In my blog title, Embracing Community is highlighted and is a major part of what I do. Whether it’s online community or physical community – the idea is the same. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has had a major impact on me and I have been on a mission to organize an expedition down to the Gulf to document and bring back stories of the communities and the people impacted, while using social media to propel the message far and wide. If you are not interested in hearing this perspective or would prefer not to get into the touchy subject of oil addiction, feel free to stop reading now. But if you want to hear my perspective on the subject, by all means stick around. I feel that it is my calling to spread this word, and I’ve made it a priority in my life and in my work.
I drove down to the Gulf this past Saturday to see for myself what was going on. I must say, it was very different than anything I was expecting. I didn’t go out on the water and didn’t see any oil firsthand, although there was definitely evidence of the disaster all around. With Tropical Storm Bonnie approaching, the people down there got pretty nervous – mainly because of their experience with Katrina. That came up several times in my talks with the locals. I talked with a homeless man Gary out on the beach at Biloxi – he had ridden Greyhound down from Wisconsin with his bicycle to look for cleanup work. By the time he got there, there were no jobs left. He was riding his bicycle from New Orleans to Florida in search of work. He was happy to have someone to talk to though, so I hung out with him for a while.
I kept driving and pulled off at Bay St. Louis and talked to another homeless man that was ranting and raving about all kinds of stuff and how our country was on the wrong track. I took several pictures around the area – there was orange and yellow boom all over the place, and families and kids were in the water right beside it. It was so bizarre to me – it just didn’t look right. The water was very calm, which seemed strange to me since there was a tropical system offshore.
I drove through the Mississippi bayou and ran across a place called Turtle Landing in Pearlington. The sign outside got me to turn the car around and go back. I went to take a picture and knew that I had to go inside. I sat down at the bar and ordered a beer and a Po’ Boy. I started talking with the guy next to me at the bar and ended up staying for 4 hours just listening to him. He is a school teacher in Slidell and a Katrina survivor. He was telling me the stories of what they went through, which was pretty potent I must say. The people down there are pretty beaten down by it all and are fed up with the government to put it mildly. The handling of Katrina and now the response to the BP spill have them really exasperated by the situation. They don’t understand the moratorium at all – I heard it over and over again. The industry is such a huge part of the economy there, and they just can’t comprehend how we can shut down all drilling indefinitely.
On Sunday after talking with Glenda at the Olde Town Inn I stayed in Saturday night in New Orleans, I decided to drive down to Venice, LA for one more trip to the water before heading home. Glenda was pretty vocal when I asked her about the oil spill and how they had been affected. The first thing out of her mouth was ‘Oh, bullshit!” She went on a rant about how there is nothing to be worried about in terms of health impacts of the oil. She went on to tell me how her father had worked in the Texas oil fields and never had health problems. She did eventually say that the dispersants were another story and there might be some concerns there. It appeared that New Orleans was alive and well, and there was no evidence that tourism had been adversely affected by the spill, which Glenda confirmed.
Anyway, Venice is about 2 hours south of New Orleans, and when you get down there, it’s basically the belly of the beast. Oil company plants, heliports to transport workers out to the rigs, and other evidence of the pervasiveness of the industry on the local economy is everywhere. I went down to the marina and talked with a couple of fishermen. There was very little activity around the marina – all of the ships had come back into port in preparation of the storm that ended up fizzling out on Saturday. They were getting ready to head back out on Monday to see what had happened over the weekend with the storm. Of course, their main concern was not being able to fish, and they were really nervous about the impact of the dispersant on the fish population. They didn’t expect to be able to fish for at least a year. The guys I talked to were being taken care of financially and were doing cleanup work for BP. One of the guys I talked to though said that there were about 60,000 boats available, but only 40,000 were being used in the cleanup effort. He said some people didn’t get picked – not sure how that is being handled and if those people are just out of luck.
The oil had not made it to Venice – evidently a lot of it was in the Grand Isle area. I didn’t visit Grand Isle on this trip, but definitely plan to when I go back down in August. By mid-afternoon on Sunday, I decided to head back to Atlanta and continue planning the trip later in August. I felt that I had enough information to understand how our expedition could be structured to have the most impact here in Atlanta and beyond.
Several people asked me why I came down and what I was doing there. Honestly, I was there because I care. I care about what is happening down there. I care about the people who have been impacted. I care about the environment and the animals that have been impacted. I care about our future and can’t stand the thought of this type of thing happening again. Most of all, I believe that we are all in this together – we are each a part of a larger community and we can all play a part in moving beyond this disaster.
Stay tuned for the follow-up expedition back to the region. If you’re interested in learning more or getting involved, please drop me a line and let me know. Thanks for being here – I appreciate it very much!