Keep It In The Ground!

Keep It In The Ground!

Changemaker Catalyst Award recipient, Sarah Tatarski conducted community and economic research for three Louisiana parishes (Ascension Parish, St. James Parish, and St. John the Baptist Parishes) for the non-profit the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. Sarah graduated from Tulane University in May 2021, majoring in economics with a minor in business.

A visit to the 1811 Kid Ory Museum

I interned at the Louisiana Bucket Brigade which is a nonprofit with the goal to end the petrochemical industry’s destruction of Louisiana. I had the unique opportunity to dive deeper into three parishes in Louisiana: Ascension Parish (only on Donaldsonville, though), St. James Parish, and St. John the Baptist Parish. The main goal of my work was to update and expand on their community reports for these parishes. I have always lived in New Orleans and shamefully have not dived into the rich history of this state or nearby parishes. While doing my research, I truly enjoyed the process of learning more about my state and these parishes. The most enjoyable part of my experience though was meeting new people at the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and through my research. I went to a renovated plantation home with Lenora Gobert, the economic development coordinator at the Brigade, called the 1811 Kid Ory Historic House in Laplace. I met the owner who is passionate about telling stories of slave’s struggles and does not focus on the home. While I was there, I also met two historians from Oak Alley, Ja’el Gordon, and Stephen Mistretta. I later spoke with Ja’el Gordon on Zoom, and she is immensely knowledgeable about Louisiana history.

Hard at work on the final Donaldsonville Report

One of the most important people I met during my time at the Louisiana Bucket Brigade though was Lee Melancon of Donaldsonville. He is the community and economic developer of this small town located in Ascension Parish. Lee spoke to me on Zoom for almost two hours to assist me with my research on Donaldsonville and continues to be responsive over email. He has been a huge asset to my work, and I am grateful for him.

While I had huge success with finding Lee and acquiring a vast amount of information on Donaldsonville, I greatly struggled to find an adequate amount of information for the other two parishes. I scanned these parish government websites top to bottom and could not find the information I needed. Once I realized this was a lost cause, I did direct outreach to parish officials over email, sometimes even calling them. I rarely received responses and eventually had to move on. This was challenging for me because I am a perfectionist which made it hard for me to want to give up, but I had no choice but to move on.

I am pleased with my community reports and am even more pleased that my work will be used by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade for its economic development committees. I cannot wait to see what is accomplished by these committees, and even if my work makes a very small impact, that is great. These community reports highlight the dire need for industrial reform in Louisiana. While I cannot speak much on St. James Parish and St. John the Baptist Parish, I learned that the petrochemical industries do not benefit Donaldsonville at all. Donaldsonville has a poverty rate of 39.4% in a parish that is considered wealthy and has an overall poverty rate of 11.4%. Also, 75% of the residents are Black. The local residents are not well educated enough to work in the industries, and the industries receive massive property tax cuts by the State which means little money is being invested in the community. This is environmental racism and economic deprivation at its finest. I hope that the research I have gathered can be disseminated and brought to Ascension Parish and Louisiana’s government to create positive social change because the people of Donaldsonville deserve it.

I am incredibly grateful for this experience, and the skills I learned from my experience were to be patient, to listen, and let go of things to move on and do better work. These are critical skills I will need for my potential future work in politics and political activism. Doing this work also improved my confidence in my research skills and taught me that I have a great ability to connect with others easily. The most important thing I learned though is that I do not need to go out into the world and take on the burden of fixing global problems. I can make a huge impact in smaller areas, and this is an idea I have struggled with in the past. It was either go big or go home for me, but I already know that the work I have done for the Louisiana Bucket Brigade is going toward discrediting the petrochemical industry.

   Final Donaldsonville Report
Final St. James Report
Final St. John the Baptist Report