Dow Action Diary: Day 24

On July 17, activist Diane Wilson began a hunger strike in front of the gates of the Dow Chemical/Union Carbide corporation in Seadrift, Texas. She hopes to call attention to the plight of victims of 1984's industrial accident in Bhopal, India where, to date, Dow has still not cleaned up the derelict factory or adequately compensated the victims and survivors. Supporting Diane are Jodie Evans and other members of the group UnReasonable Women. What follows are excerpts from the daily emails Jodie and others send to the hundreds of supporters also on hunger strikes around the world in support of the victims of Bhopal.


This morning, I notice an article in the paper: the first settlement to a 9/11 victim of $1.04 million -- for pain, suffering, loss of potential. When we get to the plant at 7am, Diane runs to her purse and pulls out the same article.

"Did you see this? Amazing!" She tells me about a conversation she had with an engineer from the Dow plant who, when she pointed out the discrepancy between the amount of money accorded to an Indian and what would happen in the U.S., he said, "Well, our lives are worth more."

We both sit in silent outrage for a moment and then talk about power unchecked and the false perceptions it creates of value. Human life is human life.

We have a big discussion about numbers of those killed in Bhopal. There is confusion out there, we know. Many reports on the Internet say 2,000 killed (the official Dow sites, probably) and we have had questions about how many really have died. This needs to be cleared up, and Indra amazingly has sent an email with the accurate information in response to a question he received. Here it is now in shortened form:

"The estimates just published in The Times of India and other places are 3,500-7,000 dead in Bhopal. However, truer estimates took into account factors like the number of shrouds sold immediately following the leak (about 7,000) as well as eyewitness reports of mass graves in Bhopal and other cities (bodies often trucked out by government trucks) from people who often had worked to fill and unfill trucks loaded with bodies.

"At a minimum, we believe 8,000 people died immediately. Following that, estimates are that about 20-30 people have been dying every month since the tragedy from gas-related incidents. The total number estimated to have died since 1984 is 20,000-30,000. Reports from local area hospitals confirm that the incidences of respiratory and ocular diseases remain three to four times higher than in the unexposed population: people in Bhopal still have to drink contaminated water, breathe contaminated air. Estimates place the number of seriously ill in Bhopal at between 120,000-150,000.

"So a minimum of 20,000 dead since 1984 and still 120,000-150,000 injured. And the injured receiving $500 compensation, the dead some $1,200. And, we understand the families who had babies that died received nothing."

Diane looks incredible, rosy cheeked, full of vitality. A fine breeze is blowing, the sun still behind clouds, so it is gloriously pleasant for most of the morning after what I hear have been hot, hot days. Diane can't get over how good she is feeling: "I can go for 50 days and not notice it!"

She grimaces over the electrolytes and concoctions, but drinks anyway. "It must all be helpin' so I'll just keep doin' it. I just feel so good! I just have this huge surge of energy!" It's contagious, but I try to tell her too that we need her to conserve some of that energy. She knows, she hears -- and she still glows.

The plant is quiet, no smells, no smoke, no nothing. Diane says it's because of the spill, because of her, because of us. "Dow is jittery as hell," she says gleefully. "We're gonna have some fun here!" People are driving by, waving, even honking. "They're comin' around. They've just never seen such persistence, that's what it is!"

We start planning for the action. Jodie, Ginny, Caroline, Carolyn and everyone else have done so much, we're just trying to pick up the pieces that are left.

We start talking about the details of arrests. We need to know about bail, about what people can be arrested for, what medications people are on. Diane has spoken to one ACLU lawyer who she is less than thrilled with (and he, less than thrilled about being too involved). "He told my lawyer that he doesn't think I realize the seriousness of my actions," she says. "I mean, what is he talkin' about?"

We decide we need to know a lot more about the legal consequences. The ACLU lawyer has mentioned the charges of terrorism (trespassing on a chemical plant that makes chemicals for defense), and while he might be overreacting, I certainly know how the USA Patriot Act has been used since 9/11. We definitely need to look into this.

Also, because this is an action that will involve many non-U.S. citizens, I am anxious that those non-U.S. citizens do not get arrested as it can affect their immigration status. We need them, absolutely, and it will fit well with the idea of having some people who stay outside the plant and picket, and others who go inside for the sit-in.

We also decide we need to have a flyer to hand out to people, even email beforehand, that has some basic rules of participating in the action. Nonviolence at all costs, do not go past the security gate, only demonstrating with the group in front of the administration building, always be polite, if you are taken off for arrest, offer no resistance, if you are just pulled off, then come back quietly and gently.

Leaders, what about leaders of the group? I ask. Diane looks puzzled: "We don't have any leaders." But who will they follow? Who will know what to do? "Just leadership in that way," I reassure her, because it's clear (as she groans at me) that she's not comfortable about the formalization of any leadership. And we both know that the best actions are the actions where no leader can be identified.

Especially in Texas, it seems like it would be great to have some religious folks down here to sanctify the action. Diane jumps on it, picks up the phone and calls a few people. One possibility: a woman from the Southern Baptist convention out of Dallas; she's told by the person she is talking to that this woman is "straight as an arrow, but has a good heart." The list goes on, Jesse Jackson? What about public figures: Martin Sheen? Willie Nelson? We're havin' a whole lot of fun out there thinking up the possibilities!

A friend of Diane's, Kenny, stops by; he's the County Commissioner, but Diane used to babysit for him. He's getting some action going about the road being blocked, so Diane tries to draw his protesters into this action. She's also on the phone to her professor in Texas City to see if he can get some students to picket in front of the Dow plant there.

Lots of phone calls today, not many visits. "Kathy's nervous, that's for sure," Diane says, referring to the Dow PR person who has been making periodic visits out to the truck.

All the time, people are driving by and honking sometimes, waving, even a few thumbs up. Some look like they don't want to acknowledge us at all, but then this IS Texas and everyone is polite here so they wave scrumptiously back to us hoping no one will see.

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