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Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret

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The MacArthur grant–winning “Erin Brockovich of Sewage” tells the riveting story of the environmental justice movement that is firing up rural America, with a foreword by the renowned author of Just Mercy MacArthur “genius” Catherine Coleman Flowers grew up in Lowndes County, Alabama, a place that's been called “Bloody Lowndes” because of its violent, racist history. Once t The MacArthur grant–winning “Erin Brockovich of Sewage” tells the riveting story of the environmental justice movement that is firing up rural America, with a foreword by the renowned author of Just Mercy MacArthur “genius” Catherine Coleman Flowers grew up in Lowndes County, Alabama, a place that's been called “Bloody Lowndes” because of its violent, racist history. Once the epicenter of the voting rights struggle, today it's Ground Zero for a new movement that is Flowers's life's work. It's a fight to ensure human dignity through a right most Americans take for granted: basic sanitation. Too many people, especially the rural poor, lack an affordable means of disposing cleanly of the waste from their toilets, and, as a consequence, live amid filth. Flowers calls this America's dirty secret. In this powerful book she tells the story of systemic class, racial, and geographic prejudice that foster Third World conditions, not just in Alabama, but across America, in Appalachia, Central California, coastal Florida, Alaska, the urban Midwest, and on Native American reservations in the West. Flowers's book is the inspiring story of the evolution of an activist, from country girl to student civil rights organizer to environmental justice champion at Bryan Stevenson's Equal Justice Initiative. It shows how sanitation is becoming too big a problem to ignore as climate change brings sewage to more backyards, and not only those of poor minorities.


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The MacArthur grant–winning “Erin Brockovich of Sewage” tells the riveting story of the environmental justice movement that is firing up rural America, with a foreword by the renowned author of Just Mercy MacArthur “genius” Catherine Coleman Flowers grew up in Lowndes County, Alabama, a place that's been called “Bloody Lowndes” because of its violent, racist history. Once t The MacArthur grant–winning “Erin Brockovich of Sewage” tells the riveting story of the environmental justice movement that is firing up rural America, with a foreword by the renowned author of Just Mercy MacArthur “genius” Catherine Coleman Flowers grew up in Lowndes County, Alabama, a place that's been called “Bloody Lowndes” because of its violent, racist history. Once the epicenter of the voting rights struggle, today it's Ground Zero for a new movement that is Flowers's life's work. It's a fight to ensure human dignity through a right most Americans take for granted: basic sanitation. Too many people, especially the rural poor, lack an affordable means of disposing cleanly of the waste from their toilets, and, as a consequence, live amid filth. Flowers calls this America's dirty secret. In this powerful book she tells the story of systemic class, racial, and geographic prejudice that foster Third World conditions, not just in Alabama, but across America, in Appalachia, Central California, coastal Florida, Alaska, the urban Midwest, and on Native American reservations in the West. Flowers's book is the inspiring story of the evolution of an activist, from country girl to student civil rights organizer to environmental justice champion at Bryan Stevenson's Equal Justice Initiative. It shows how sanitation is becoming too big a problem to ignore as climate change brings sewage to more backyards, and not only those of poor minorities.

30 review for Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret

  1. 5 out of 5

    Beata

    The dirty secret of which I was unaware, that is thousands of households with no proper sanitation across The South, was a total surprise to me, hence, this book opened my eyes to America I never knew existed in the 21st century. Ms Flowers is an activist who grew gradually to fight for the underpriviledged with regard to their basic needs and commodities, and for this she should be applauded. The downside was the writing quality and too much of the memoir as I wanted the first chapter to continu The dirty secret of which I was unaware, that is thousands of households with no proper sanitation across The South, was a total surprise to me, hence, this book opened my eyes to America I never knew existed in the 21st century. Ms Flowers is an activist who grew gradually to fight for the underpriviledged with regard to their basic needs and commodities, and for this she should be applauded. The downside was the writing quality and too much of the memoir as I wanted the first chapter to continue rather than read about the Author's way even though I appreciate all her efforts, so this part was a little of a disappointment to me. Having said that, I think the book is worth reading as it tackles an issue of the poverty and inability to shake it off. *Many thanks to Catherine Coleman Flowers, The New Press and NetGalley for arc in exchange for my honest review.*

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    this is a strange mix of memoir and narrative: the author recounts her coming of age as a community organizer, then midway she shifts to overviewing how she learned about the sanitation crisis affecting rural towns across the US and the many roles she’s played in the fight to end it, with the help of an eclectic, ever-shifting coalition of politicians, activists, and ordinary folk encompassing everyone from Jeff Sessions and Bob Woodson to Jane Fonda, Bernie Sanders, and the people of Lowndes Co this is a strange mix of memoir and narrative: the author recounts her coming of age as a community organizer, then midway she shifts to overviewing how she learned about the sanitation crisis affecting rural towns across the US and the many roles she’s played in the fight to end it, with the help of an eclectic, ever-shifting coalition of politicians, activists, and ordinary folk encompassing everyone from Jeff Sessions and Bob Woodson to Jane Fonda, Bernie Sanders, and the people of Lowndes County, Alabama.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Danna

