At Gulf South climate festival, activists push for more action: ‘There is a role for everyone’
More than 500 people gathered in Baton Rouge on Saturday to have a party with a purpose: a first-ever Gulf Coast festival focusing on environmental justice in the region.
Attendees gathered at the Gulf Gathering for Climate Justice from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Puerto Rico.
The event was hosted by the Gulf South for a Green New Deal, a network of more than 300 organizations across the region with similar values and priorities aimed at advancing climate, racial and economic justice.
Attendees got to hear from fellow climate organizers including Rise St. James founder and Goldman Environmental Prize winner Sharon Lavigne, who spoke about her and her community’s mission to keep the Wanhua plastics plant and Formosa Plastics from developing in the parish.
Rise St. James is a faith-based organization based in St. James Parish that is fighting against the development of petrochemical plants in the area for the health, wellbeing and environment of its residents.
In her remarks, Lavigne summarized the work she has done locally and hopes to push others to do the same across the Gulf South.
“That is the essence of Rise St. James’ mission — to create a brighter future to inspire others. To rise above broken promises fostered by misinformation and corporate greed and to preserve the rich culture and tradition of our parish, our state and our region.” Lavigne said.
For Healthy Gulf organizer Sage Michael Pellet, the event was an important time as an activist because it enabled attendees, who feel the impacts of climate change first hand, to find community and build relationships with one another.
“I enjoyed seeing people who do common work come together and celebrate with each other,” Pellet said. “It’s a moment for us to rejuvenate because there’s a lot more work to be done.”
The day was marked by dancing, music and food at Rhorer Plaza, and workshops focused on identifying strategies to curb climate change, building attendees’ skills in addressing environmental issues and forming connections to other groups and like-minded people. There were even brainstorming sessions on something particularly timely as the Gulf region heads into another hurricane season as residents still deal with post-Hurricane Ida rebuilding: a brainstorming session on community recovery after disasters strike.
Kids were able to attend the creative village, making Crud Buddies, repurposing local trash into art, eating snowballs and dancing to live music played by local artists throughout the day.
Organizers said they didn’t want to overwhelm attendees with only talks of the doom and gloom surrounding climate change, so they wrapped into it the food and fun one would find at any other Louisiana festival during festival season.
Michael Esealuka, Healthy Gulf organizer and event leadership member, reiterated that it’s important to have joy — whether that’s through eating, dancing, sharing culture or just talking to people — when working to protect the Gulf South.
“It doesn't have to be apocalyptic. It doesn't have to be scary. One of the strategies of the people that we are against is to convince us and teach us that movement work is tiring, that movement work feels depressing, that you have to be serious all the time,” Esealuka said. “There is a role for everyone here in the climate movement.”