Big Fix

We take a break from our regularly scheduled odyssey to promote the following worthy item.

This Friday, the New Orleans Film Festival is hosting the American premiere of the documentary film, The Big Fix, which details the massive government cover-up which has taken place in the wake of the BP oil spill. There will be a press conference at 2 pm at the Contemporary Arts Center before the film is shown. This may be the best chance the Gulf Coast has to raise the country’s awareness to the reality of the condition of the Gulf.

Please share widely. Like the film on Facebook. More at the Zombie.

“The Oil is Not Gone, and Neither Are We”

Cherri Foytlin

This just in from Cherri Foytlin, who will be on the Social Media, Social Justice panel at Rising Tide 6 (register now):

“thanks to all who attended – please read and share the link”

The day before yesterday, on August 4, 2011, one year after the President of our United States stood on national television and said that 75% of the oil that had spewed into our Gulf was gone, I was booked into the New Orleans Parish Police lock-up with the charge of Criminal Trespassing.

The day before, I had been called by the Louisiana State Police Department to come to a meeting with them to discuss the Non-violent Direct Action Protest that myself and a united group consisting of environmentalists, community organizers, fishermen and clean-up workers, had organized in front of the British Petroleum offices, which are on the 13th and 14th floor of 1250 Poydras in NOLA.

At that meeting, I was told that we were allowed on the sidewalk only. That there would be plain clothed officers among us, and that if we crossed a certain line, which runs from the building to the parking lot, we would be arrested. The detectives, very nicely, drew us a map to explain the exact whereabouts of that line.

When we got to the event, which at the beginning had nearly 100 in attendance, I made the announcement that I was going to cross that line. And that I was doing this in protest of the so many lines that BP has crossed, in my mind, concerning the cleaning up of their mess, the spraying of toxic chemicals in our water, the murder of 11 of our energy providers, the disrespect and economical damage to our fishermen and residents, and the denial of and lack of response to health issues and claims since April 20 of last year.

So, I intentionally crossed that invisible line and took their tar balls back to them – a box full that had been picked up our beaches that day, (with no clean-up workers in sight, I might add). At least 15 other people chose to go with me, to complete this task.

As we approached the front door, we were met immediately by a representative of the company, the building and a security guard. Together they refused us any access to the building, citing that all BP workers had been dismissed for the day – a fact I knew to be untrue, because the state police had told me at our previous meeting that although most would be sent home at 4:30 that day, some would be available until 5:30, (at the time that they had told us this, they were trying to facilitate a meeting between us and BP – to which we had said was only an option it Feinberg and Zimmer was in attendance, and to which BP had refused to consider).

Being unable to enter the building, we dropped the tar balls on the sidewalk (in plastic), and sat down directly in front of the doors, where others came to join us.

And that was where we stayed.

In the mean time, kind people from within our group brought us waters and other refreshments in order to make our stay more comfortable. So, naturally, it was not very long before I personally had to urinate.

A very respectful gentleman from the state police had come forward to negotiate, just as he had the day before at the meeting in the SBI offices. I asked him, jokingly, if he thought they would just let me in to pee. He said no and that “They were freaking out in there.”, but pointed out that there were portable toilets just beyond the fence in a nearby hotel construction site.

After a few minutes, I felt it calm enough at that moment – since all BP representatives, building security and police personnel were discussing the issue inside, (excluding the one member of the state police that, at that time, was sitting with us), I could go use the restroom quickly, and come back.

So, I did. I jumped the fence and used the facilities. Upon my return jump, I realized that the BP reps in the building had seen me go and went running to find me, perhaps thinking I had looked for an alternative route into the building.

And that they had taped me jumping the fence and notified the nearby construction site mangers of my trespassing. We believe that they had hoped that the other owners would have had me arrested for trespassing and kept the BP name out of the incident. You see, arresting and charging people for bringing to light their negligence and lack of response sort of blows that whole “making it right” image.

But, the people next door had no interest in arresting me, or anyone else. We have more allies than they, or even we, know – you see?