    I was disappointed in Waste. The initial chapter grabbed me: I couldn't wait to learn more about what Catherine Coleman Flowers describes as America's dirty secret--that there are thousands of citizens living without adequate septic systems. It was an eye-opener for me and I'm sure will be for many other readers (welcome to liberal privilege). While Waste does describe the abominable circumstances, it does so in a meandering way. Waste reads part memoir, part investigative journalism and I think I was disappointed in Waste. The initial chapter grabbed me: I couldn't wait to learn more about what Catherine Coleman Flowers describes as America's dirty secret--that there are thousands of citizens living without adequate septic systems. It was an eye-opener for me and I'm sure will be for many other readers (welcome to liberal privilege). While Waste does describe the abominable circumstances, it does so in a meandering way. Waste reads part memoir, part investigative journalism and I think both would have been better written as separate books. Catherine Coleman Flowers is an incredible activist. Learning her history, from childhood in rural Lowndes County, Alabama, through her education, and moves to different parts of the country is a fascinating journey. I have no doubt that Flowers is a force and a beacon, but the writing is simplistic and not always linear, which made for a lackluster reading experience. A lot of the book felt like a name-drop fest; you know that person who annoys you because they always want to tell you which famous person they just met? Flowers irritated me in this way. And I feel badly about it because it is so cool that she has interacted with so many politicians and activists, but the style grated. It all followed the same formula: I informed so-and-so that the issue existed and that Lowndes County needed help. They didn't believe me. Then, I brought them on a tour of Lowndes County, they saw how truly deplorable the conditions are, and I had their support. I have a hard time rating nonfiction like this poorly. I feel like I'm rating the person and they'll take it personally (and, honestly, it's possible they will), but I want to be very clear: the content here is essential reading; the delivery was poor. Everyone should know about Flowers and her unique history of activism from high school till current day. I'd like to read a biography of Flower, written by someone else. And I'd like to read about Flowers's wastewater work, either by someone else or in a long article/essay form. The combined narratives didn't work for me and the writing wasn't strong enough to pull it together. Thank you to the publisher for a NetGalley ARC.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tina Cardone

    This is an eye opening book on how the intersection of poverty and racism result in terrible living conditions in Alabama. This book is fascinating on multiple levels. First the details of the issue itself. I had no idea that septic systems failed depending on soil type, or that people were arrested for not installing septic systems! The cycle of poverty is so brutal. Second, the journey of an activist who has found so many allies yet still hasn't found a system level solution for her cause. It' This is an eye opening book on how the intersection of poverty and racism result in terrible living conditions in Alabama. This book is fascinating on multiple levels. First the details of the issue itself. I had no idea that septic systems failed depending on soil type, or that people were arrested for not installing septic systems! The cycle of poverty is so brutal. Second, the journey of an activist who has found so many allies yet still hasn't found a system level solution for her cause. It's never one hero, but a whole community. Join in and shed more light

  5. 4 out of 5

    Briayna Cuffie

    Disclaimer: I received this as an eARC free of charge from the publisher via NetGalley for a fair review. ——————————————————————————————- While the structure of this book could use some work, it was much more coherent the last handful of chapters. The history, details of livelihoods, and humility can’t be beat. While I was aware before that I “don’t know what I don’t know” about environmental justice, this book makes it abundantly clear that I’ve been barely scratching the surface. The author take Disclaimer: I received this as an eARC free of charge from the publisher via NetGalley for a fair review. ——————————————————————————————- While the structure of this book could use some work, it was much more coherent the last handful of chapters. The history, details of livelihoods, and humility can’t be beat. While I was aware before that I “don’t know what I don’t know” about environmental justice, this book makes it abundantly clear that I’ve been barely scratching the surface. The author takes what you think you know about poverty in the U.S., to a new depth. Her track record is long, but the fruitful (monetary) outcomes and investments are few – which is no surprise given the bureaucracy of the United States government. As a woman that has always lived in a suburban or urban area, the vastness of this issue is...breathtaking; especially when the only personal comparisons I could make from my life are anecdotal camping experiences, and extremely minor plumbing inconveniences that can often be resolved within days and without a professional plumber. I would love to hear this topic take center stage in a national debate. Acknowledgement of and commitment to eradicate plumbing and sewage issues would radically change how we discuss infrastructure in the political realm. Catherine has been able to meet so many powerful people over her decades of work. Honestly, I’m a little baffled that some of the wealthy folks haven’t outright paid for what needs to be done for people (surely there’s a way to write it off!). One could say this book adds to the case for reparations in multiple ways, including as a way for companies that have been enriched at these peoples’ expense, as recompense.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    A compelling memoir of the author's work on the frontlines of environmental injustice. A compelling memoir of the author's work on the frontlines of environmental injustice.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    My review: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/17/bo... My review: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/17/bo...

