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February 23, 1999


Mercury in the Bay

The article in this issue on mercury pollution in Mobile Bay should upset residents of the state. Until public officials and Mobile's daily newspaper finally recognize the true scale of the problem and search for its real causes, no-consumption advisories will become increasingly common.

Repeated exposure to even small amounts of mercury and its salts over extended periods of time can lead to renal damage, anaemia and worse. Yet according to data collected from the Environmental Protection Agency, two companies alone, Akzo Nobel Chemical in Axis, Alabama and Occidental Chemical Corporation in Mobile County, released a combined amount of more than 5,000 pounds of mercury in 1989. The amounts for the successive four years were 2,250, 2,251, 2,303 and 1,395 pounds.

In view of such frightening figures it is difficult to understand why the Mobile Register claims, as they did in a recent editorial, that non-point source run-off is the greatest environmental threat to the Bay. Equally baffling is “Mercury is Natural Part of the Environment,'' an article that appeared last year in the Suburban Section, showing no awareness of the EPA figures. A fatalistic attitude is not a responsible one when a community's health is threatened.

What is needed now is an end of denial. Beyond that we must have a careful study of past industry practices to establish some baseline data. We endorse the call by Mobile Bay Watch for a comprehensive environmental health study.

Alabama is not known nationally for its long-range planning. Let's begin to change.

-- Daniel Silver

Life Forms by Dan Silver

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Letters to the Editor

Dear Editor,

Would we force another human being to go to church? We may think that there are people who could use a little forced spirituality in their lives, but really now, would that actually work? Besides, isn't that against the law? Or unChristian to say the least?

To force a person to go to a church they don't want to go to is not the way to encourage them to embrace your doctrine. Didn't Jesus say, "Let whomsoever will, come?" What is the good of faith if coercion be the motivator? What if there were people in Mobile who are forced to go to church? Would that rile your sense of justice? Would it be an affront to your civilized sensibilities? What if an hour a week were taken from your busy schedule and you were powerless to stop it? Would you not feel violated and robbed? Because the "Bible" is being taught to you, does that make it right? Of course not.

I am a student at the University of Mobile. I pay exorbitant amounts of money in exchange for an education, not conversion. I am not opposed to the teachings of Christ, only the means whereby I am presented it. I am force-fed a weekly church service whether or not I want it. My choice has been removed. Maybe you think that if I were a Christian I would not mind having to go to church. It is because I am a Christian that I object! This semester, approximately sixteen hours of my life will be spent doing something I do not wish to do. Going to church or not going to church is a personal decision, and has no place in any modern institution of higher learning! I am required to take a certain amount of religious courses in order to graduate. That was my decision and I accept it as part of my graduating requirements. But forcing me to sit under the teachings of a Baptist minister without any anesthesia is cruel and unusual punishment. Do you think I'm being petty? Try giving up sixteen hours of your time to do something you don't want to do. Have you ever been to traffic school because you got a ticket? Did you enjoy it? You were there because you committed a crime. You paid a fine and your valuable time was taken from you. That's how they punish adults. You take their money and or their time away from them. My money is given freely, but my valuable time is taken from me, yet I've committed no crime. Never mind that I did not know about chapel when I enrolled. I just never thought to ask was I at any time going to be held hostage for the sake of a degree. I never thought to ask the registrar if I would be required to do something against my will. If I had asked, I'm sure she would've looked at me like I had lost my mind. "Make you do something against your will? Indeed not!" Who woulda thunk it? No chapel, no degree. I get no credit for chapel, no tuition discount, no nothing. What I do get, is to give the University an hour per week for the next four months of my life in exchange for a diploma I have already worked for and paid dearly for. Oh well, just look at what all I'm learning! Kidnapping 101. I wonder if they offer a graduate program in terrorism?

Kate Fox

Editor's note: According to a person from the Academic Dean's office, attending chapel is a requirement for graduation at University of Mobile and is spelled out on page 41 of the university catalog.

"My Neighborhood Begins Where the Sidewalks End"

Dear Editor,

Racism is an issue. Though sometimes too taboo to discuss at the dinner table, it confronts us as citizens of the South every day. We cannot ignore this problem because it is an evidentiary fact of life. It has been, is, and if not confronted, will always be a lingering obstacle that divides us. A few months ago, the South held a summit entitled, "Unfinished Business: Overcoming Racism, Poverty, and Inequality in the South," which lasted three consecutive days and addressed these three unresolved concerns, with racism being the forerunner of discussion. The summit was called in order to facilitate dialogue about this social disease. As a delegate from Mobile, I witnessed three days of anger, guilt, communion, energy, and hope. The words exchanged between the hundreds of participants were important, but the charged emotions behind the dialogues are what drive us now to find a cure.

In order to solve a problem, one must see it exactly for what it is and understand how it affects every one involved. Unfinished Business performed this through dialogues in small group discussions. Personal stories and historical accounts flooded the room, and as I listened I realized the hurt and shame these human beings unjustly felt. Prominent political figures, distinguished intellectuals, and hard working class people told their stories with tear-filled eyes and voices quivering with anger. "I was disgusted....I wanted to cry, or scream, or punch that man after he spit tobacco on my mother's new white Sunday dress....But I knew that I couldn't because that's what he wanted." "I had never seen my mother in so much pain, and I can't even explain the feelings that overcame me when we were told we had to go through the back entrance in order to be admitted." "My neighborhood began where the sidewalks ended...That's how you knew you were in a black neighborhood."

An overwhelming sense of human compassion enveloped every one as we listened and spoke. This style of teaching was very different from what I experienced in lectures or sermons. Although the only role that I could play was as the devoted listener, I felt more involved than I had ever felt before in my life. I know that I have been deeply impacted. As I write this, my hand aches as my pen attempts to keep up with the rushing thoughts flooding my head. I do not want to forget what I saw through the eyes of the wounded that day. Nor do I want to ignore the reality of Mobile that I have seen through my own eyes.

The Jim Crow laws are gone, and the KKK is outwardly protested wherever they go. But our city, 30 years after the 1960's Civil Rights Movement, still stands divided. Minority neighborhoods still wait for remnants of Georges to be cleared from their sidewalks. Integrated and minority populated schools are deemed the worst in the nation while predominately white schools prosper. And chances are that if you go to one of the finest restaurants in Mobile the only minority person you'll find is the person who is serving you. It would be arrogant and superficial to ignore the progress that Mobile has made over the years. Our city has worked very hard for the advances we have now; however, we cannot judge our success alone in terms of what things use to be like. I challenge all of us to look at what Mobile is and where our weaknesses lie. So that in 30 years from now, you won't hear a child of minority descent say, "My neighborhood begins where the sidewalks end."

Meg Fowler
Public Education Officer
Mobile Fair Housing Center

The Harbinger, P.O. Box U-980, Mobile, AL 36688-0001