I then joined the others in sitting, which we continued for over all around 3 hours until a little after 8:00 pm, which is when – after negotiating tirelessly, and being very respectful with us all day, the New Orleans Police Department and the Louisiana State Police gave us one more chance to end the protest and go home before arrests were made.

At that final refusal, NOLA PD, quietly came forth and arrested the 3 of us, who had remained seated.

Truth is, I knew that I personally was going to get arrested if I stayed sitting there, I knew that. And this was a decision that had not been made lightly on my part.

Over the last year and nearly a half I have studied past movements that have worked on different levels. And thanks to those who have come before us, we have a general formula for affecting change.

According to Dr. King, mainly from his letters while he, himself, was sitting in an Alabama jail, he said that the progression includes the following:

– To find out if an injustice exists – without doubt we, the people of the Gulf, have been dealt with very unjustly with regards to this corporation and our governments handling of this event, as well as others across the Gulf.

– To negotiate – we, the residents, fishermen, clean-up workers, tourism industry workers, oil workers, community organizers, ect, have negotiated on the local, state and federal levels with the HHS, the CDC, the NOAA, the EPA, the GCERT, the CEQ, the DEQ, the Oil Spill Commission, the Administration, and BP itself for nearly 16 months – to little or no avail.

– Dr. King’s next step was to “self-purify” – each person must take this step alone. Personally, I had first interpreted this step as the ending of bad habits, such as social drinking. But on the walk I realized that he was talking about preparing your mind against egotistical illusions, self-doubt and self-pity.

– The last step is action. And in the successful civil rights movement, as well as the Eastern Indian movement for independence, that meant non-violent action and civil disobedience taken against the oppressors in order to advance the cause of, and bring to light the call for, justice and liberty.

Our being arrested, was just the first step of that last phase.

Now, while I was sitting there I had a good friend of mine, who is very sick from the toxins still in his system and our environment, say to me, “Cherri, it is not worth getting arrested.”. He was begging me not to take that final step. He did that, because he love me, and he did not wish to see me suffer, I understand that – and it warms my heart. But my response to him was, “My friend, you are so worth getting arrested for”.

You see that is what we all must understand. You, my friend, are worth it. Our ecosystem is worth it, our kids are worth it, our future is worth it.. We must understand the value of what we have and be determined in protection of that. We must take up responsibility to, and for, each other now, in these times. Because, we are all worth it.

As we sat there, we repeatedly looked across the crowd and saw testament to that notion; such as, the poster my 9-year-old had made of her depiction of Earth with pollution dotting it, and the eyes of the people who were sick from chemical poisoning and yet had still come out to take a stand, calloused hands of a fishermen, community organizers who we have all seen at events from Texas, to Florida, to D.C. – demanding, begging sometimes, to be heard on behalf of the communities and ecosystem that they love. And we saw grandmothers and grandfathers, daddies and mommies, and sisters and brothers, all united in the simple humanitarian right of clean air and water.

One person in particular, Kimberly Wolf, a warrior woman who I have had the honor of getting to know early on in this fight, and who also has terminal cancer, yet got out of her bed and joined us for as long as she could – strengthened our souls. She is the picture of strength and love in all of this – and in seeing her, I have never been so moved by an example of commitment and perseverance.

That is the epitome of what this event, and our arrest, was about. That there is hope, we have allegiance to each other, that the loss of one does not and will not end the journey of the whole for truth, justice and recompense of the human rights violations that are taking place in our homeland.

There are so many to thank for the success of the day. I would especially like to recognize Kyle Nugent and Noah Learned, who I had not met prior and yet went all the way on behalf of our people and coast. The people who helped in organizational duties, too many to name here – but in particular Karen S, Ada, Devin, Josh, Mary-Margaret, Anne, Elizabeth, Robert – there are so many. And including the people who were at the event(s) of last week, and/or are still working on this issue, or others like it.. you are all my heroes.

I would also like to make clear, that the New Orleans Police Department and the Louisiana State Police Department were very kind in their treatment of us before, during and after our arrest. The first thing I was told after getting in the car was, “Why didn’t you just go home, Miss Cherri? None of us wanted to arrest you.”