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    Rural water systems are a beast and a problem throughout the US, from the nitrate-contaminated small water systems in California's Central Valley to the broken or nonexistent septic systems in the Black Belt, plagued by the very soil that gives the region its name, that cause raw sewage to flood back into homes. Flowers, to me, is the definition of an activist. Her parents were activists as well, veterans of the Civil Rights movement (her dad was also literally a military vet himself), impressin Rural water systems are a beast and a problem throughout the US, from the nitrate-contaminated small water systems in California's Central Valley to the broken or nonexistent septic systems in the Black Belt, plagued by the very soil that gives the region its name, that cause raw sewage to flood back into homes. Flowers, to me, is the definition of an activist. Her parents were activists as well, veterans of the Civil Rights movement (her dad was also literally a military vet himself), impressing the importance of fighting for what's right, no matter how difficult it is, upon Flowers even at a young age. Many other reviews have complained that this book is more of a memoir than what was advertised on the cover, a story about rural waste and environmental justice. But I'm fine with that. To get the full picture of Lowndes County and Flowers herself, you need to understand the multilayered, rich background, set against the urban-rural divide, with the Selma to Montgomery March a major shaper of the history and culture of the area. You learn that Lowndes County is directly between Selma to Montgomery, and those making the pilgrimage in tribute to MLK and the other organizers pass directly through it. But the contrast between these two cities and this intermediary rural area couldn't be more stark. You need to understand that Flowers was an activist since she was knee-high, fighting segregation in schools and universities, attacks on affirmative action, racial disparities in school disciplinary actions. She endured a hell of a lot of hardship and racism, from her mother being forcibly sterilized to her Army husband getting injured and suffering from major amnesia just two years after they were married. (Flowers had to fight for years against gaslighting, medical and institutional racism, and bureaucratic red tape in order to get her husband the medical discharge he deserved.) Maybe I would object to this personal history if it ballooned the story into some massive tome, but this book still sits at a slim 208 pages. The second half of the book turns to the issue at hand: rural wastewater and all of the environmental and social justice issues that she uncovered digging into this problem. Homes in rural areas aren't connected to municipal sewage systems like in cities, so each home (home, shack, trailers, etc.) needs to have its own septic tank. The soft, permeable soils in the Black Belt mean that wastewater can't percolate as it normally does, and septic tanks fail very, very often. Bizarrely, Alabama laws are set up so that not having a functioning septic tank translates to heavy fines and arrests for homeowners. Soil studies, septic tanks, and installation are prohibitively expensive for these folks, many of whom don't make even close to living wage, and these fines and arrests are completely counterproductive - just another way of criminalizing poverty. Flowers was born and raised in Lowndes County, and was probably one of the first true-blue activists to plant her feet on this issue and get significant stakeholder engagement on it, drawing names from Bryan Stevenson to (yes, you're reading it right) Jeff Sessions. Some reviewers expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that Flowers hasn't seemed to make much headway on this issue by the end of the book - other than the utterly tragic story of her organization raising funds to buy a new house for one of the Lowndes County residents only for her to pass away of COVID-19 related symptoms before she could move in. I don't share this view at all. Anyone familiar with organizing knows that these issues are marathons, not sprints, and you can't expect progress on some of the toughest environmental and social issues our country faces in the span of even ten years. I so admire Catherine Coleman Flowers, her writing, her activism, and her ceaseless, persistent sense of righteousness and the need to work towards what is right, even when faced with issues that may seem insurmountable. I have a feeling that she agrees with the classic MLK quote: "We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." I highly recommend this book and hope you open your horizons to read it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    HR-ML

    The late civil rights icon & US Congressman John Lewis said "Get in good trouble, necessary trouble & help redeem the soul of America." Author, Ms Catherine Coleman Flowers, (hereafter CCF), got in plenty of 'good trouble.' CCF was born in rural Alabama, & her parents were active in the civil rights movement. Her mother was sterilized, w/o medical justification, after the birth of her 5th child! CCF & her parents knew she had a substandard HS education IE the principal hosted afternoon school da The late civil rights icon & US Congressman John Lewis said "Get in good trouble, necessary trouble & help redeem the soul of America." Author, Ms Catherine Coleman Flowers, (hereafter CCF), got in plenty of 'good trouble.' CCF was born in rural Alabama, & her parents were active in the civil rights movement. Her mother was sterilized, w/o medical justification, after the birth of her 5th child! CCF & her parents knew she had a substandard HS education IE the principal hosted afternoon school dance parties and tried to get fresh with select girls, the superintendent had low standards. CCF, her parents & others exerted pressure and these 2 resigned & were replaced by more capable administrators. CCF had many talents, and even recited her original poetry on local radio. She had excellent rapport with others, event- ually became a teacher and helped many students reach their dreams, beyond what some fellow teachers & the principal thought the students capable of achieving. CCF noticed her rural home town residents & neighbors had sewage back ups into their bathtubs or as pools of waste in their yards or nearby fields. This health hazard effected those with or w/o a waste treatment system in place. The Georgia red clay absorbed more water, the sewage became worse when it rained. Many lived in trailers. As the rural development director, she contacted scientists who tested the water + sewage & discovered evidence of hookworms. She involved the (clueless) State Bd. of Health and politicos on 'both sides of the aisle' to try to create a solution. She later learned via her travels that waste backups weren't exclusive to poor areas. And climate change (resulting in extreme weather ie heavy rain etc ) made it even worse. CCF used ingenuity to get the word out and worked toward real solutions. Some solutions were v. complex. We should all be grateful for this gutsy, tireless advocate!!!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Angela Han

    Thank you Netgalley for sharing this book in exchange of honest review. Just as the title, this book is about the activist's fight in raising awareness and finding solution for the neglected people in poverty that live in poor infrastructure. Most of us don't think about where the waste goes after we flush the toilet. However, there are people that do not have have a septic system and practically live with pooling wastewater. The author goes into more details in discussing why there is poor infr Thank you Netgalley for sharing this book in exchange of honest review. Just as the title, this book is about the activist's fight in raising awareness and finding solution for the neglected people in poverty that live in poor infrastructure. Most of us don't think about where the waste goes after we flush the toilet. However, there are people that do not have have a septic system and practically live with pooling wastewater. The author goes into more details in discussing why there is poor infrastructure in areas of low income, real stories that exposes living conditions, and consequences of living near wastewater. This book got me thinking of the little things should be grateful for.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn Wilhelm

    Uncomfortable Necessary Topic This book's details will alarm and inform readers interested in climate change and race relations. Well-researched and documented facts make this an authoritative text. While difficult to read about the problem of waste runoff in many areas of the United States, it is imperative to know this information. People are being arrested and fined for not having expensive septic systems. Hookworms and other health issues follow. Waste is an environmental justice text. Uncomfortable Necessary Topic This book's details will alarm and inform readers interested in climate change and race relations. Well-researched and documented facts make this an authoritative text. While difficult to read about the problem of waste runoff in many areas of the United States, it is imperative to know this information. People are being arrested and fined for not having expensive septic systems. Hookworms and other health issues follow. Waste is an environmental justice text.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Maureen

