I spent last Monday touring part of Louisiana coast, talking with media covering the BP oil spill, and meeting with fishermen struggling to weather the worst imaginable storm of their lives. It was a sobering time.
The whole Gulf Coast seemed to be holding its breath, waiting for the oil to hit the beach.
Volunteers who drove the 2 hours from New Orleans to Venice to help clean off the birds and wildlife were waiting for the wildlife to come in covered in crude. However, their help had not yet been needed. That day will come all too soon, and we are already seeing the impact of the disaster with reports of dead sea turtles, fish and dolphins - lost due to the spill starting to appear along the coast.
At the Venice marina, we found press waiting around for the latest news on the spill.
Expressing their frustration, they shared disturbing accounts of being kept out of areas of the Gulf most impacted by the spill. As if BP, Halliburton, and the other drilling contractors wanted to prevent them from documenting the disastrous impact of what is already the worst oil spill in US history.
The reporters said it was BP officials holding them back. They said the booms were failing, with the waves and oil splashing right over them.
There were only two restaurants open for lunch, and the Riverside Cafe we went to had an hour wait for anything cooked given they were over run with customers. We wanted to taste the crab patties to taste and support the local fare, but instead we asked for the special: red beans and rice, and got out in 30 minutes.
Why so crowded? The mini business boom due to the influx of media, nonprofit staff, government representatives, and BP executives were of little solace to the wait staff at the Cafe. Rather, they were grieving the loss of the livelihood of their family members, friends, and neighbors.
This sentiment punctuated what was becoming obvious - the impact of the spill was playing out in slow motion for the media and those concerned with the wildlife, but the impact was already jarring to the fishing community. They could not go out and fish. Some stated they were working for BP to help respond to the spill (apparently no longer required to sign documents waiving their future rights to sue for restoration) to keep busy as much to make money.
To document the voices of the fishermen, we sent a video crew the week before out to nearby Shell Beach. As Robert Campo - a sun-burned fourth generation fisherman from Shell Beach, Louisiana -- attests in the video, "I don't have Type A blood, I got Type Salt Water."
What these men do, it's not a job, it's a way of life. But what will they do now that an oil spill has come along that is going to make Hurricane Katrina look like a drop in the bucket? "Spill." What a deceptively harmless word.
The fishermen in Venice, Louisiana -- like Shell Beach's Campo -- were in shock, and anger. Their lives and often multi-generational livelihoods are at risk. As one fishermen stated about watching the spill unfold as he talked to media, "It's like having a knife to your throat, and it is slowly moving across."
The testimony of BP, Transocean and Halliburton executives this week seemed to affirm what we all we worried would happen: BP would abdicate responsibility, and they would all point their finger at others. It is clear, the industry needs greater regulation from the federal government. We also need an agency - not just separated from those that approve leases, but perhaps in the Department of Justice, or EPA -- who has the power to inspect the rigs, and enforce the regulations.
The outrage -- the public's, the media's and Washington's -- is perhaps muted by the slow moving disaster, and the lack of jarring images, but the impact on the lives of the fishing communities is real, and represents an urgent need.
This Sunday, May 16, Global Green is joining with the Commercial Fishermen Association and other groups to help mothers and their families on the Gulf Coast. The shrimping and fishing communities at Grand Isle, Louisiana will send a giant human text message to BP, federal government, and the country in response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Supporters from New Orleans will join in a community barbecue, and help provide food for families in need.
The event is a call to action for a full clean up of the spill, restitution for lost jobs and income, and accelerated efforts towards green energy and green jobs. The event will culminate in a large-scale aerial photograph - choreographed by aerial artist John Quigley -- of hundreds of participants delivering the text message with their bodies.
This is just a small beginning, but if you want to volunteer to go down and help on Sunday, click here to learn more. Click here if you want to donate to support Global Green's efforts in the coming weeks and months.
No one should experience what residents of the Gulf -- and our ecosystems -- are feeling.
Also posted on Matt Petersen's Huffington Post blog