They also took the handcuffs off as soon as we arrived at the station, and made sure we were as comfortable as possible under the circumstances.

So, there you have it.

I want you all to know, that we will not stop. We will not stop until our fishermen, our workers, our families, our wildlife, our waters, our region – are made whole again. Because when you love something, when you really do, you will never be silenced in protecting and fighting for it.

There will be further opportunities for those caring souls across the nation to stand with us for justice. Be ready.

You see, THAT is the greatest weapon in our tool box, that is what will win this and so many other battles we have been called to participate in, it’s our LOVE that will carry the day.

On August 4 we took our first stand. Courage, my friends, this is just a beginning.

Yours truly,

Cherri Foytlin

P.S. – BP have a response to the event, which is further proof that we made a wave, I cannot find the link at the moment but will update when I can. They said something like, “we are still here too“. It would be nice if a response was made by you to the author.. And to every journalist, and person, who needs to learn more about the truth of what is happening in America’s Gulf Coast.

Here is the link mentioned in the above paragraph.

Photo cropped from original: Adam Thomas and Cherri Foytlin / Linh Do / CC BY 2.0

Science Fails

IMG_6994 sample image for map stitching - aerial photography -

It’s the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon/Macondo/BP blowout disaster catastrophe oil spill. I don’t know how much coverage it gets outside the Gulf Coast, but oil is still percolating up in marshes here, and it’s very discouraging.

Generally I have supported science and the scientific worldview, but this debacle has shown how science is just a tool to be used and abused by the powerful.

We should know exactly what happened a year ago, and why. We don’t. We should know how much oil flowed out into the Gulf. We don’t. We should know how bad the environmental consequences are. We don’t.

Our ignorance is appalling.

A while back I saw conflicting reports on the safety of seafood from the Gulf. One scientist sounded cautionary notes, while another scientist gave the all clear. They were funded by opposing sides in the ongoing legal battles that have emerged from this catastrophe. The best science money can buy! I wish I’d clipped the article so I could cite it properly now, but at the time I was just too depressed.

Since I can’t even cite my sources, you’d probably do better to look elsewhere for informed commentary. I highly recommend this brand new article by John Clark:

Life in Louisiana, and on Earth, Struggles to Survive

But what, in reality, have the dominant extractive and petrochemical industries, and especially oil, brought to Louisiana? We are one of the poorest states. We are one of the least educated states. We are one of the unhealthiest states. We are one of the states in which government is most abjectly subservient to industry. We are one of the states most scarred by rampant corruption. We are one of the most environmentally devastated states. And now, the oil industry has damaged coastal wetlands and Gulf ecosystems, quite possibly for a considerable period into the future, in the worst marine oil disaster in history.

It’s enough to make anyone crazy mad.

I suppose I should make the connection: It’s stuff like this that fires me up to work on a project like the greenway. Active transportation is one way to reduce consumption of oil. It’s a very small sling against a very big giant. I’m not trying to put myself up on a pedestal; I’m just saying, do something. You’ll feel better, and it might just make a difference.

Oh, and by the way, some of my best friends are scientists.

IMG_6994 sample image for map stitching – aerial photography – / cesar harada / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Cross Reference

Two headlines from today’s news caught my eye. Each is bad enough on its own, but taken together they are exponentially more infuriating.

So we learn a couple things.

Now it’s clear why BP was blocking access and obfuscating all attempts to estimate the flow of oil from their well. They’re on the hook for $4,300 per barrel spilled. Futhermore, we now know where all that spilled oil mysteriously disappeared. It’s at the bottom of the Gulf, and everything is dead there.

Of course, I’m not supposed to complain about any of this for fear a moratorium will further damage the local economy which is so dependent on offshore drilling operations.

Cloudy with a Chance of Tarballs

Emerald Coast

Many months ago, we booked a condo in Panama City Beach, Florida. (I should say, my mother-in-law booked the place. We consulted, but it was my in-laws’ dime.) This was well before the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, long before oil started gushing out into the Gulf of Mexico. Needless to say of all the anguish caused by this disaster, my family vacation plans do not factor prominently. Yet still I worried about it. News reports indicated no oil there — until about a week before our trip. A piece of the Deepwater Horizon rig washed up on the beach there. And then came reports of tarballs. In the final days before our departure, I was reading up on public health advisories, effects of dispersant chemicals on toddlers, varying accounts of the situation on the ground (or in the water) in Panama City Beach, and all manner of online monitoring sites. It was maddeningly difficult, impossible really, to come to any kind of conclusion.

