tv After Words Catherine Flowers Waste CSPAN September 2, 2021 11:01am-12:03pm EDT
>> you're watching tv with top nonfiction books and authors every weekend. book tv: television for serious readers. up next on book dvds "after words", catherine flowers founder of the center for rural enterprise and environmental justice reflects on her efforts to improve water and sanitation conditions in rural areas across america , interviewed by grist senior editor nikhil swaminathan . "after words" is an interview program with relevant hosts interviewing top nonfiction authors. all "after words"programs are available as podcasts . >> catherine flowers. first thing i'd like to say is congratulations on your book out recently. and --
>> thank you it's an amazing accomplishment and it came out around the same time as thisbook which we will discuss today . i'm just curious. you've been working in lowndes county now for 20 years or so and what made now the right time for this book and what made you want to write it? >> it's very interesting, i've always wanted to write a book. those that have known me for a long time know that i've been talking aboutwriting since i was in high school . but this book, it just felt right for me to do it. i started writing it last year and had no idea of the events that were going to happen in 2020. but i felt like 20/20 was the year this book needed to be out there and i had no idea that the historical gods
would be in my favor in terms of making it more receptive to audiences than it may have been in another time. so i just felt like it was time to write it and tell the story. >> and what's the key message you wanted to convey and who is the key audience you have in mind as you were writing ? >> i have the option of either writing an academic book to reach a mass audience and i wanted to reach the mass audience. i want to write it in such a way that coming from my country rural perspective in a way that it cancommunicate with everyone . and that one could see themselves in it and that no matter where you're from, whether you're from a rural community in lowndes county alabama or new york city that it's adifference . >> that's really an important message and much of the book
takes place in lowndes county alabama which i believe you live in currently. and i'm curious, can you speak a little bit about the region which you've known for decades and of course, your specific connection to it? >> lowndes county is located between selma and montgomery. it is about 714 square miles, a very rural county and it has asked small towns, the largest being the town of fort deposit in the southern part of lowndes county. the major interstate highway that goes through their, is interstate 65 going north and south which is from mobile into the gulf. you probably go through lowndes county if you're on65 . the other famous road that most people know about is the selma to montgomery march route which most of which
goes through lowndes county. in addition the history is very much tied to slavery. i've associated with the equal justice initiative and ebi has recorded racial lynchings in lowndes county, at least nine. there are probably even more most of which were probably not documented but montgomery at the end of when they added the domestic international slave trade montgomery became one of the hubs or the domestic slave trade and people would be brought in by rail or by river to montgomery and then auction off as at the square and a lot of those people which i'm descendents of and it up in lowndes county. the interesting part about this history is that i'm learning more recently i'm starting to hear from people
that were actuallydescended from the slaveowners who had reached out as well . and i believe that the history of the region makes it so compelling and makes the story even more compelling right now at this particular time. >> you mentioned earlier about the importance of the year 2020 and how the events of 2020 sort of served as more of a backdrop for the book. and so i'm curious, what's the situation in lowndes county related to covid-19 and the racial protests that we saw throughout the summer. it's been really remarkable year in good ways and bad. and i'm just curious like, how is, how has lowndes county whether that? >> in terms of covid-19
lowndes county has the highest per capita infection rates in the state of alabama . there have been lots of people that have passed on and in some cases it's more than one immediate family member because of the intersections of poverty, people living in small homes, small mobile homes where they cannot personally isolate people that had to go to work and working on so-called extension low-paying jobs where they have to support their families and they get is at work and brought it home. so it's been a really intense impact on lowndes county. in terms of lowndes county's history ofracial justice , i think it's timely that the story in the history of lowndes county right now because lowndes county at one point because of the racial
terror that existed, it was significant during the voting rights movement which was also significant to this year lowndes county organized the lowndes county freedom organization, former sharecroppers that were kicked off the property when they registered to vote and in the freedom organization was in the black panthers and inthe black panthers people associated with the black panther party in oakland but it started in lowndes county . i think the lowndes county became the perfect place for this to emanate from simply because of what has happened prior to 20/20 but 2020 has shown us all of these disparities and has magnified it in such a way with covid that it can no longer be ignored and the book would have had a different direction had it not been for george floyd. which never should have happened.
