(Keck) Diane Wilson says she became an activist by chance in 1989 when she read that her tiny Texas County was number one in the nation for toxic waste disposal. She says up to that point, people had no idea what the local refineries and corporations were doing.
(Wilson) "You would call a chemical plant and say I smell something funny or there are a lot of dead fish out there and they would be like well, it has nothing to do with me and we’re too busy putting jobs into this community so don’t bother me with your questions."
(Keck) She says when she realized what corporations like Dupont, Formosa Plastics and Alcoa Aluminum were doing, she was devastated.
(Wilson) "You grow up believing your elected officials are doing the right thing and want to do the right thing. You believe that your state agencies, your federal agencies – the EPA, the state environmental agencies – they’re doing their jobs. And what I found out was those agencies couldn’t do their job."
(Keck) Because she says there wasn’t the political will or the resources to investigate every industry. So, the mother of five decided to take the companies on herself. She read documents, met secretly with employees, talked to experts and staged hunger strikes. It took years, but she eventually convinced Formosa plastics and Alcoa Aluminum to halt all chemical discharges. Wilson admits her activism has cost her dearly. She lost her marriage, her job, her house and she spent time in prison. But she says it was worth it. Speaking to students at Green Mountain College today, she says young people in Vermont and elsewhere need to understand the power of individual activism.
(Wilson) "They need to know that anybody -I mean, a poor woman with five kids and no education can make a difference and also it’s to teach them to not be so well behaved – I think we are too well behaved frankly."
(Keck) Wilson says living in a beautiful state, it’s easy to be complacent. So she dares Vermonters to take a trip to their local environmental inspection agencies and read some of the paperwork.
For VPR news, I’m Nina Keck.