker: Good morning.
Host: The meeting starts with a prayer, led by Batsell Booker of the Boxtown Neighborhood Association.
Batsell Booker: We pray that everyone have came here with open hearts and open minds and, uh, in the right attitude, where there is complete truth and transparency.
Host: After low-key presentations from water experts from the University of Memphis and a local nonprofit, the emcee Daniel Lewis introduces Deidre Malone, one of the pipeline reps who’d been at that White’s Chapel meeting.
Daniel Lewis: I’d like you to, to welcome, uh, Ms. Deidre Malone, representing the Byhalia pipeline.
Deidre Malone: Thank you, Mr. Lewis.
Audience: “Really?”(laughing) “Be nice!”
Host: The reaction to Deidre Malone – the laughter, the skeptical “really?” – deserves a quick sidebar. Malone was a respected figure here in Southwest Memphis, a two-term county commissioner and a former head of the local NAACP chapter. But she also runs a public relations firm, and so she’s here today representing the PIPELINE company. A national NAACP representative told me this is actually a fairly common tactic – developers targeting local NAACP leaders like Deidre to gain influence in Black communities. Here on the ground, it’s clear that it feels like a betrayal. So, emcee Daniel Lewis is compelled to remind everyone of the rules.
Daniel Lewis: We respect and expect that each of us will recognize the dignity of the other person. When we disagree, we will not be disagreeable.
Deidre Malone: Thank you, Mr. Lewis. Um, good morning everyone …
Host: Deidre thanks everyone for coming and quickly turns the mic over to one of the half-dozen pipeline representatives who’ve come from Texas. Katie Martin, a communications manager for Plains All American, has prepared a presentation on the pipeline. But first she wants to address a controversy – without, you know, actually addressing the controversy.
Katie Martin: So, before we start, I just want to ask: how many people heard about the quote from our contract land agent? Can I – have you guys heard about that? Read about that?
Host: She’s talking about the “point of least resistance” comment, though she never actually quotes it.
Katie Martin: What he should have said is that we’re looking for a route with the least community impacts and he should not have used the term that he did. So …
Audience Member: It was the truth because it was the first thing that came out of his mouth.
Audience Member: Yeah!
Host: If you didn’t catch that, that audience member said “It was the truth because it was the first thing that came out of his mouth.”
Katie Martin: I’m sorry you had to hear that, ma’am.
Audience Member: What did he say?
Host: They’re asking “What did he say? What did he say?”
Katie Martin: We can talk about that during the Q and A. I’d like to go through the presentation.
Host: Katie begins her presentation by trying to relate to the audience:
Katie Martin: We have pipelines in Houston, all over the place. I have a pipeline in my backyard and I would ask the same questions that you’re asking.
Host: She talks about the route.
Katie Martin: The pipeline is not in a straight line on purpose …
Host: Safety concerns.
Katie Martin: 99.99% of oil gets to where it needs to go without issue…
Host: And she boasts about the number of landowners who’ve already gotten on board.
Katie Martin: 80% of the families in Shelby county have signed agreements …
Host: After a half-hour, she wraps it up.
Katie Martin: Thank you for listening.
Daniel Lewis: Okay, let’s give her a hand.
Host: And by the time the tepid applause ends, there’s already a line of audience members at the mic ready to ask questions.
Audience Member: How much money are they spending for that seven mile pipeline?
Pipeline Representative: Uh, I don’t know off the top of my head. I think the approximate value we model is roughly $2 million a mile. So let’s, let’s say $14 million dollars for the sake of this conversation.
Audience Member: Okay, okay. Now, once this pipeline gets moving, how much money do you make a year off of this pipeline?
Pipeline Representative: That I do not know.
Host: Yet again, the company’s not providing a lot of answers to the questions here – the most pointed of which comes from Kizzy.
Kizzy Jones (at meeting): What do you need to go away? Are you listening to what we saying? Because we don’t want you here. We don’t want you to build here. We love our community.
Audience Member: Amen!
Kizzy Jones: I feel like when the voice needs to be loud, I’m your girl. Everybody can sit back if you don’t want to say it, hey, just tell me to say it, I’ll say it. I’m okay to be that person.
Kizzy Jones (at meeting): We don’t want you here!
Audience Member: That’s it! We don’t want you, we don’t need you.
Kizzy Jones: That’s just how I was raised. It’s 38109 who taught me to do that. It really is. We don’t have money, but we have heart.
Kizzy Jones (at meeting): It’s clear, right?
Audience Member: We listening for an answer.
Host: Kizzy keeps pressing, and a moment later, Deidre Malone stands to respond.
Deidre Malone: We hear you. And that’s the reason we’re here. We came to have a conversation, to educate you on the pipeline. And I appreciate your question …
Host: “I appreciate your question.” Deidre is in full-blown PR mode. Sure, ‘How can we make you go away’ is not the question you want to hear when you’re trying to win people over, but this does NOT feel like meaningful engagement. We did reach out to Deidre for an interview multiple times, by the way, but we never heard back.
