If the Memphis City Council follows the impassioned plea of Dr. William Barber, co-chair of The Poor People’s Campaign, they will approve an ordinance that Byhalia Connection Pipeline opponents embrace as a way to help stop the proposed construction of the pipeline project.
A third and final reading of the ordinance is set for Tuesday. It is tied to concerns about how such projects could affect the Memphis Sands Aquifer, the main drinking water resource for Memphis and the larger area.
Opponents fear leaks and other accidents could harm the vital resource.
At a rally Sunday afternoon at Alonzo Weaver Park in Southwest Memphis near the proposed route, Barber delivered this warning to council members.
“Woe unto those who legislate evil and rob the poor of their rights and make women and children their prey,” Barber told 100-plus attendees, who cheered his impassioned speech.
“Pipeline companies and oil companies lie,” Barber said. “Truth of the matter is people get sick here not because God called them home but because of bad laws and legislation that robs people of their lives.”
The 49-mile crude oil pipeline is a joint endeavor of and Plains All American Pipelines, a Texas-based pipeline operator, and Memphis’ Valero Energy. The proposed route would run over the Memphis Sands Aquifer and through the historically African-American Boxtown community in Memphis’ southwest corridor. Its 38109 ZIP code is one of the poorest in the city.
Memphis Community Against the Pipeline (MCAP) sponsored Sunday’s protest in a culminating event before the city council’s vote.
“I believe yesterday’s rally was an extraordinary display of the growing movement in Memphis against the pipeline,” said MCAP organizer, Justin Pearson. “Dr. Barber’s speech helped to highlight the environmental racism and the environmental injustice that is our reality. …
“We are looking for the council to say ‘no’ to the pipeline and ‘yes’ to the citizens of Memphis,” said Pearson.
A mid-March rally at the park featured former Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Al Gore, who railed against the pipeline as a “reckless, racist rip-off.” Gore stood with opponents of the pipeline to “protect the city’s most natural resource – the Sand Aquifer.”
Barber told rally-goers that crude oil contains carcinogens, cancer-causing chemicals, and that one pound of it could contaminate 25 million gallons of water.
“(A)ll of Memphis should worry, if the council approves the pipeline,” he said.
MCAP’s rallying cry, “No oil in our soil,” was chanted by participants, who broke out with rhythm mantras of “Power to the People,” and “Stop the Pipeline,” as drummers beat out the pulsating tempo.
Barber also had scathing criticism for non-profit organizations and social service entities who accepted grant money from Plains All-American.
“Any community organization, I don’t care what you are, and I don’t care how Black you claim to be, and you claim to represent Black folk, but you took money from this corporation, you need to give it back publicly.”
In advocating for the pipelines project, Plains All American has maintained its safety and promoted a plan to invest more than $20 million in communities along the routes. That includes having “invested in more than 30 Mid-South organizations in 2020 to address community needs and support the people who live in proximity to our pipeline.”
A lawsuit in connection with the pipeline project takes its next step with a scheduled hearing later this week.