and likewise, covid should not have this impact on the communities that are most vulnerable butit puts us in the position where we have to do something about it . >> there's the roots of a lot of you have sort of an early view of that when you moved to lowndes county in 1968 and you write about your parents and the people who had come by your house and asked for advice. members of the civil rights movement that you sort of work in your orbit even when you are young. can you talk a little bit about that and i know you mentioned the black panthers. starting from lowndes county but if you could tell us a little bit more about the earlyhistory . >> i call my parents the jailhouse lawyers.
everybody would come by our house at some point every other and then basically give advice, a little background about my father was a korean war veteran. i was discussing him the other day and we talked about the fact that he talked, my father always spent time in the military and he went in the military shortly after the end of world war ii so he wasimpacted by what he saw in germany . and that had a lot to do with his values for the u.s. constitution. and as a result, he says that he spent five years 17 days in the military and he was going to ensure every privilege and benefit that went along with defending the u.s. constitution in fighting tyranny of broad. he flew a flag every day. we had a flag in front of our house.
my brother said he was a real patriot, some people call themselves patriots today but he was a patriot supporting the constitution and felt everybody should have access to those rights no matter who they were . as a result of his zeal for that a lot of people would come to our home and my mother was an organizer. she was more of a, she was a quieter person but was very welcoming and anyone who came to our home she feared them to so we had a lot of people who would come through just to give you an example one of the person that i met is willy rich who still alive. willie rex, people know him now as the toxic but willie was the first person to say blackpower . he was to stokely carmichael probably similar to reverend abernathy who he was to martin luther king. so i met him when i was very
young. and we continued to say in talks to this day. there was another household that was very influential and that was the jackson household. the jackson family was a family that actually gave members of the coordinating committee a place to stay on their property. and whenever people would come to town be it activists or whomever they would always make it to the jackson house and the jackson's would invite my parents to come and take me. so i had the opportunity to meet all these people, had no idea at the time exactly the impact they werehaving on my life . but i thought that was very significant . >> it seems like the first instance on the path to where you are now where you sort of
started to show the activists roots had taken hold. was you wrote an article for a newsletter about the lowndes county training school where you attendedhigh school . and you credit that piece with changing your life. can you tell us a little bit about the article and what you set out to document? >> i had been invited to be part of a local weekly television show called focus and the focus was its councilperson here in montgomery but his name is tracy larkin. and on the show, i wasinvited because i wrote poetry . i thought, so i thought that's what i was invited but anyway i was reciting my poetry and they were asking
questions about my school, i didn't know my school's reputation was so far and wide a bad reputation in fact and there was someone who was inthe audience . her name kenny waiver. who went on to become one of the founders of the southern poverty law center. approached me and asked me would i write an article for a newsletter she was doing about my school and i wrote the article and i talked about the fact that i wanted a quality education and how the principal as shown by mac which is a movie about pending doing school hours. and charged us to go and see it. of course students went to see it because the movie was a movie we could not have seen in montgomery as it in theaters without a parent being present at the time. so it was at least an r rating. so we were and from that we got a call from the 2
organizers with american human services committee in montgomery and they asked to come and see me, call my parents and come to see me and asked me about, they started telling me about my school and the violations they saw in the article. and gave me a copy of this alabama code about education and asked me to read it and then they taught me how to document every violation that i saw at my school. and that began my activist career, activist learning how to change things. >> then you carry that right into college with your work for alabama state university. and it was in an interesting spot where they were looking to merge it with a couple other schools and you became active in the effort to help it retain its identity.
