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The BP Oil Spill: Time to Get Unreasonable

Shrimper Diane Wilson might be going to jail for her high-profile protests against BP. Why is she so sure it’s worth it?

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Brooke: What actions have you taken since the spill began, to keep the spotlight on?

Diane: People have a shield that protects them from bad news. It just kind of slides off, so you have to be very creative to break through. So one of our actions was inspired by women in Nigeria, who protested pollution from oil companies by taking off their clothes. I was amazed how much they accomplished nonviolently by pushing the comfort zone. So we went to BP’s control center in Houston, nude, and demanded “the naked truth” about oil. A lot of people said, "Oh no, you can't do something like that in Houston. It’s the Bible Belt; the media will not come.” But they did, and the protest got a lot of press. We also had people come dressed as fishermen, as mermaids, as BP workers. A fisherman in Sargent, Texas brought probably 100 pounds of dead fish and a pile of shrimp nets. We poured fake oil over everybody.

Later I decided to go to Washington, D.C., because that’s where the hearings were happening.  I got some Karo syrup, the syrup they make pecan pies with in Texas, and security let me in with this half a gallon of goo labeled “oil” on the side. I waited for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, from Alaska, to start talking. She should know the cost of an oil spill, from the Exxon Valdez; she should know the value of fishermen and wilderness. Yet she was the senator who was blocking the vote to lift the liability cap for BP. So I just stood up and started yelling. I said that I was from the Gulf and we are sick and tired of being dumped on. I poured oil all over myself. At one point they were going to charge me for assault for getting syrup on the guard. They said it was the messiest protest they had ever had.

Then I heard that [BP CEO] Tony Hayward was going to testify. By this time I had Capitol cops following me everywhere, asking to see what was in my bag. I got to the Capitol at 10 o’clock the night before, and waited all night. They only let five people in—they were very, very nervous about anything happening. They wouldn’t let in any signs or anything that looked like it might be used in a demonstration, but they didn’t find the tube of paint I had in my pocket. When no one was looking I smeared it on my hands and face, and then I started yelling at Tony—I kept calling him Tony—that he ought to go to jail.

So I was arrested in one week on two different charges of unlawful conduct and resisting arrest. I’ve had to go to court twice already. At this point I'm probably looking at about 2 years.

Brooke: If you end up going to jail, will it be worth it?

Diane: Oh, yes. I've been to jail before. I did an action regarding Bhopal: I scaled a chemical tower and breached security and trespassed—I got 180 days in jail.

With these BP actions I had no idea what I would accomplish, but I felt I had to do something. I felt so much anger and rage about what was going on, especially because they were lying about it. Somehow Tony Hayward represented everything that I felt was being killed out there on the bay. Everybody calls this an accident, but it was inevitable—you take that kind of risk, and it will eventually come down to this.

 
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