Community Power Prevails: Victory Over Biomass Sawmill Threat in North Memphis

Apr 23, 2024 | BM4F Spotlights, Catch the Green Tea, Young, Gifted & Green Blog Series | 0 comments

In a heartening example of grassroots activism and community collaboration, a local community-based organization called VECA among other local, state and national organizations, and most importantly, residents of a majority Black community in North Memphis joined forces with Young, Gifted & Green to successfully oppose a proposed biomass sawmill campus in their residential area. Today, we celebrate a significant triumph as the biomass sawmill applicant withdrew their application on the record at the Memphis City Council meeting. This victory stands as a testament to the power of community engagement and serves as a shining example of how collective action can protect our neighborhoods and preserve environmental justice.

The Threat of the Biomass Sawmill Campus
The proposed biomass sawmill campus had raised serious concerns among the residents of North Memphis. This predominantly Black community, already grappling with various environmental justice issues, would have faced additional challenges if the facility were to be established. The potential impacts included increased air pollution, noise pollution, water quality risks, and threats to public health. Recognizing the potential harm this project posed to their community, local activists and community members rallied together to fight for their rights and protect their quality of life.

Collaboration, Partnership and Empowering the Community
The journey to victory was established by strong coalition building–a skill Memphians know very well. This partnership formed the backbone of the opposition movement, bringing together diverse voices and harnessing the power of local knowledge and expertise. Most central to the success of this movement was the empowerment of community members. Impacted residents, local community-based organizations, local activists and community organizers, and environmental justice nonprofits worked tirelessly to engage residents, providing them with information, resources, and platforms to voice their concerns. Through community meetings, workshops, and education campaigns, they ensured that the affected residents were well-informed and equipped to advocate for their rights effectively.

The Road to Triumph
Along this journey, there were far too often discrediting of Black voices where elected officials even told well-informed community members and even national experts they “didn’t understand the science” and even reached as far to allude to the environmental justice leaders involved as “climate deniers”. This successful, intergenerational organizing model utilized a multi-faceted advocacy approach to challenge the biomass sawmill proposal. This involved engaging with local government officials and agencies, canvassing the impacted neighborhood, facilitating public comment trainings, engaging with local journalists and press, and leveraging the power of social media to raise awareness and mobilize support. By highlighting the potential environmental and health impacts, the community members and their partners effectively communicated the urgency of the situation to decision-makers. Today marks a significant milestone in the fight against the biomass sawmill campus. All decision-makers and stakeholders had to undeniably recognize the strength and determination of this Black community. This outcome is a testament to the power of community organizing and the ability of residents to protect their rights and shape their own future regardless of race and zip code.

While this victory is cause for celebration, it is essential to remain vigilant. Environmental justice issues continue to affect marginalized communities across the country, and we must remain committed to addressing them. The success in North Memphis serves as an inspiration for other communities facing similar challenges, demonstrating that change is possible when we come together and fight for a just and equitable future. The triumph over the proposed biomass sawmill campus in North Memphis is a demonstration of the power of community collaboration and grassroots activism. By joining forces with a local community-based organization and environmental and social justice nonprofits, the residents of this majority Black community successfully protected their neighborhood from potential environmental and health hazards. This victory serves as a reminder that when communities unite and raise their voices, they can effect positive change.


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