and i'm curious, i would love to hear more about your relationship with that particular school because it seems like you went there initially and then left and came back and it seems to have been an important place much like lowndes county itself where you would, where you would leave but find yourself coming back. >> alabama state university has a rich history in this area and a rich history of activism. a lot of people that were involved in the modern-day civil rights movement emanated from alabama state university. and attended alabama state university. some were quite active professors andstudents were quite active in montgomery boycotts . as for flyers that were distributed were actually printed therealabama state university . so alabama state university
is so important because some of the professors at profile influence on my life and that's where i was introduced to african-american history . i became a history major honestly because of that. that's when i was introduced to john hope franklin and read his from slavery to freedom which i still have a copy because of alabama state university. when there was an effort to learn at the university, i sprung into action and i didn't think about it. i didn't think about it but i had influential people in my life, joe reed, her son is now the first, was elected first black mayor in montgomery but he talked about a lot of the things that relates to the history but he also helped me understand the policies part
which i didn't understand as a student at that time. all i knew was my role as an activist and what i did, i organized a march to alabama university. i pulled together a group of my friends initially and we started organizing. i think it was sick at the time when i came up with it. that was when we had our first meeting. at saint jude which is where i was in the hospital at the time there we pulled together a group of students and more people got involved. that marked included a young man named randyanderson . who was dave that who had returned to montgomery. his father was a former trustee we pull together students and have the largest market they had in montgomery school since the days of the civil rights movement and we also organize not only students from alabama state university but went around state andorganize duties from other hbcus who showed up . it was very rewarding as a
young person to see those many people come together to try to save his legacy. >> that's amazing and through that you met people like doctor joseph lowery and james orange. i happen to live in atlanta a mile and a half away from the martin luther king birthplace and museum and these people are legends here. and so to walk amongst them when you're relatively young adult, how did that influence you in your work now. >> allowed. the way this was is to be able to pass on whati have to young people . if you know anything about james, he called everybody
leaders . and he was a big leader. so i think for them and for doctor lowery, and his staff and if either osborne and all those folks that took me under their wings when i was very very young. i was with it was outstanding because i met james and selma. i had no idea who he was. i was with a gentleman named leon harlow and was sitting with leon at the time. and james was sitting at a table nearby because they were there for the maggie bozeman junior wilder voting rights march. and james and i became friends and stayed in contact through the years but i have met doctor lowery prior to that time because of the work i was doing at alabama state university because it's eeoc supported us. we established and an coc chapter. we had acharter to establish a chapter there alabama state university . to be around these folks, i
had no idea they were big in life. it was only more recent times i realized james orange was instrumental in the actual selma to montgomery march. he never talked about that. he was very humble. i remember once i saw him in washington. one of the anniversaries. he was standing behind this area they had blocked off for dignitaries and he saw me. he would always call me and brought me back there with where everybody was and hewas always that kind of a person . and reverend lowery was probably one of the reasons why i spoke english a little bit better than i did before because he was always correcting me . but i think i've gotten to the age now where i can look back and respect and realize these are like forrest gump
moments. and know that these people would be such giants in history but i'm working to have them and be around them and to have learned from them . >> it seems like when you left college and became a teacher those types of connections and ability to expose students to readers and people who are out in the world making change seemed really important to you. i was really struck by the experiences you tried to -- you went through great pain for your students, taking middle schoolers from dc to the 25th anniversary of the summer montgomery march 4 through north carolina to bill clinton's inauguration.
