A young man once asked Frederick Douglass what to do to make the biggest difference in tough times. Agitate, agitate and agitate, Douglass answered. The same message emerged at last week"s Joseph T. Taylor Symposium, sponsored by the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI: If raw sewage is pouring into our poorest neighborhoods, if lead is poisoning our kids, if fish in local streams can"t be safely eaten, no change will happen unless citizen groups rattle some cages. As panelist Philip Rutledge of the Indianapolis Urban League put it, "We need to find a way of hitting the government over the head with a 2 by 4." The symposium barely uncorked a host of interrelated environmental policy issues, including the very definition of environmental justice. IU Bloomington professor Dr. Edwardo Rhodes, author of Environmental Justice in America: A New Paradigm (IU Press, 2003), observed that in Indiana, blacks have a 68 percent likelihood of living near a hazardous waste facility. While no court has yet been able to prove race as a deliberate factor in such cases, Rhodes says that environmental justice - ensuring equal access to natural resource benefits and equal protection from hazards - needs to become a standard plank in environmental activism. Greg Lindsey of the Center for Urban Policy and the Environment at IUPUI offered an analysis of the costs of fixing Indiana"s antiquated sewer systems, septic systems and drinking water: at least $620 million a year for the next 20 years. That means each Indiana household would have to pay about $500 a year, a solution not likely to be offered by any politician. Even in theory, why should the people have to pay? Why not the corporate polluters? They"d be put out of business, replied panelist Vicki Keramida, CEO of consulting firm Keramida Environmental. We need to share the burden. "Besides," she said, "people don"t mind paying monthly fees to telephone companies or to have a cell phone. Why not pay to clean up our water?" An audience member and activist stood up to say residents in his neighborhood have experienced sewer overflow, asthma, cancer and the like. How we can we evaluate and rectify historic contaminations? The answer: citizen action. "Develop your own standards, vision, expectations and demands," an Indiana Department of Environmental Management staffer told him. "Don"t leave it up to the government to set the standards." If our government isn"t setting standards or actively protecting communities from polluters, what is it doing? Lori Kaplan, IDEM commissioner, says she"s hired an environmental justice coordinator to interface with communities. While she urged activists to approach industries with invitations for community involvement, as opposed to accusations of environmental racism ("It provokes anxiety," she explained), she offered a booklet called "IDEM"s Guide for Citizen Participation," a handbook for participation in environmental decision-making. She invited everyone to the first meeting of IDEM"s Environmental Justice Citizen Advisory Committee on Wednesday, March 19. For more information, visit www.in.gov/idem/environmentaljustice/index.html.