Book Review – Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret by Catherine Coleman Flowers

In Waste, Catherine Coleman Flowers intricately weaves together narrative storytelling and an exposé of US history to tell a harrowing tale of environmental injustice in rural America. A life-long activist, Flowers has fought for change literally everywhere she’s set foot, as a student, teacher, wife, neighbor, and most recently as the Rural Development Manager at the Equal Justice Initiative.

Waste is a linking piece of writing between Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, and A Terrible Thing to Waste by Harriet A. Washington. Together, these three books paint the disturbing picture of past and enduring structural racism in America. But the unique thing about Flowers’ writing is the detail she provides about what it takes to be effective through activism.

Many people write broadly of the change they want to see, supporting their arguments with plenty of statistics and reasons that sound great in theory, but often leave readers without any specific instructions on how exactly they can help make that change happen. Flowers fills us in. She provides insight into what it takes to build coalitions, gain support, momentum, and political leverage – the gumption it takes to get a ball rolling, and the persistence it takes to keep it in motion, all in the face of resistance, and of present threats of violence.

Flowers walks readers through the minutiae of her activism step-by-step, or more appropriately a march, like a march from Selma to Montgomery, that is a central force in her life. Yet, she also clarifies, “justice moves and inspires people to stand up in different ways. You don’t have to march to have a huge impact on those who do.”

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