i'm just curious what, when you were thinking about that as an educator, what was, what was driving you to create those moments for these students? >> i want them to see history in action. i think that when young people sometimes it's hard for them to we talk about the other things that happened that they need to know about american history. but to actually see how activism can make a difference . to actually see people and we were talking about the constitution and freedom of speech, to go and see the impact of it but also to be around people that could have an influence on them. when we went to the 25th anniversary of the selma march, we actually had the chanceto meet a lot of people . and because we had a school, we had a bus that our students there a chartered
bus. there were people the older people that were on the march we would let them get on our busstudents were marching because it was cooler . and a lot of them just couldn't make that walk. so one of the persons that they net was a woman named annie cooper. annie cooper if anybody on the selma, oprah winfrey played annie cooper in the movie. so annie cooper had shared with them personally and the children became so, they became so in love with her. they started calling her grandma and some of them continue to write her even afterwards but we never knew the historical fear that she was. so i just said it was very important for my students to have the opportunity to go to sell the , to meet people there . their assignments on that check was to meet someone who participated in the original
march and write an essay about them. and they did that. and now, a lot of those students are now in their 40s and they reach out to me and i remember one student reached out to me told me that when obama ran for president, he went and volunteered and worked in his office. and the reason why i did that he said is i thought about selma and this was the student i had taken in when he was ineighth grade . to have these lessons, plant these seeds, that's we don't know until years later the impact and regarding the election i thought it was important for them because to go to theclinton on inauguration i had promised , i had interviewed at that school higher to the election and one of the things i said to the principal, no matter who wins there were three people running, ross perot, bill clinton and bush and your matter one that i was going to take the students to the inauguration and i felt
it was an opportunity for them to learn with the electoral college, how it works and was also an opportunity with them to see the wholeprocess in terms of the transition . and you know, bill clinton one and i wrote in the book that the way i even got to go was that i went to washington during my christmas break and volunteered . as their inauguration headquarters. it was at the navy yard. and i volunteer there and got the opportunity. i was invited to come back as a hostess for the arkansas ball which is the coveted ticket that year but it also gave me access to information about everything else and i was able to organize and raise the money. >> there's a lot that's interesting in the book.
as i was reading it felt like it had to specific sections, one where you were sort of coming of age and going through a series of experiences. and actually, really traveling and living extensively throughout the eastern half of the us. and i guess also in oklahoma. and it was a very personal journey for the first half of it and we learned about your parents and we learned about your husband and the accidents at the thathe suffered and then your advocacy for him . and then when we get to the year 2000, shortly after your dad passes, you're still the vehicle for the story that it
becomes much much more about lowndes county from the people who live there. and we don't hear again about your husband's thurgood and we don't hear very much about your daughtertaylor . was that a conscious decision ? did you see yourself switching from the making of catherine flowers to your work in lowndes county as you werewriting ? >> i think that i wrote it to help people understand howi got to that point . and i feel it was important to tell that part of the story. i started off as a normal person and things just evolved. it was almost like serendipity. the way things happen and i was still a mom. by that time thurgood and i were divorced but the story shifted because my activism
kind of took off. lowndes county to me is like a family member to sell it's a family member that has always been there because of the love i have for the county i father instilled in me and i have so many relatives in my own county because that's where a lot of family is. so that was i just thought it was so important for people to see that my evolution took me back to where i started. >> and there's a few little nuggets in the book where you mention the book jonathan was latest in siegel and how that struck you personally. you mentioned at some point quietly wanting to be an astronaut and you know that you have this adventure within you. and yes, your story came
full-circle back to where you were as a young person. and i'm curious how because it's become extremely focused in the last 20 years and i'm just curious how that whole sort of art went for you. >> i still have love for nasa and space travel and ultimately hopefully one day i'll have a chance to have that experience. but i think that the evolution itself was a natural one to happen because of all the other events that i had no controlover . i happened to be in a good place and space at the time and have the opportunity to take everything i've learned and apply it to help deal with that problem . so it was in terms of my love for adventure, i still have
