Rise St. James fights Formosa, but elected officials don’t

Sharon Lavigne, president of the environmental justice group Rise St. James, is pictured second-from-right. The group is involved in an ongoing fight to keep Formosa Plastics from building a $9.4B plastic manufacturing complex in St. James Parish. (Photo courtesy Stephanie Cooper)

The people in St. James Parish who are fighting against the planned construction of a $9.4 billion manufacturing complex planned by Formosa Plastics have waged that fight without the support of any elected officials. No Republicans, who have traditionally been friendly toward big business, have supported them as they’ve tried to keep a project worth many billions from being built in St. James Parish, but neither have any Democrats. “No, not one,” Sharon Lavigne, a Rise St. James leader, said in a recent interview when a reporter asked if any politician had stood with them in their fight against Formosa. Lavigne seemed to be the most disappointed that  her representative in Congress hasn’t helped them.

 “We can’t get Cedric Richmond,” she said. “We tried. I tried.”

Lavigne believes Richmond intervened and persuaded Gov. John Bel Edwards to veto House Bill 197, which would have made felons out of people who protest at petrochemical plants, but, she said, “I can’t get him (to oppose) Formosa or the petrochemical industry.” As for their elected representatives in Baton Rouge, state Sen. Ed Price and state Rep. Kendricks Brass, Lavigne said, “They voted for the bill to put us in jail for three years.We put them in office,” Lavigne said of those two Democrats, “and they voted for bills that would put us in jail.”

In this photo from Oct. 23, 2019, the Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign — A National Call For a Moral Revival, addresses a crowd protesting environmental racism in that parish and the rest of the Mississippi River corridor known as “Cancer Alley.” Standing behind Barber in the red shirt and clerical collar is Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, the other co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. (Photo provided by Steve Pavey)

[If the governor] supports Formosa and people die, he’s just as guilty as that cop who put his knee on George Floyd and strangled him. Just because you don’t see it on camera doesn’t mean it’s not death.  - Dr. Bishop W Barber