    There's no way to assign a genre to this amazing book. It's history, science, politics, memoir and probably more than I can infer. It is a tell-it-as-it-is, threaded with a deep kindness and humanity. It is a plea for social justice and to save our planet. So you don't want to know that in The US of A, there are people who live without sewage systems because of poverty and numerous obstacles that are in their way such as racism? Well, just step up, people! You'll be surprised what you learn and There's no way to assign a genre to this amazing book. It's history, science, politics, memoir and probably more than I can infer. It is a tell-it-as-it-is, threaded with a deep kindness and humanity. It is a plea for social justice and to save our planet. So you don't want to know that in The US of A, there are people who live without sewage systems because of poverty and numerous obstacles that are in their way such as racism? Well, just step up, people! You'll be surprised what you learn and a lot of it will be good. About good people and what they do and about impoverished communities and how people help one another. You will want to help before you are halfway through the book!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kasey

    I think that this story is so important but the way it is told is really very dry. There are many chapters of memoir before getting to the issue so I wonder if a less linear approach after the first chapter would have helped.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Holly Dowell

    WASTE: ONE WOMAN’S FIGHT AGAINST AMERICA’S DIRTY SECRET shares the author’s story of activism from a young age, culminating in her current work as an environmental justice champion with a focus on rural Alabama. Catherine Coleman Flowers is a truly remarkable woman with a lifetime of stories and then some. Born to community leaders and activists in Lowndes County, Alabama, Flowers took on the injustices around her, beginning with educational inequalities. Over time and through engagement in a va WASTE: ONE WOMAN’S FIGHT AGAINST AMERICA’S DIRTY SECRET shares the author’s story of activism from a young age, culminating in her current work as an environmental justice champion with a focus on rural Alabama. Catherine Coleman Flowers is a truly remarkable woman with a lifetime of stories and then some. Born to community leaders and activists in Lowndes County, Alabama, Flowers took on the injustices around her, beginning with educational inequalities. Over time and through engagement in a variety of public actions, she built up her network and became an international voice for change on behalf of neglected rural communities. In the book, she talks about coordinating the study that exposed the existence of hookworm in Alabama. She uses her passion and connections (some seriously big names like Cory Booker, Rev. Barber, and Jane Fonda) to shed light on the devastating, persistent issue of wastewater injustice that she has now witnessed across the country. Many poor, rural homes do not have functioning septic systems and are prevented from installing them due to soil challenges and prohibitive cost. Flowers rightly calls this out as an environmental justice issue that entrenches poverty and will only worsen with climate change. While Flowers’s story was moving and her fight is exceptionally important, I have two criticisms of the book. Primarily, I think it was mis-marketed. The first half is dedicated to Mrs. Flowers’s background in activism and would be better named a memoir rather than an “exposure” as the subtitle suggests. In and of itself, the story of her life is worthy of telling! Second, I thought the writing was a bit lackluster and had a bit of an “and then and then and then” quality, verging on plodding. I would have enjoyed some variation and a bit more depth.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Maggie MacDonald

    In part, I would blame myself for not liking this book as I didn’t realize it was a memoir, as opposed to a book exploring the history and lack of attention to the not-so-sexy subject of rural waste infrastructure which is what I thought it was

  16. 5 out of 5

    Valerie

    Engrossing "must read" book about the lack of wastewater treatment access in poor rural America and the devastation it brings. I also love the way the author weaves in her own story as an environmental justice advocate. Engrossing "must read" book about the lack of wastewater treatment access in poor rural America and the devastation it brings. I also love the way the author weaves in her own story as an environmental justice advocate.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Karyl

    When you think of wastewater and sewage contaminating people’s homes and yards, I can guarantee you’d think of a developing nation where the infrastructure doesn’t exist to remove people’s waste. Unfortunately, this is a real problem in the United States as well, and it’s been well-documented by Catherine Coleman Flowers. She takes us with her to her home area of Lowndes County, Alabama, what had been Ground Zero of the Civil Rights movement, and shows us homes that have no sewage removal, and i When you think of wastewater and sewage contaminating people’s homes and yards, I can guarantee you’d think of a developing nation where the infrastructure doesn’t exist to remove people’s waste. Unfortunately, this is a real problem in the United States as well, and it’s been well-documented by Catherine Coleman Flowers. She takes us with her to her home area of Lowndes County, Alabama, what had been Ground Zero of the Civil Rights movement, and shows us homes that have no sewage removal, and instead has feces and toilet paper littering the yards because there is no infrastructure to remove it, and installing a septic system is prohibitively expensive. As a result, diseases caused by human waste are occurring in these areas, diseases that have previously only occurred in tropical regions and developing nations. These things shouldn’t occur in the richest nation in the world. The above is what the book is supposed to be about. I’m impressed by Flowers’s determination to make a better life for these folks because they absolutely deserve it. It’s also amazing to learn how many shining stars of the Civil Rights movement she knew growing up, thanks to her own parents’ activism. However, the first half of the book is really an autobiography, describing her education and her choice to ultimately become a teacher, one that was highly respected (as she informs us time and again) by her students and the parents. The second half of the book covers her waste activism, but frequently it delves into a who’s who of famous people she has met and informed of this issue. The book often felt like a name-dropping fest, and it was disheartening because I wanted to learn about what was being done for these folks living in such awful conditions through no fault of their own. Instead, it was a book about how Flowers identified the problem, and then met with either famous people like Jane Fonda or Congressional committees to inform the government of the conditions that Americans had to endure all over the US. There were so many names, so many committees, so many trips hither and yon to determine the issue happens all over, not just in Alabama. I admire the drive and the fight of Flowers to bring awareness of this awful problem, but this book just lacks execution. And I’m left wondering what has even been done. She was able to provide a new home for one of her clients, but because installing a septic on the property is prohibitively expensive, roadblock after roadblock popped up to prevent her from moving into her new home. Before she could, she tragically passed away of COVID-19. But that’s the only person Flowers really discusses regarding doing something concrete to help these folks in such dire need. I had such high hopes for this book after hearing Flowers on Fresh Air, but unfortunately the book just didn’t deliver. However, it is important to know of Flowers’s activism. She is bringing awareness to a desperate need all over the nation. No one in the United States should live among raw sewage.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Adamo #EmptyNestReader

