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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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For decades, Diane Wilson—a fourth-generation shrimper from Seadrift, Texas, a town roughly in the center of Texas’ Gulf coast—has been fighting to clean up the messes of the oil and petrochemical industries. First it was the chemicals pumped into a local bay by a plastics factory, then the Dow Chemical Company’s refusal to compensate the victims of the Bhopal disaster, then the Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq in what she believes was a war for oil.

Many protests and hunger strikes later, that plastics factory signed a zero discharge agreement. The anti-war group that Wilson helped found, Code Pink, has become a prominent national voice for peace. So it’s no wonder that Wilson is someone who believes in the power of protest—or that, when millions of gallons of oil started gushing into the waters she’d trolled since childhood, her anger turned into action.

That action has made national headlines and gotten Wilson dragged out of more than one Congressional hearing. On August 20, she’ll find out if it will land her in jail for two years. But for Wilson, who’s fond of saying that she’s “nobody particular,” there’s nothing exceptional or complicated about what she’s doing. “There comes a time,” she wrote, “when the home needs protecting and the line needs drawing and anybody that dares cross it acts at their own peril.”


Brooke Jarvis: People around the world have been horrified by this catastrophe. What has it been like for you and your neighbors in Seadrift?

Diane Wilson: It was almost like seeing your own death. You cannot imagine it, but it appears to be happening. I think many people thought they really might see the end of the whole Gulf, just filling up like a river of oil, just wiping out everything. People are very, very upset about it. They don’t know what to do, because what is there to do? They can't leave. Down here you are the 4th, 5th generation fishing or shrimping the same waters. You have a sense of place, and your identity is the place. I've been down here through I can't tell you how many hurricanes, and people don't leave even when they know a storm’s coming.

Brooke: The big news this week is the cap on the BP oil pipe. When the oil spill is finally stopped, are you worried that it will be forgotten—that there will be a feeling that the problem is solved and we can return to business as usual?

Diane: I worry a lot about that. I've been involved in environmental struggles on the Gulf Coast for 20 years, and I’ve seen how quickly we can forget. I was involved in the Bhopal struggle, which is basically about the problem of forgetting—after 25 years and 20,000 deaths, it’s not solved but it’s not in the news, either. And in Alaska, it’s been 20 years since the Exxon Valdez, and they only ever recovered 8 percent of the oil.

I know how fickle media is. I've been trying to get stories out about oil for 20 years. I've talked with agencies, I've talked with politicians, and wouldn’t get any response. I started to feel like maybe there was something the matter with me, maybe what I was horrified about wasn't so awful, so at times I really questioned myself. Then when we had this awful spill, suddenly almost those very same agencies and people were acting like it horrified them and they were immediately going to take action.

I know how the spotlight will change how people react, and I know how easily it goes away. We get bored very easily. I’m afraid that with even the littlest excuse, we will want to move on—people feel relieved to move away from this unpleasantness and from thinking about the big changes we need in this country. A lot of people would rather it just go away.

 
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