that. i still have it very much but the activism part is more of a heartfelt thing. it's the things that i have gravitated towards i believe have been in lowndes county it was more because i'm from lowndes county. i had the opportunity to lift other places and when i went back and saw things had not changed that much and i still have relationships i still have. relationships i've had since a child that pretty much gave me the information that i needed to connect with my activism. to try to bring about change. because in lowndes county i learned how to listen and
listening is a very very key part to activism. a lot of people don't listen and they go in with what they think are the answers and talk to the local folks or spend that kind of time 80 to be able to understand the dynamics of what's really going on. instead of what they've been told by politicians who may write a narrative that's more glowing and really is sort of present. so that our that brought me back there and got me connected with the fight. the fight for sanitation justice, just massively evolve. i could not have predicted that. i did not predict that. i didn't think i would be dealing with waste in particular. i never thought that but here we are. >> you came back to be an economic development specialist, correct? later in the book to tell a story about senator elizabeth
warren sort of diagnosed with what was going on in lowndes county and its seemed to parallel your early real rival there. in terms of being able to sum up why this area wasn't really finding new businesses to come in and then ask your working on economic development issues , you start to realize the literal death of the sanitation issue there and i'm curious, can you explain that sort of awakening where you come to solve one problem and then you realize that there's so much, so many more underlying issues related to poverty and race. and just normal dignity. >> and i was, one of the
things i found out in economic development, first of all it was very hard because some people that have preconceived notions about lowndes county who were in government only had access to these funds and they had implicit bias determining, i didn't know to call it implicit bias butthat's what it was . in terms of deciding who should get access to funding and who shouldn't . this just exists today because the business community can get access to funding or they try to wrap it in that package and give it to them. they can get the economic welfare from the government. but when it comes to residents there left to their own devices and that's a failed paradigm and what i have been told initially what i thought and what a lot of people believe that well, if you have businesses coming to the area it's going to bring
jobs and activities to drive and it will lift them up out of poverty does not happen when we don't on peel and undo the systemic racism that has created these situations in the first place. the reason these situations were created in the first places like lowndes is to keep the labor cheap because they were just having free labor during slavery and it has manifested and involved in so many different ways over the years so they can still get cheap labor. that's what they wantbecause they have to pay for . they want cheap labor so evil are kept cool. they are not tonight access to infrastructure, i can bring other kinds of jobs and that can raise the standards of living and also to raise the kind of monies that the people can have two be able to buy other things. to buy better homes, to pay
for education for their children, to put money into the school system. all of that is part of a social paradigm but i think to transfer the conflict i had at that time and i love elizabeth moran , but the conflict at that time was that she was espousing the same thing i had espoused earlier but i found it didn't work. and the communities of color in particular and environmentaljustice , economic development means to elected officials usually are bringing in dirty plants,land fields . petrochemical plants. or other kinds of plants that were poisoning the environment and of course poisoningpeople to. who were already suffering from health care disparities . so it's paradigm of destruction where they think it's okay to sacrifice these communities. and that's one of the things that we have to change. and hopefully people can see
that in the book how that's the reason i told the story that waybecause we have unpacked these layers . it didn't get that way, some of this was intentional.>> you mentioned you love elizabeth moran and she's obviously an ally in your work now. perhaps more surprising to readers might be an ally that you have early on when you were back in alabama, former attorney general jeff sessions. and also you had worked closely with bob woodson who i believe was also a macarthur grant recipient. but is conservative and i'm just curious, they were very unlikely characters as i was reading the book. and i think everybody who's watching this program probably has a good idea and knows who jeff sessions is and maybe less about mister
woodson so tell us a little bit about him and also what it's like to work with people whose political beliefs maybe didn't really square with yours who were able to find sort of collaborative, common goals with. >> growing up in the community or in the state that now very racist, it's been there for a long time so i've learned how to navigate in this situation. and with mister woodson, i met mister woodson after bush was elected president and i was invited to a summit because of a young man named elroy saylor that i had met in detroit and elroy was working for jc watson at the time.