    MacArthur "Genius" Grant winner, Catherine Coleman Flowers was born and raised in Lowndes County, Alabama. She been an organizer and activist all of her life. In high school she organized her fellow students and her community to fight for higher quality education as well as the removal of a lecherous principal and inept school board president. Today she is an environmental and social justice activist fighting for the rights of citizens in poor communities to have the proper disposal of household MacArthur "Genius" Grant winner, Catherine Coleman Flowers was born and raised in Lowndes County, Alabama. She been an organizer and activist all of her life. In high school she organized her fellow students and her community to fight for higher quality education as well as the removal of a lecherous principal and inept school board president. Today she is an environmental and social justice activist fighting for the rights of citizens in poor communities to have the proper disposal of household waste. Her book, WASTE: One Woman's Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret, chronicles her fight for the right of all Americans to have proper waste disposal, septic systems, etc. in their homes. Her message is one of great importance and the reality is shocking. That in 21st century America there are communities that lack safe drinking water and adequate disposal of raw sewage is appalling. That these communities are made up of poor people of color, exist all across our country (from poor states like Alabama and wealthier states like California) is, sadly, no surprise. "environmental crisis—like most crises—will victimize the poor and vulnerable the most. In the United States, Black people, indigenous people, and communities of color will bear the heaviest burden of avoidable disease, degraded quality of life, and unnecessary suffering." Although the message is significant, Flowers' writing lacks focus. The book starts off strong and immediately had my attention; however, the following chapters focus on her life's story - from high school to college to marriage to teaching to her impressive civil rights work. Interesting, but... Some chapters read like a name-dropping, who's who of every rich, famous and/or influential person she has met in her journey. This brief book may have been better off as a professional publication and a memoir - perhaps with a co-author. Flowers has devoted her life's work to bringing awareness to this critically important issue and her efforts are inspiring. Sadly, a large part of it misses the target.. Still, the book is worth the read. ⭐️⭐️⭐️ For more book reviews and recommendations follow me at #emptynestreader #instagram #facebook #Goodreads #Waste #CatherineColemanFlowers #nonfiction #memoir #environment #socialjustice #bookstagram #bookstagrammer #bookstagramalabama #bookstagrammichigan #bookreviews #bookreviewer #bookrecommendations #Januaryreads #readalittlelearnalittlelivealittle #Januaryreads #ebooks #librarybooks #AnnArborLibrary #aadlgram

  19. 5 out of 5

    Charles

    Favorite Quotes P. 122: "...poverty is not easily alleviated when systems are intentionally designed to marginalize people. The systems themselves need to be changed, starting with the lack of political influence wielded by rural counties." P. 199: "This should not be a partisan issue. Although Democrats are the ones proposing legislation now, I'll never forget that some of my earliest help came from two conservatives, Boob Woodsen and then Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. When we work together, the Favorite Quotes P. 122: "...poverty is not easily alleviated when systems are intentionally designed to marginalize people. The systems themselves need to be changed, starting with the lack of political influence wielded by rural counties." P. 199: "This should not be a partisan issue. Although Democrats are the ones proposing legislation now, I'll never forget that some of my earliest help came from two conservatives, Boob Woodsen and then Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. When we work together, the United States can use its political clout, business acumen, engineering expertise, and wealth to fix the problem, and I'm working hard to make that happen. "But when you have president who makes comments about 'shithole countries' while we have people living next to cesspools right here in this country, clearly there is no correlation between reality and what some people perceive it to be. Perhaps shining a spotlight on conditions that American citizens are forced to live in will start to bring about change, not just in Alabama, but also in rural and even suburban and urban areas across the country--and the world." Review I often pick up book recommendations from radio shows where books are reviewed or authors are interviewed. Often I am surprised to find that the story is better told by the radio story than by the book itself. Over time, I've realized that this is more a credit to the radio producers than a detriment to the authors. The radio people know how to frame a story and how to edit out everything except it's most relevant and entertaining points. The listeners get a concise glimpse into the topic that leaves them wanting to learn more. In contrast, the books themselves are often written by people who are not authors by trade. Instead, they are professionals whose unique experience makes them an authority on a particular subject. In this case, Catherine Coleman Flowers, has a fascinating and important life story that I hope will someday be revisited by a professional biographer. Her tenacity and focus have brought international attention to Alabama poverty. But much of this book is just a rapid retelling of her life accomplishments and events, much like you'd find in the memoirs of a military leader. The best parts parts of the book are those that focus on the actual conditions in Lowndes County and the events that led to Flowers' activism; those parts are both enraging and inspiring. But those stories can be found through youtube interviews and in radio archives of shows like "Fresh Air."