I decided if we saw tarballs we would keep our daughter out of the Gulf waters. Dispersant is not so easily detected by the human eye, of course. Once we got there, we found the water crystal clear. I scouted for tarballs constantly but never saw one.

In the end, it turns out I needn’t have worried so much. I think our girl spent no more than an hour in actual contact with the waters of the Gulf for a variety of reasons. On the morning of our first full day there, Xy took her down to the beach and was holding her when a wave knocked her down. That scared Persephone and she preferred the pool from that point forward. Later in the week the waves got increasingly rough as Hurricane Alex churned through the Gulf, and the water was closed for swimming anyway.

We had a great time regardless.

Here are some other random notes.

It’s just over 300 miles from NOLA to PCB. This was our first long trip in the hybrid vehicle, and I was curious to see how it performed. It took less than a tank of gas to get there, and we got about 30 miles per gallon.

We stayed at the Wyndham. I’m sure I’m not the first person to gaze skeptically upon all those highrise beachfront resorts, but you can’t beat a balcony looking over the ocean. Unfortunately we couldn’t get a two-bedroom accommodation so my in-laws were in a separate condo not far from ours, but it worked out all right.

We were there for six full days, bookended by two half-days for arrival and departure — a week. Of those six full days, two were sunny and spectacular, two were overcast with a little rain, and two had heavy rain. (Thanks Alex.)

I took almost 400 photos. I’ve posted a set of the best on Flickr. (Friends and family see more.)

Internet connectivity was problematic and aggravating. I took a laptop from work, which I hooked up to Ethernet in our condo. I enjoyed unfettered net access for two days — and then it just stopped working for no apparent reason. The problem was not the Ethernet but the laptop I was using. A couple guys on the staff came out and tried to troubleshoot but ultimately we were unsuccessful. So I used the wifi network, in a common area not far from our condo, but that proved unreliable as well. The network had a tendency to disappear suddenly for no apparent reason, leaving me disconnected. Thus I was unable to participate in the “Contemplative Neuroscience” webinar which was my ostensible reason for bringing the laptop in the first place.

I finished reading On Blue’s Waters and and started In Green’s Jungles.

I called the front desk and they sent up a pack-n-play crib where Persephone slept comfortably most of the time. On her first night she was restless and ended up in our bed while I moved out to the couch. (I needn’t have bothered as the king-sized mattress was big enough for the three of us.) She had a nightmare one other night, but the rest of the time she was happy to sleep in “little bed.”

We missed the Hands Across the Sands event, alas. We could have walked there.

My friend MAD, who used to live in PCB, recommended a number of local venues. We only went out to eat one night, and we tried a couple waterfront places he mentioned but the lines were way too long for us. We ended up at Scampy’s which proved to be quite delicious. There was no wait for dining on the patio, which I found incredible. Who wants to sit in a dark dining room on beautiful summer evening?

Our friends DJ, Daisy and Lavender joined us for the last two nights. I didn’t think they were going to make it, but they got there just in time for the worst of the Alex weather. Then they stayed a couple nights after we left at a hotel.

My mother-in-law Susie cooked all the major meals. Actually Xy did cook grits and grillades one night. I meant to prepare stuffed peppers but I forgot my recipe and Susie ended up doing that as well. I probably gained some weight on this vacation.

Another contributing factor: We went through one bottle each of Averna, Bombay Sapphire, St. Germain, Hennessy and Limoncello, plus half a bottle of Amaretto and some wine and beer. Key cocktails: Vertigo, Extended Roman Holiday, Horse’s Neck, St. Germain & Soda, and the good old gin & tonic (with and without St. Germain).