jc is from a community which is similar to lowndes county. you follow the law love so i was invited to this faith-based moment and i went and at the summit , mister woodson spoke and something he said spoke to me. i had seen him on television when they were trying to decide who the president was and he was speaking on behalf of thebush campaign. so i went , i saw him leave the station. i followed him and i started talking to him and asked him what he come to lowndes county and i told him what i was trying to do because i have met him before the 21st century leadership camp. i took my students there and we got into a heatedexchange because i could not accept the fact that he was a conservative . so it was interesting how i evolved to be able to accept him for who he was but he agreed to help us. and then i found out that he was very very good at working in neighborhoods and helping formerly formally and
currently incarcerated young people. a lot of the work that bob woodson does a lot of people don't know about. and how significant he is to a lot of these committees in terms of helping young man who had been a victim of the system be able to overcome that . and i was pleasantly surprised when i found that out but when he came to lowndes county, he immediately responded to help us. and a lot of people that he brought withus, a lot of his friends were democrats . one of them, one of his best friends himself a yellow dog democrat. so that was i think a relationship with bob woodson i learned about bipartisanship and how people can be friends and sometimes we have a assumptions that evil of different lyrical beliefs systems don't talk to each other. it's not most of us, that's a rare group of people that are
like that. i believe. however with jeff sessions, when i met senator sessions they have town hall meetings. in lowndes county and probably throughout the state with the senators who meet the local constituents to tell them what they're doing in washington and this particular town hall meeting was in fort deposit and i went there and he talked about these grant programs that were available to help with some of the issues. and i raise my hand and i asked the question how do poor communities get access to this grant. and he really couldn't answer the question but surprisingly he came to me afterwards. and we talked and he said that i've always been interested in concerned about that. i don't know how to do that, how we deal with that. and that's how we started. he told me he was originally
from wilcox county alabama which is also in the bible belt and he told me my family didn't have atelevision in the house until i was 10 . and shared experience of poverty and rural poverty in particular. i think we need to talk about that more even though some of us have quote, made it, we talk about the fact that we have that shared experience. but that was how jeff sessions and i connected and then at that point, whenever we had meetings, he would send a representative to be there because during that time i started gettingdeath threats . so somebody had put a ball python in myapartment . so senator sessions would send people to be with me when i would go places and also it provided me with a degree of security in a very rare red state i would not have had that senator sessions aids not been with me at the meeting or they had
to take me seriously in a way in which they wouldn't have before because how many us senators can do that? that was the first experience in working with someone and we continue to have a friendship even afterwards for quite some time. >> you mentioned that part of the connection with jeff sessions is also from the black belt so i want to take a turn towards some science about this part of the story first i want you to sort of explain what it means to be part of alabama's black belt and how that relates to the sanitation issues? >> alabama's black belt is consists primarily of about 17 counties give or take and the soul here, most of them
have a heavy consistency and they hold water. that's just one part of the story and the other part of the story is people are not telling is the climate change that we also have high water tables and a lot of these areas. but they're getting higher as we deal with sealevel rise. but it's hard for conventional septic systems to work here. when these conventional septic systems fail, they tend to either have sewage on top of the ground or bring sewageback into the home especially when the ground is saturated with water . but the region is also heavily populated by descendents of slaves. and heavily, a region populated by african-americans and a lot of them do not have the wastewater infrastructure in place . one time the department, the
cabinet level department is responsible for rural sanitation and rural housing comes from the usda. i remember the other us senator from alabama telling me once catherine, find out why alabama keeps sending money back to washington for usda. so even the funding that at one point they came here because they were supposed to help families in the black belt, they could send it back . instead of making sure there was infrastructure in place that we could use instead of the when they did put it, when they do put infrastructure in place it usually fails and then the narrative becomes well, the people don't know how to manage it but it's the most unreliable infrastructure that there is and they're blaming it on the people when they would not put the same infrastructure in more affluent communities that's part of this what you call an