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bria

    Waste by Catherine Coleman Flowers is a hard one for me to rate. It is one of those books that the content itself was meaningful and a must read, but the presentation and lack of clear focus made it far less enjoyable. Pros: Its utterly eye opening. Waste covers a crisis of lack of fresh running water and working sewers in Lowndes county Alabama. It depicts many unlivable situations that are simply the “normal” for those forgotten people of Lowndes County. This is an issue I had never heard of, Waste by Catherine Coleman Flowers is a hard one for me to rate. It is one of those books that the content itself was meaningful and a must read, but the presentation and lack of clear focus made it far less enjoyable. Pros: Its utterly eye opening. Waste covers a crisis of lack of fresh running water and working sewers in Lowndes county Alabama. It depicts many unlivable situations that are simply the “normal” for those forgotten people of Lowndes County. This is an issue I had never heard of, and was SHOCKED to read had been covered locally, nationally, AND internationally. National Geographic even went to the site to showcase it, The Obamas walked in a mark to support it, Yet most people still are unaware that children are literally playing in their waste in their own yard. Cons: Unfortunately Catherine Flowers isn’t as powerful of a writer as she is a woman. She has accomplished SO MUCH in the name of activism over her decades fighting the cause, but it simply didn’t covert well to paper. Many of the chapters seemed like lists upon lists of people she knows and who she’s talked to. Its very confusing to keep it all straight, when many of them don’t directly pertain to the book. Also, from chapters 2-6 there is literally no talk about the waste problem, or Lowndes County. Those many chapters are a personal memoir covering her time in high school, going to (many many many different) colleges, getting married, and then becoming a teacher. While it was interesting enough, I thought I was reading a book about a waste problem, not her personal story. Lastly, and my biggest deterrent was how repetitive it was. She mentioned that same study, with the same stats, over 3 times as if she didn’t cover it before. Then when it was summarized it was laid out as if it was a larger study than it was. You simply cannot test 54 people in a county, have 34% test positive for hookworm, and then paraphrase by saying “over 30% of residence tested positive” when the county is made up of 9,700+ residents as of 2019. While yes, it is correct that of who was tested it was 30%, its leading the reader and makes me feel duped. I’ll end by saying I think this information NEEDS to be published, I just feel like it would be better done by an investigative journalist along side Flowers.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mark Robertson

    It's discouraging to think that tens of millions of Americans live in homes without adequate wastewater treatment systems. In homes from the deep south to the fertile farmland of California, pipes carry human waste from the bathroom to the backyard. This is primarily a rural problem, which is part of the problem in that rural poverty is not a front-page issue for most of the country. Flowers has spent the past twenty years trying to make it a front-page issue, or at least an op-ed page issue. Sh It's discouraging to think that tens of millions of Americans live in homes without adequate wastewater treatment systems. In homes from the deep south to the fertile farmland of California, pipes carry human waste from the bathroom to the backyard. This is primarily a rural problem, which is part of the problem in that rural poverty is not a front-page issue for most of the country. Flowers has spent the past twenty years trying to make it a front-page issue, or at least an op-ed page issue. She succeeded in getting an op-ed in the New York Times and has been covered by the Guardian and other news organizations. She's gotten the ears of U.S. Senators, people at the U.N, prominent activists and ministers and other NGOs. She has been a tenacious champion of people who were completely under the radar. In 2020, Flowers was awarded a MacArthur "genius" grant. Despite Flowers' efforts, sadly, it seems that little has been done to address the problem head on. Lots of talk, it seems, but not much action. In Lowndes County, she's been taking politicians and activists to view some of these homes with backyard cesspools for close to two decades. As a result of living with open sewage, populations are subject to diseases and parasites that really shouldn't be expected in the world's richest country. Over 30% of those surveyed in Lowndes County had hookworm. (The survey targeted people who might have logically been likely to have the parasite; the proportion of the total population of Alabama with hookworm is nothing like 30%.) Much of this book concerns her visits to homes in Lowndes County, and it's depressing. When she began to investigate this problem, Flowers thought that it was a local issue primarily affecting black Americans (the county is in Alabama's "Black Belt"), but she eventually discovered that the problem is nation-wide and color blind. This book was hard to read and could probably have benefitted if Flowers had had an editor with a sharper knife, but it's a book that every politician should read. And then our local, state and federal governments should address this third-world problem in our first-world country.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie

    This is the most important book I've read in a long time, about a civil rights and environmental justice hero. When Catharine Coleman Flowers was a high school teacher, she filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, charging the school board with violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This made her very unpopular with some of the teachers and administrators. They accused her of teaching the students to break the law and making the other teach This is the most important book I've read in a long time, about a civil rights and environmental justice hero. When Catharine Coleman Flowers was a high school teacher, she filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, charging the school board with violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This made her very unpopular with some of the teachers and administrators. They accused her of teaching the students to break the law and making the other teachers look bad. Even her mother-in-law tried to dissuade her. She replied that as a teacher and a Christian, she was bound by her faith and her profession to provide equal access to educational opportunities for all students. Ultimately, the Office of Civil Rights found that school discipline was clearly race-based, especially for indigenous students. Counselors did not provide students of color the same guidance they offered white students, or they gave ill-informed advice. She eventually won, and learned that she was the first person in the history of the U.S. Department of Education to file a federal civil rights complaint on behalf of students. But her main work is in wastewater issues. In Lowndes County, Alabama, where Flowers is from, poor rural Blacks had to pay for septic systems, systems that often didn't work, so that raw sewage seeped into their homes and their backyards. If they couldn't afford a septic system, they were jailed. But Flowers discovered that the problem isn't limited to Black people or rural people or even poor people. It is a question of environmental justice. Throughout the book, we meet many of the people she works with, from Bryan Stevenson to Reverend William Barber to Jane Fonda. If I have one complaint, it's that she could have cut down on telling us about the number of standing ovations she received. But that's nit-picking. Flowers is an amazing woman and this is an amazing story. Clean water and sanitation is a human rights issue that needs to addressed and solved with new technologies. If you read one book this year, it should be this book.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Robert Lucero