My favorite moment of the whole trip was when Persephone and I built a sand castle on the beach one evening. She was crushing towers as quickly as I could build them, until I managed to get a couple up in quick succession. Suddenly she got the idea — this could be a place where Cinderella might live. Soon she was helping me build the walls, and before you knew it we had a most, a tunnel, a bridge, and a domed ballroom. It didn’t look like much to be honest, but in our eyes it was a palace.

Getting back to my original concern, I want to re-emphasize that I never saw a single tarball. There’s probably a good deal of variation up and down the beach, and who knows what tomorrow will bring. I also want to be clear that I think environmental issues are of primary importance to us all. I wouldn’t want to discount concerns about what’s happening in the Gulf right now. I believe it’s a crisis of epic proportions.

Obviously we must be on guard against paranoia. When the water was closed to swimming and a plane came by dragging a banner that said “STAY OUT OF THE GULF” it was hard not to feel alarmed. My father-in-law spoke to another guest at the resort who was sure the closure was oil-related — yet I am certain it was because of the weather.

Which is not to say that there was no oil. There’s a persistent trough of foam that develops between the first and second set of breaks. My mother-in-law said she thought it looked funny, sort of discolored, toward the later half of our stay, and she suspected it was because of oil. I was skeptical, but when Daisy arrived she said the same thing, and she’s a geologist after all. So who knows, maybe there was something to that.

And as far as I know you can’t see dispersant, and no one is testing for it, and no one really knows how dangerous it might be to humans. But that Corexit stuff BP was using was banned in the UK.

All of which gets back to my original point about the difficulty of getting truly reliable information about what’s going on out there. We can only make good decisions if we have good information, but there’s very few sources that I trust anymore.

Up in the Air

Post Protest

Despite the rain, hundreds of people turned out for the protest yesterday, so many I couldn’t fit them all even in this wide panoramic shot.

Protest Panorama

View full size for maximum impact. Be prepared to scroll horizontally. I posted a set of twenty photos in all. (Of course, Derek has a set that’s twice as big and twice as good, so check it out.)

It was a good turnout, despite the weather. In fact the rain kept me stranded at home and I missed the first hour or so. (Bike was my only available means of transport and I just don’t like getting wet.) So I arrived late and missed seeing my friend John Clark speak. I arrived to hear the latter part of Ian Hoch’s speech, which was excellent. (Levees Not War calls it “the hottest and most articulate rant.”) There’s a video clip of the whole speech. I extracted the audio so you can just listen if that’s more your speed.

There were perhaps a thousand people in attendance, yet I found myself reflecting how in some countries, thousands of people would be marching in the streets every day raising a ruckus. Why are we so complacent here? Is it because of our affluence? No — the Nordic countries have an even higher standard of living, but they’ll take to the streets at the drop of a hat. (Or so it seemed to me when I lived there.) And in poorer countries too people seem to have a greater propensity to express their collective displeasure. So what’s our problem?

It’s extremely hard to organize something like this, so hats off to the organizers for pulling it together. There were a few awkward moments, but generally I thought it went pretty well. The last speaker had the megaphone yanked from his hand, apparently for saying a “militant response” was required. This was to be a peaceful protest, you see. But I think that’s another indication of our general timidity. I mean, the guy said “militant response,” not “military response.” Militant does not necessarily mean violent. They should have let him speak.

A much uglier confrontation happened right in front of me. There was this long-haired Latino dude who seemed to inebriated or otherwise slightly incoherent. He was shouting things at odd moments and being a bit of a nuisance but not hurting anyone. He shouted something about the Gulf of Mexico and a man standing directly in front of me said, sarcastically, “Why don’t you go back to Mexico?” It could have gotten real ugly real quick but some women got between them and demanded the white guy say sorry. “That’s racist!” He didn’t want to apologize, so he and his entourage departed. I think they were tourists who just happened to be passing by and got caught up in the event.

Protest

I haven’t been to a protest for a while. Think I’ll make this one.

Protest

BP Oil Flood Protest
Sunday, May 30, 2010
1:00pm – 7:30pm
Jackson Square, French Quarter, New Orleans

Join us on SUNDAY, MAY 30th at 1 PM in Jackson Square, New Orleans, to demand the Federal Government and BP devote all possible available resources to stopping the continued outpouring of crude oil into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico NOW!

