Two Years After the Gulf Oil Spill, a Community Comes Together

Written by Cherri Foytlin, an oil worker’s wife, mother of six, Louisiana resident, and journalist whose family has been deeply impacted by the BP Oil Disaster. She co-founded Gulf Change, a citizen’s action coalition, blogs for Bridge the Gulf Project, and walked to Washington D.C. from New Orleans to call for justice for those who continue to suffer from the BP Deepwater Drilling Disaster. This dispatch is cross-posted from www.BridgeTheGulfProject.org.

The second anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster has come and gone. It was awesome to see events held in every Gulf state in commemoration — so many good people coming together to pay their respects to the 11 fallen, and to stand up for our people, wetlands, fisheries, beaches, and sea life.
 
I don’t know how it feels for everyone else, but for me the days between April 20 and Earth Day, April 22, seem to be bittersweet. My emotions tend to run the contradictory gamut of remembering, in slideshow form, all the loss from and since the spill – and with that the all too familiar feeling of bereavement, and an appreciation of the historic example of relentless survival and hope that we as a region have collectively given to the nation. Either way my eyes tend to dampen. Have longer years ever existed?
 
To me, the most pivotal part of the weekend’s activities came during a town hall meeting held at the First Universalist Unitarian Church in New Orleans. There people came from several Gulf states to learn breaking information from our more seasoned vets and local experts, to share with each other the needs of our diverse communities and most importantly, I think, to chronicle our battle scars.
 
I wholly consider the crux of the Gulf Coast movement for truth to be encompassed in the stories of those to who have been affected. Additionally, as I have repeatedly been told — through under-the-table whispers by people within state and federal agencies and in late night hotel room strategy sessions with environmental and social justice “elders” — placing those stories in the court of public opinion is the only way to achieve justice.
 
That was the great gift the Gulf received this anniversary. More than a smidgen of fact-based evidence and anecdotal veracity finally made its way to the world-wide communal vision — known to us as the media. During the two weeks prior to the 2012 memorial, real Gulf issues finally stuck in the spider web of public perception surrounding this disaster. Local, national, and global media covering the disaster and its aftermath began to surface — on mutations in Gulf seafood, the lack of proper spill response or legislative action, the lack of balanced payouts by the Gulf Coast Claims facility, deadly bacteria found in tarballs, the spill’s ongoing effect on wildlife, the use and consequences of chemical dispersants, heavy metals found in oysters, the human health crisis, the ongoing struggles of commercial fishermen, and the purveyance of truth by Gulf leaders.
 
That truth is largely thanks to the great work of our coastal brothers Bryan Parras and Derrick Evans, who traveled more than 5,000 miles across the big pond to make a stand at the BP shareholder meeting. Side by side they stood, along with representatives from communities around the world who have suffered at the hands of this unethical and deceptive corporation.
 
Yet, the increased visibility of this disaster and our region is thanks to every one of the citizen guardians who have been tirelessly investing their time, resources, and courage to bird-dog the continually devastating effects of the disaster on our people and ecosystems. Through their authentic voices and that of the many powerful and unyielding non-profit and citizens initiatives, we have made substantial gains in the defense of the Gulf Coast.
 
I wish there was space and time to note all the amazing work that has gone into this effort. To note just a few: the Louisiana Environmental Action Network’s human health report and sea foam testing, the ecosystem overview provided by the National Wildlife Federation, the Gulf Restoration Network’s undaunted outreach, and the outstanding citizen’s report by the Institute for Southern Studies, in collaboration with Bridge the Gulf and the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade, the Alabama Oil Spill Aftermath Coalition, Gulf Change, the Gulf Future Coalition, Galveston Baykeeper, Turtle Women Rising, the community of Grand Isle, Mobile Baykeeper, the Barataria Terrebone National Estuaries Program and many more have also done great and tireless work.
 
To everyone who has worked on this issue: nothing compares to your commitment to shine a light on the cacophony of BP-funded disinformation, to fight with conviction the denial of rectitude, and to stand in opposition to the profit-based, completely fictional miracle epilogue presented to the American public. Heck, the fact that human health has had any role at all in settlement discussions serves as a significant grassroots victory. 
 
For the moment, I ask that you take note of all that we have accomplished and share our story widely. I assure you that BP has taken note as well — though I doubt they knew what hit them. Now is the time to keep the blows sharp and coming! Through the work of advocates across the globe, we are connecting with communities similarly affected by BP’s actions, including tar sands production, refinery worker deaths, and other oil spill tragedies. As we grow our network to support and amplify these united voices, please help us by voting for BP as the Greenwash Gold winner (for their bought-and-paid-for title of Sustainability Partner of the 2012 Olympics).
 
If we as a people can embody the need for corporate conscience in our fight against BP, then surely the repercussions will be farther reaching than we may ever be able to record. You are significant to this fight. You are valuable to this planet. You are powerful in spirit, and courageous in conviction. And you are so very appreciated by the millions of people still suffering as a result of this disaster.
  • The People’s Climate March was INCREDIBLE. Check out the photos and more at peoplesclimate.org

  • People’s Climate photos pouring in from around the world — check out the growing photo galleries here.

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