    I am very glad Ms. Flowers wrote this book. I would never try to take anything away from her work--a lifetime of work on this issue--nor do I have anything but praise for the heroes of the Lowndes County, Alabama generations long fight for basic human dignity. I have had the honor and pleasure of working with a few key leaders from the 1960's Selma to Montgomery Campaign for Voting Rights (namely: Reverend James Bevel and the Queen of them all, Amelia Boynton Robinson). My main issue with the bo I am very glad Ms. Flowers wrote this book. I would never try to take anything away from her work--a lifetime of work on this issue--nor do I have anything but praise for the heroes of the Lowndes County, Alabama generations long fight for basic human dignity. I have had the honor and pleasure of working with a few key leaders from the 1960's Selma to Montgomery Campaign for Voting Rights (namely: Reverend James Bevel and the Queen of them all, Amelia Boynton Robinson). My main issue with the book is not so much a criticism of the heroic Ms. Flowers; rather it is about the "heroes" she points to in the book: Al Gore, Kareena Gore, and Jane Fonda. Rich white privilege aside, just take the case of Al Gore and his daughter Kareena. There is a very simple question, an elephant in the room. Al Gore's state of Tennessee once had the same conditions of raw sewage everywhere and only 2% of the population having electricity in 1933. What changed that, what mysterious change occurred? Could it be, one of the most MASSIVE public works projects in known history, the envy of the post-war world, the Tennessee Valley Authority? Or is there a reason Alabama's situation doesn't deserve a FEDERAL program, but Al Gore Sr.'s Jim Crow-era Tennessee DID deserve a federal program? The simple question is, Mr. Gore, (and Ms. Fonda): why can this not be done again today for the residents of Alabama/Mississippi? Why can't this be done on the Missouri? The answer is that self-serving Malthusian/Darwinian anti-science has taken over the (white, rich) liberal policymakers since the post-1968 Left arose. The answer to Ms. Flowers' expose is massive public works to provide much needed basic infrastructure to some of the nations most poor, and most victimized populations. She remarks that her issue may not be sexy enough to garner the kind of attention needed for solutions. Well, Al Gore, Kareena Gore: is there anything more racist than not solving this basic economic infrastructure crisis?

  24. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

    Sometimes this book feels like a plea for help, sometimes a history of civil rights, and sometimes the type of biography you tend to get around election season. And it fulfills all of those missions. The author is a civil rights activist from Lowndes County, along the famous Civil Rights March between Selma and Montgomery, and Black, and from a community where sewage in yards and backing up into houses is unfortunately common. Catherine Flowers took her racial justice background, which was exten Sometimes this book feels like a plea for help, sometimes a history of civil rights, and sometimes the type of biography you tend to get around election season. And it fulfills all of those missions. The author is a civil rights activist from Lowndes County, along the famous Civil Rights March between Selma and Montgomery, and Black, and from a community where sewage in yards and backing up into houses is unfortunately common. Catherine Flowers took her racial justice background, which was extensive, and rolled up her sleeves to take care of a different problem as dirty as racism - the unequal wastewater and sewage treatment for poor communities. The first half of the book is a background of her home town, and a biography. Then she gets to business talking about the problems, the efforts they've already made, and what needs to be done. Flowers detours through Centreville, Missouri and Allentown, California among other places that have the same waste & water problems with different climates and different causes. She decries the criminalization of impoverished families who can't afford septic systems, and the undue burden of wastewater fees for people who are not getting the services that should go with it. She talks of the partnerships she made across the aisle and the people who've been helping her cause. Waste is an important lesson in inequality and a humbling picture of an America that fails to provide basic sanitation and clean water for our minority communities, rural communities and those who don't have the political power to get those strings pulled. I'm glad to know of the issues, and am reminded to pay attention to the problems here in California and support equitable and safe utilities for all. Read through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    A memoir. Know this book is a memoir. An incredibly important and impactful memoir that I 1000% recommend. Not a history book. Not a guidebook. The author, Catherine Coleman Flowers, takes us readers on the journey of her interesting and inspiring life starting with her childhood and young adult activism. The last 100 pages or so focus on “America’s Dirty Secret” - structural inequities that create and enforce wastewater treatment disparities and ultimately lead to raw sewage in people’s backyar A memoir. Know this book is a memoir. An incredibly important and impactful memoir that I 1000% recommend. Not a history book. Not a guidebook. The author, Catherine Coleman Flowers, takes us readers on the journey of her interesting and inspiring life starting with her childhood and young adult activism. The last 100 pages or so focus on “America’s Dirty Secret” - structural inequities that create and enforce wastewater treatment disparities and ultimately lead to raw sewage in people’s backyards and bathtubs. If you want a preview into the topic, Flowers has written op-eds (including in the NYT), she has testified before Congress, there’s a documentary produced about Lowndes County, Alabama, and plenty of news agencies have written about this as well (eg, the Guardian). There’s a lot to dig into. I first learned about this topic 3 years ago because of one of those articles (assigned for a class:) Reading this longer narrative style account was really what I needed. I also always love memoirs. They’re my favorite books. If memoirs aren’t your favorite, maybe settle in for some googling of this topic instead. Either way, I urge you to learn who Catherine Coleman Flowers is. Learn who Pamela Rush was. Educate yourself about Lowndes County, Alabama. Their stories need to be heard and then we need action. Change for Lowndes County and for the people (usually Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and low-income people) who live on the 65% of US land that cannot support septic systems. And that percent is only going to grow because of climate change.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tery