Calling for volunteers to help in organization of event; distributing fliers, contacting media, and phone campaign. If you are interested in helping, please send contact info to : [email protected]

NEED PUBLIC SPEAKERS with knowledge about about the situation. Please email [email protected] with short description of your area of expertise, affiliation.

Thanks!! Please remember, this is a peaceful protest! Please, if you feel you cannot abide by that, Do Not Come!

I’m not on the inside loop for this. I don’t know who’s organizing it or anything, really beyond what I’ve posted here. A website has been mounted at murderedgulf.wordpress.com but it doesn’t have a whole lot more detail at present.

I believe massive protests are in order whenever massive institutions screw up in massive ways. People are outraged and that needs to be expressed. Whenever something like this is organized, I’ve noted a lot of people feel compelled to express their skepticism about the efficacy of such protests. On Facebook, a friend of mine noted that “unfocused rage never solved anything.” I agree with that. However, the rage is already there, and public actions such as a protest rally can serve to give that anger a focus that it might otherwise lack. If we don’t come together, we tend to feel isolated and weak. A well-organized protest can empower people and help them make new connections. I don’t know if this protest will qualify as “well-organized” but the potential is there.

Still not convinced? Look at these pictures. Now tell me, when historians write about this chapter in our history, do you want the story to be that “no one protested”?

Dark Cloud of Oil

I hesitate to write much about the oil apocalypse in the Gulf, because it’s complicated and technical and I don’t want to be perceived as setting myself up as some sort of self-styled expert. That would be foolish. All I know is what I read in the papers and online. (Mainstream press coverage is bleak enough, but you don’t have to venture too far afield to find extremely divergent accounts, which is a fascinating phenomenon in its own right.) But this story dominates the local headlines, and the smell of petrochemicals fills the air, so it’s impossible not to think about what’s happening.

After all the harrowing events surrounding the hurricanes of 2005 and the subsequent struggle to rebuild, this feels like a massive kick in the crotch. I can only imagine what it feels like for people who live closer to the coast. In New Orleans, it was just a few months ago that we felt maybe we were starting to get it together. We elected a new administration, our team won the Superbowl, and HBO premiered a new TV show about our city. There was a pervasive sense of optimism, an idea that maybe the promise of recovery might be realized, that maybe we can do this despite all the challenges.

It almost seems like we were getting a little too uppity. Like we had to be taken down a peg. Like we had to be reminded of our rightful place in the scheme of things. I know that’s absurd, but it has sometimes felt that way to me — as if we are being punished for daring to hope that we were on the right track.

Meanwhile we continue to go through the motions of everyday life as if everything is OK.

There’s plenty of anti-BP sentiment around, but I’ve been surprised to see a number of people scoff at the notion of a boycott. To me it just seems like a given that when a massive company screws up so badly that a widespread citizen boycott should be organized. There should be an price to pay for bad behavior. Unfortunately consumers in the US don’t seem to think that way. Most people don’t seem to put much thought into where their money goes. But I’m baffled by thoughtful people who don’t see the value of a boycott.

Another response I’ve seen is to point the finger of blame at us, the consumers who desire cheap gas and petrochemical products. I suppose there might be some value in that criticism, but I wonder. Those who are receptive to the criticism are probably already acting on it. Those who need to hear this message the most are probably the most impervious. Many of us are already making efforts to reduce our consumption, but that’s only going to get us so far. As much as I’d like to see a revolution in consciousness spontaneously lead to more ecologically harmonious living across the board, I don’t envision that happening any time soon. Other measures are needed. For example, I’m convinced we won’t significantly reduce consumption of disposable grocery bags until stores stop giving them away. Criticizing the American consumer might be counter-productive if it draws focus away from BP’s malfeasance and from finding real solutions.

I asked Xy what she’d think if the price of gas went up to $10 a gallon. She said that would probably be all for the best.

It’s hard not to be extremely depressed about this catastrophe that’s unfolding in slow motion, but I feel a tiny bit better having expressed some of these thoughts.