What Sustains over the Long Haul

Lois Gibbs came to national prominence in the 1970s when she fought to hold Occidental Petroleum accountable for toxic waste it dumped in Love Canal near her home in Niagara Falls, New York. She founded the Citizen’s Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste, which supports grassroots environmental justice work (P.O. Box 6806, Falls Church, VA 22040; (703) 237-2249). Rose Marie Berger interviewed her by phone. —The Editors

Rose Marie Berger: What has sustained you in this work for the last 30 years?

Lois Gibbs: I have a very deep sense of right and wrong. I was the victim of a group of people who made a conscious, deliberate decision that my community and I weren’t worth saving. My husband made $10,000 a year, and someone made the choice that it was more economical not to relocate us out of Love Canal when they knew it was a toxic disaster.

What really sustains me is my anger and my passion. The simple understanding that human lives—born and unborn—are worth protecting and saving, worth taking money from the rich and powerful to put toward the poor. Every human life is worth investing in.

I grew up in a very poor home with an abusive father. At 7 years old, I made a commitment that no one would ever treat my children the way my father treated me. My goal was to graduate from high school, get married and have a family, and make the best home for my kids that I could, which I did. Then Love Canal threatened that. It connected to the anger and abuse I had as a child.

Berger: Were you raised in a religious tradition that gave you that sense of justice, or did that come from the Love Canal incident?

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1997
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