Audience Member: What do we need to do!?
Deidre Malone: I’m not sure what you need to do to stop the pipeline. So that’s a direct answer to your question. But what I am saying to you today is this: there’s a strong possibility that this pipeline will be in your community.
Audience Member: Boo!
Deidre Malone: Strong. So with that, come to the table, have a conversation.
Host: Kizzy remembers exactly how Deidre’s response made her feel.
Kizzy Jones: I was livid. This company preyed on poor. And she was so adamant. And I think a lot of people lost hope too, because it was so close because they were supposed to build their pipeline January 2021.
Audience Member: You saying you don’t know what it’s going to take for us to, to, stop the pipeline?
Deidre Malone: I don’t.
Audience Member: Can you come next time with that answer?
Deidre Malone: No, I’m going to come with an answer of, we still want to work with you because we want to build this pipeline …
Audience Member: We don’t want to work with you!
Host: There’s clearly anger here, but also deep sadness. Another resident stands to say this:
Audience Member: My family is Boxtown.
Audience Member: Alright.
Audience Member: Take your time.
Justin J. Pearson: That’s all right. That’s all right.
Audience Member: And y’all just don’t understand.
Audience Member: It’s gonna be alright.
Audience Member: You want to go through Boxtown. We already have enough hardship down here.
Justin J. Pearson: Come on!
Audience Member: We don’t need anymore.
Justin J. Pearson: Come on!
Audience Member: Amen! Amen!
Host: After listening to that emotional appeal from the edge of the pavilion, a young man stands up to speak. He’s skinny, and sharply dressed in a suit and tie, with a big head of hair. He’s wearing glasses and a blue face mask.
Justin J. Pearson: “The path of least resistance.” That’s what they call Boxtown. That’s what they call Westwood. That’s what they’re calling Memphis: “the path of least resistance.”… So sometimes we don’t have our subjects and verbs agree. Sometimes we don’t have PhDs behind our name. But don’t for one second think that we do not know who we are. We know that we care about the air that we breathe. We care about the water that we drink. Because it is not just us that we are here talking about. It’s not just us here that we are fighting for. It is the people 60 years from now when my hair is much grayer, Deidre. And when my great grandchildren are born, Deidre. It’s them that I’m worried about. It’s them that I’m concerned about … We have to fight now. We have to fight now. We have to fight now. We have to fight now. This cannot stand.
Audience Member: Yeah!
Daniel Lewis: Sir!
Host: On his way to sit down, the young man is stopped by the emcee.
Daniel Lewis: I want you to give your name.
Host: He turns to the microphone.
Justin J. Pearson: I am Justin J. Pearson.
Audience Member: Tell them where you graduated from!
Justin J. Pearson: Valedictorian of Mitchell High school …
Host: After an hour and a half, the emotional meeting draws to a close. Batsell Booker, who delivered the opening prayer, now delivers thanks to the pipeline reps for coming.
Batsell Booker: Thank you because you have been beat up today. You will do well as a White House press secretary. I want you to know, we’re respectful, but we’re here to take care of business. Somebody asked the question ‘Why is they going this way?’ I’ll tell you why. Because everything in the world, in the universe, travels the path of least resistance.
Host: Then Batsell turns to address his neighbors.
Batsell Booker: So you keep coming and you keep fighting and you keep studying because that’s all we have. Amen? Let’s go to our father in prayer.
Kathy Robinson: After the meeting it was like, ‘Hey, so what’s next?’ Like, what are we going to do? And so Kizzy was like, ‘Hey, you know, get the dude with the afro information.’
Kizzy Jones: I was like Kathy, we might need him on our team. He spoke so well.
Host: The ‘dude with the afro’ is, of course, Justin J. Pearson.
Justin Pearson: It was apparent that we were going to have to resist this project even though we didn’t know how.
Kizzy Jones: We were three poor kids coming from out of Mitchell High School fighting this billion dollar company. We knew what we was up against.
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Host: Join us next time on Broken Ground, when the three young activists begin organizing to help their neighbors …
Kizzy Jones: It was a cluster at first.
Host: Only to discover that there’s more at stake in this battle against the Byhalia Connection pipeline.
Kizzy Jones: We didn’t know that there was a diamond in the rough.
CREDITS: Broken Ground is a podcast by the Southern Environmental Law Center, one of the nation’s most powerful defenders of the environment, rooted in the South. Broken Ground is produced by Emily Richardson-Lorente, Pria Mahadevan, Leanna First-Arai and Jennie Daley, with assistance from Eli Motycka and Ko Bragg. Special thanks to Ward Archer, who provided some of the archival audio in this episode. Our theme music is by Eric Knutson. For more information, visit Brokengroundpodcast.org. If you enjoyed this episode we’d love it if you’d subscribe and write us a review on your favorite podcast app. Thanks for listening.
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