economy that have evolved to prey on impoverished citizens in lowndes county. >> yes. >> so what you did, a lot of what you've done over the last 15 or 20 years is take various visitors, us senators, journalists, un special repertory's, all whole host of people to see how people live in lowndes county. and in 2009 you went to see the shot and i wonder if you tell us about what happened when you visited her property and what that led to because it led to a very stunning discovery eight years later i had gotten a call from the person, from one of the
recently environmentalist boards for the state health department and he called me and told me there was a young woman who was in her 20s and pregnant and they were threatening her with arrest because she didn't have a septic system. what i did know when i went there is her family had somehow scraped together it was like $800 for a test to keep her out of jail. so before going there, i called the associated press and itook a journalist with me . because i had learned as mister woodson said sometimes you have to shed light on situations for it to be radioactive to keep things from happening. and in this case i felt like i needed to have that witness and we went there and we met this same person that had called me along with the was
a county environmentalist at the time and we went into her home and she explained to us she had one child who was autistic and pregnant with number one. she was only getting disability, she didn't have a disability for a child and she didn't have a big income. where she could have put in her steps and the property she lived on with her was her mother's property and it was one thing a few acres so there was nobody close by, it was a wonder but they weren't that close, nobody lit that close there. and i asked to see where that area was because we were inside of her own so she was in a single wide mobile home and we walked around to the side during the month of october which it was still very warm then. and there was a right outside her back door, someone had
dug a bit. where the sewage would come from the house because in a mobile home it comes with the plumbing and it gets pvc pipes when they flush the toilets, it would go outside of the home and they were right outside her back door. and it was teeming with mosquitoes. i had address and dress and stockings but those were, i had so many bites on my leg at the time and i didn't think about it right then but my body started breaking out in a rash whichis where i didn't have bites . and i went to my doctor. who was actually a nurse practitioner. i went to her and i told her what happened and i was around this raw sewage, i had mosquitoes on it and these mosquitoes bit me. and i broke out, i went to test my blood and major i didn't have anything because i know with it blood being
involved, it was on feces, it could potentially what could potentially be wrong with me so the test resultscame back negative . and when the test results came back negative i asked her is it possible that i could have something that american doctors are not trained to look fo but these are not issues you expect to find in the united states, they don't even acknowledge we have this problem . so yes . later i saw an op-ed that was written in the new york times by doctor peter pozen who has now become kind of one of the spokespersons about kobe because he's also the creator of vaccines and he wrote about tropical diseases being on our shores. and i saw in this op-ed he mentioned wastewater. so i googled him. found an email address,
emailed him and he emaileme right back and i told him what i was seeing in lowndes county and about my own experience . he emailed me right away . and he was going to be in atlanta for a conference and next weekend we met at that conference . and we talked and he said i'm going to sendpaleontologists their . and he wanted to tell me, he said these are neglected diseases of poverty. he said anywhere find poverty going to find these diseases. so anyway, that's how we ended up doing parasites and studies which we were, we collected fecal water and blood samples from people throughout lowndes county and we were able to, they in their lab and in houston, they were able to find evidence of the tropical cells how shocked were you when that result came back
because i think it was a third of the people tested were more. >> i was shocked that it was so many but i wasn't shocked at the finding. i wasn't shocked at the finding because people have been complaining about illnesses. and one of the things that i noticed is i went to, i had gone to lowndes county accompanying some of our partners in health, the organization was founded by paul connolly and when we went there and staff from edi, when we wentto visit , people were sick. and they were in my age group and i remember one of the persons on the trip saying catherine, they look so much older. but it was because theywere sick . and i was trying to figure
out why are so many people sick, why are so many people have diabetes. it seems like when illnesses take place, it gets worse. and i couldn't figure out why. so this result helped me to understand part of it. and why they were so much, people have respiratory issues and illnesses so there's probably more that we simply haven't looked for you. >> and toward the end of the book you say that a few years ago you wouldhave identified yourself as an environmental justice activist . but i'm curious what you would identify yourself as now because coming to the end of the interview, i want to ask what you've gone through this amazing you know, last 20 years of work and you've done so many things to call attention to what's going on in lowndes county, what has that turned you into my guess is not an environmental justiceactivist .
