Rural Democracy Initiative Grantee Supports Community

It has been nearly a month since a Norfolk Southern Train derailed and devastated the community of East Palestine - a small town in northeastern Ohio. One of our grantees, River Valley Organizing (RVO), is based in the community and has thrown themselves into documenting local residents’ experiences, helping to raise their voices and take action for immediate solutions.

On February 3, 2023, hundreds of tons of carcinogenic chemicals and tens of thousands of gallons of oil spilled into the local waterways and air. These dangerous chemicals were then burned, resulting in a dense black cloud of toxic smoke. Since the disaster, many RDI funders and partners have been concerned and eager to help.

River Valley Organizing was quick to address the growing needs on the ground. Building on the deep relationships they have in the community — RVO has several staff and members directly impacted by the pollution — they sprung into action. RVO started by listening to and documenting community members’ experiences, sharing urgent resources, and connecting people with legal support. They’ve hired more staff to extend their reach and have tirelessly organized for the Ohio Governor to request federal assistance and resources. RVO is working with a growing number of community members who have reported respiratory and other illnesses associated with the burning chemicals, as well highlighting the intense emotional and financial toll this is taking on community members.

To provide long-lasting change, RVO is elevating local spokespeople who can identify the biggest needs in the community and point the way to solutions. However, the work is just beginning as the East Palestine community will face health, economic, and environmental related issues for years to come.

Join RDI and our partners in supporting these critical efforts in East Palestine. River Valley Organizing is organizing and mobilizing the community, local mutual aid organizations are coordinating responses on the ground, The Way Station, a community organization, is arranging supplies, and The Brightside Foundation, a local nonprofit organization has pivoted their work to disaster response.