North Texas environmentalists sharpen skills at 'South by Southwest for activists'
Aiming to strengthen the environmental movement across the state, a North Texas group is hosting an ambitious four-day conference November 4-7 with workshops, a comedy review, and an appearance by famed '70s housewife-activist Lois Gibbs.
Gibbs was a grassroots hero who liberated the town of Love Canal, New York, from a chemical dumpsite. Her crusade changed environmental laws in the process.
"We're billing this conference as the 'South by Southwest for activists,'" says coordinator Tamera Bounds. "We want to offer a lot of different experiences: training from experts, brainstorming and socializing with your peers, and a chance to rally at EPA's regional headquarters with everyone else getting the shaft from Austin."
There are workshops at the First Unitarian Church in Dallas on November 7, and an all-star symposium on fracking on November 5 at the Texas Theatre. There'll even be a rally, on Friday, November 6, at lunch, outside the EPA regional headquarters at 1445 Ross Ave.
"We're going to go ahead and form a huge SOS below the EPA building," says Jim Schermbeck of Downwinders at Risk, the group organizing the conference. "Right now, what's happening in Texas is that administrators are dragging their feet and slowing down the process for good environmental stewardship.
"We want to signal to the federal government that there's a constituency that wants to see clean air and clean water laws, that it's okay for the federal government to enforce federal laws."
One of the big motivators for the conference was HB 40, a fracking bill signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in May 2015. It's sometimes referred to as the "Denton fracking bill," because it was a response to Denton's vote against fracking in November 2014.
"After HB 40, I think everybody's still in a state of shock," Schermbeck says. "That law took away the tool that citizens were using, city by city, to restrict fracking from being allowed to take place near schools and parks. This conference gives people a chance to figure out what you can do, what avenues are available."
They've also just added a session with Bar Politics, the Dallas comedy troupe that discusses politics every month in a Dallas bar. The show will take place at The Rustic on November 4, with an environmental theme, called "Get Polluted With Bar Politics." The show begins at 7:30 pm, and it's free.
The conference's website, Root and Branch 2015, has more info and a full schedule of events.
"Unlike some other parts of the country, the environmental movement in Texas does not have much infrastructure," Schermbeck says. "We're becoming a larger metro area and we still don't have any of that. We're hoping to create something where, once a year, people can get together and improve their ability to change things for the better."