>> i am a teacheractivist . i'm still, i've always described teaching as activism on a different way. so i think my role now is to pass on what i've learned and knowledge that i've learned because i do believe in transitioning and transformational leadership and that is making sure that people don't have to start where i started and they can take it to the next level . >> i mean, it's amazing how all your formative experiences from the first half of the book just like you can see how each one left you with the tool that was used in the second half of the book. so i think that's about how you lay everything out is really clear and impressive. the one sentence that really
stuck with me and i'll make this my final question but the one sentence that really stuck out to me came from the first chapterof the book . and it was for words long. meanwhile, poor people wait. and you know, the theme comes back throughout the book . you know, the federal civil rights case about the conditions in lowndes county that had been responded to by february 2020, eight years waiting for an epa grant to come through, even the time it takes to do the work study . i'm just curious like, those four words. in a matter of speaking could
sum up a lot of what's in the book. so i'm curious how those 4 words make you feel. >> it's a testament to what we have to do to stop these problems. i think thereason that people wait is because some people getfrustrated and stop fighting . and we have to be persistent . because these conditions are part of a failed economic system. that excludes people are poor. whether they're black, white, whether they're in the south or north, whether they're in an indigenous land. it excludes them and excludes them from decision-making. and it's usually at theend of the line if they're inthe line at all when it comes to getting access to those things that are needed for a better quality of life . including in air and clean water . and we have to change that.
we have to change them and i think that's a good way to say that part of the book is the charge to young people. to make sure that we can unpack the systems that created these conditions because we can do better . >> you've met people who are working for other communities throughout the country whoare in similar circumstances . facing environmental injustice just like or similar to the lowndes county, have you guys formed any sort of working relationships where you are able to share best practices for is there any, i want to leave viewers a sense of hope . are you guys talking about what's worked on the ground and like where the levers of power could be pushed most effectively? >> we have formed the center
for rural enterprise and environmental justice and our goal is to be able to work with communities and collaborate with communities around the country but then them being the ones driving it, not us but what we can do is all the community organizers to help us organize and collect information and lowndes county to pass on those techniques and practices, to those communities and help them understand and have access to policymakers. and then our third goal isto also work on technology and partner with collaborations , hopefully people from nasa to come up with something that is earthly that we can use and everybody would have access to because the wastewater problem is not just the lowndes county problem orjust a southern problem, it's a national problem and it's also a global problem . this is an opportunity for us to solve it. i'm hopeful. i'm very hopeful because i
have people reaching out to me from around the country that want to be a part of the solution . at least not from around the world, we've got that same problem too and we will work together all finding something that works so that's our effort now is to engage in with young people at universities. and hopefully this these young people going back to these young people in high school and middle school that want to work on the technology side, to work on the scientific side, to try to find something. we're going to need out-of-the-box thinkers because the paradigm does not work and we also what's key in all of this islearning how to engage with communities on the ground had it not been the fact that i live with the people from lowndes county i would not have written this book . i would not be , i would not have received a nod from the board. it was because of the people on theground living this situation who told me what was going on and i listened to them . and i'm very very hopeful at howwe find a solution .
>> i think that's the thing, that's the key message to me is that being able to listen to what people's experiences are and share them with others. you took people to actually see what the conditions were on the ground and i think this was a lot of the power, to very clearly illustrate it to people who might be able to help you do somethingabout it . >> .. >> thank you. thank you for taking the time to read it and asked me these
questions, because at the end of the day the things we have, i want people, after they read the book, to be hopeful here because whatever we do, we have to do it in a way that they can have a positive impact on the generations to come and andi believe we can do that. >> "after words" is available as a podcast. to listen visit c-span or/podcasts or research c-span "after words" on your podcast app and watch that and all previous "after words" interviews at booktv.org. click the "after words" button near the top of the page. >> weekends on c-span2 are an intellectual feast. every saturday american history tv document america's stories and on sundays booktv brings you the latest in nonfiction
books and authors. funding for c-span2 comes from these television companies and more including wow. >> the world has changed. today fast reliable internet connection is something no one can live without so wow is therefore our customers with speed, reliability, value and choice. now more than ever it all starts with great internet. wow. >> wow along with these television companies support c-span2 as a public service. >> welcome to the latest in a series of the man institutes streaming events. today i've got the pleasure of hosting the event with steve koonin. stephen is an eminent scientist, now a famous scientist. for some infamous scientist, professor at new york university, nyu, formerly thene head of the department of energy's research portfolio