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We are thrilled to have Jo Banner, Founder & Director of the Descendants Project, with us for todays' episode. The Descendants Project is a nonprofit, based in St. John the Baptist Parish, that advocates for the descendants of people once enslaved in Louisiana’s river parishes. They work with the community to improve the economy, improve health, and protect the land, while at the same time honoring their ancestry and heritage.
Learn about some of the amazing work Jo and the Descendants Project does including a lawsuit they filed to correct the illegal rezoning of residential land for use by heavy industry and bringing in opportunities for residents in the film industry to give them another options besides working on a grain elevator or at a petrochemical plant.
"We we're tired of, at least I was, of working in systems across the board that do not allow us to have input. People who want to tell us what to do and what's best for us, when it's really not what's best for us, it's what is best for their pocketbook. And...these communities of descendants, we're always those fenceline communities that are getting the brunt of all of this negativity. We always face it first, and face it worse.
Jo tells us about a previous parish president who illegally took residential land and rezoned it for use by heavy industry. Meaning that land that used to only be used for homes or agriculture, can now be used to put a polluting plastic plant in the middle of neighborhoods, very close to residents.
The parish president coerced and extorted people to push through the zoning. While he went to jail for 5 years, the land was never rezoned, and the parish is claiming it is still designated for industry.
On November 9, 2021, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Descendants Project, filed a writ of mandamus to declare a decades-old rezoning ordinance null and void and order St. John the Baptist Parish to remove it from all of its maps and records.
Jo draws much needed attention to how zoning is a public safety issue, an environmental justice issue, and an environmental racism issue.
Plus, hear directly from Jo about what industry has been doing to keep communities like St. John the Baptist Parish from having a say in important decisions that affect them. Heavy industry, like the petrochemical industry, is a big backer of the tourism industry, and the tourism industry, as a political subdivision, holds a lot of power. Joe tells us how the industries are colluding together to advance their agenda while leaving the local community in the dark.
"If you're thinking of Louisiana and our history, particularly our history of plantations where this was the biggest economy in Louisiana for a few hundred years, well although the institution of slavery is gone, what we're finding is that the systems are still in place. And the people are still living under this hierarchy in a sense...there is still a certain amount of control being put on my community, especially [for] the descendants of the enslaved, like myself ."
Learn more about the amazing work Jo and the Descendants Project does on their website: thedescendantsproject.com