    While I don't want to diminish the work that Catherine Coleman Flowers has done for much of her life, it was a bit difficult to get through this book. The first chapter grabs the reader's attention immediately, however, then the book takes a turn and transforms into an autobiography of Flowers. Was her life interesting? Absolutely. The woman was/is a sponge for knowledge; be it learning about amnesia to help her husband, wastewater treatment septic systems, to soil conditions. She is also a forc While I don't want to diminish the work that Catherine Coleman Flowers has done for much of her life, it was a bit difficult to get through this book. The first chapter grabs the reader's attention immediately, however, then the book takes a turn and transforms into an autobiography of Flowers. Was her life interesting? Absolutely. The woman was/is a sponge for knowledge; be it learning about amnesia to help her husband, wastewater treatment septic systems, to soil conditions. She is also a force to be reckoned with when it comes to her activism and trying to right the wrongs that are being perpetrated on the poor in rural Alabama. The shocking story of people living in such squalor, surrounded by their own waste or the waste of their neighbors, the discovery that 1 in 3 people of Lowndes County Alabama tested positive for hookworm, and that these same people were being thrown in jail because they couldn't afford proper septic systems is one hell of a shocking story. Unfortunately, too much of the book focuses on Flowers' life and her achievements, which I feel horrible saying, but the focus of the book got lost. Regardless, it's an eye opening, shocking look at how this country turns a blind eye on the poorest of its citizens.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Brooke

    This is hard for me to rate, as the topic is incredibly important, the author impressively credentialed and inspiring, and the message needs to be shouted from the podiums of every auditorium in the U.S. Flowers opens the reader's eyes to the horrific instances of untreated waste in rural parts of our country, to the Third World abhorrent conditions of waste and toilet paper in the backyards that we ignore and minimize. But the book itself is a huge disappointment. After a brief initial mention This is hard for me to rate, as the topic is incredibly important, the author impressively credentialed and inspiring, and the message needs to be shouted from the podiums of every auditorium in the U.S. Flowers opens the reader's eyes to the horrific instances of untreated waste in rural parts of our country, to the Third World abhorrent conditions of waste and toilet paper in the backyards that we ignore and minimize. But the book itself is a huge disappointment. After a brief initial mention of the wastewater issue, Flowers switches to a biographical account of her life that is written in a very factual, dry, journalistic style. There is some repetition, some unanswered sections (whatever happened to her amnesiac husband?), and none of the storytelling that makes nonfiction engaging. Finally, when she gets into the "Waste" part of the book in the second half, she continues in the same style, drily recounting names and dates and committee names, briefly explaining the lives of the people trapped in this "wasteland," but never telling us enough to bring them to life. This story could have been great and should be a movie...but the script needs to be written by someone who knows how to craft a story and keep the reader or viewer enthralled.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    This is an eye-opening book that made me aware of the “dirty little secret” of what is happening in poor rural communities, particularly those populated by people of color, living with open air pools of raw sewage in their yards, rivaling conditions in third world countries. Due to a denial of waste water infrastructure being extended even half-mile from town center, impoverished Black residents are forced to invest in private septic systems (that can cost upwards of $30,000) and often fail due This is an eye-opening book that made me aware of the “dirty little secret” of what is happening in poor rural communities, particularly those populated by people of color, living with open air pools of raw sewage in their yards, rivaling conditions in third world countries. Due to a denial of waste water infrastructure being extended even half-mile from town center, impoverished Black residents are forced to invest in private septic systems (that can cost upwards of $30,000) and often fail due to inhospitable soil and a high water table, a problem made worse by climate change. In the ultimate injustice, people can be arrested and prosecuted for not installing a functional sewage system. I took one star away from this important book because the author repeatedly became self-congratulatory about standing ovations she received for her speeches and the important people who sought her out, but I can understand that she must be pinching herself that a poor kid from Lowndes County, Alabama has successfully brought attention to conditions worse than we can imagine hiding in plain sight amid the tremendous wealth in our country.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Fay

    Oh my gosh! To think that this book is set in the USA is more than startling! I congratulate Ms. Flowers on her accomplishments and dedication to a topic that most of us are not even aware of. Not in our first world wealthy country .....she subtitles the book "One woman's fight against America's Dirty Secret." And dirty secret it is .... we are appalled to think of sewage running on the surface untreated in third world countries. Well, think of that in Alabama, Louisiana, California, Ohio, etc e Oh my gosh! To think that this book is set in the USA is more than startling! I congratulate Ms. Flowers on her accomplishments and dedication to a topic that most of us are not even aware of. Not in our first world wealthy country .....she subtitles the book "One woman's fight against America's Dirty Secret." And dirty secret it is .... we are appalled to think of sewage running on the surface untreated in third world countries. Well, think of that in Alabama, Louisiana, California, Ohio, etc etc. And of course, it's confined primarily to poor impoverished neighborhoods where the average income per family is shockingly low. Thankfully, Catherine Flowers was born in Alabama and became aware of the situation in some of these areas at a very young age and made the cause her life work. She eventually ended up working with Bryan Stevenson through the auspices of his Equal Justice Initiative. They are working on the principle that 'sanitation is becoming too big a problem to ignore as climate change brings sewage to more back yards, and not only those of poor minorities.' This book is shocking, frustrating, and oh, so important. I hope it rises to the top and is widely read.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Anna Smith

    I have so much gratitude for Flowers eloquently crafting this book and that I know get to have it in my life. As an undergrad student, this is one of the most inspiring books I’ve read in a long time. Flowers details inequalities in ways I had never known of or considered. I see some reviews not fond of the narrative form this book takes, but I disagree with them and would offer the importance of the form. I’m reading this for a book club with a number of other university students, all of us pas I have so much gratitude for Flowers eloquently crafting this book and that I know get to have it in my life. As an undergrad student, this is one of the most inspiring books I’ve read in a long time. Flowers details inequalities in ways I had never known of or considered. I see some reviews not fond of the narrative form this book takes, but I disagree with them and would offer the importance of the form. I’m reading this for a book club with a number of other university students, all of us passionate about social justice. This book is so influential in sharing what activism looks like, through and through. I know I want to grow up to be Catherine Flowers, and I can’t help but think about all the other young people that will get to read or hear her story and those of everyone she’s rubbing elbows with. Thank you Catherine Flowers for you, your voice, and using in ways I had never imagined.

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