Dow Action Diary: Demonstration at Dow

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.

Day 29

The entire way to Seadrift, the Texas sky was surreal, a dense weave of rain clouds pressing down from above. The great dark threat ran horizon to horizon, sandwiching in a horizontal sliver of visible air. Occasionally it misted for a few minutes, and then she really let loose as I neared the coast. Great sheets of water, wipers sloughing it off at highest speed, trucks tearing by the other way, threatening to wash me off the road. A tumultuous arrival in Seadrift, an UnReasonable welcome, and I arrived wet, warm and wondering.

At Michael's house, Jodie called, and we went over the letter and the plans for the action on Aug. 15. All reached agreement on a design for our media event: Kinnu would open, speaking about Bhopal, followed by Rahul Mahajan, the Green Party candidate for Governor of Texas. Diane would follow him, and would talk about why she'd started the strike, drawing the connections between Bhopal and Seadrift. Then she'd segue into what we can each/all do about it, and read her letter to the CEO of Dow.

Afterward, since the test results from the first air sample were coming in, we planned to have Michael hold up the bucket, and say a few words about what they revealed. There was general agreement about not needing a moderator, and it had been determined that Diane wasn't up for doing a skit. We were still uncertain whether Diane would choose to be arrested or not.

Finally, after many rounds of edits, the letter was done. Kinnu, Colette and I reviewed the materials Kinnu had brought for press kits, making lists of what materials still needed to be downloaded, created, formatted, copied and assembled. Kinnu had brought wonderful posters from the Bhopal website, which we adapted into covers for the press kit folders. We knocked off around 2am, exhausted but happy that the materials were coming together well, and anticipating finishing it up without pressure the next morning.

Day 30: The Action at Dow

The heat and humidity are gathering strong, and I feel both physically groggy from the climate and inwardly alert, attuned to having all sensors fully engaged for the day.

Woke about 6am, to join Colette in meeting Diane at Dow. Pulling up, I've never seen Diane looking more beautiful. Her focus was clear, attention acutely present, as she told us she'd decided to go ahead and get arrested today. Radiant and slinky, wearing skinny jeans and great silver and turquoise earrings, Sophia was all present and accounted for. Dragged the sopping featherbed and sleeping back to the hood of the truck to dry, set up the tarp (beautifully designed system, whoever crafted it), and hung the banners at the side.

Hunkered with Diane a bit longer, sharing the bottled water I'd brought from Kenny and my well, the orange herbal mist for her face, the books I'd gathered for her library. We watched the sheriff drive back and forth, slowly, a few times, clearly checking out any and all of the scene.

I assured Diane that she'd set something very large in motion, and that her actions today, if she chose not to be arrested, would not jeopardize the work going forward.

Returning, I found Michael's printer on the fritz, and a bit of a frenzy as we scanned for how to find a printable computer, get our missing documents, and get them copied and assembled in time. A few hours and gray hairs later, we all convened in front of Dow, around 1pm.

As I drove up, I saw that Dow had set their trains up to block our view of the factory. The man who said he'd helped to build Dow -- been poisoned by their chemicals and wishes now he'd sued them -- carrying his own signs.

There were four or five Indian students, with beautiful and earnest faces, who joined Kinnu and accepted the responsibility for taking some pictures. Martha Claire had rallied a couple of radical older women from Corpus Christi to come, and Diane's family showed up in full force.

I realized, through my body, the devastation that's being wrought by those chemical companies clustered in Calhoun County, and the opportunity we could have there, for huge ecological and social and human health impacts. I saw the vision of a future action we could mount there, one with adequate planning and implementation time. I thrilled at anticipating the pressure we could bring to bear, and the likely outcome of getting them ALL to sign zero discharge agreements.

I also recognized how Bhopal's tragedy, and the linkages to what's happening here, is so perfect a launching place for this group of UnReasonable Women. I look forward to our further work with Kinnu and the people working for Bhopal, and am hopeful, in the longer term, toward achieving resolution for this with Dow, while educating millions
about their poison and pain being ours as well.

Diane has decided not to be arrested today, and that she will be breaking her fast. She grins at the thought of a pizza, her favorite kind, with the rising crust.

Diane's family had set up a white pop-up for the speeches, and we'd hung it with a great Dow banner for the background, and two brooms criss-crossed above. The three speakers got ready, and Caroline and I wound up crouched by their sides, holding microphones and a battery-powered PA system up to catch the sound.

We begin the press event, and Kinnu spoke of meeting young women in Bhopal, and the pain and shame of their menstrual irregularities. A young woman engaged to be married, she said, who has never had a period and may never conceive, is seen as quite worthless in India. She described the plight of the people there, and explained how little care or attention they've received. She told of the abandoned factory, and the toxicity that remains leaching into their water today. She introduced Rahul Mahajan, Green party gubernatorial candidate for the state of Texas.

Rahul spoke eloquently about the need for Dow to take corporate responsibility. He alluded to the abuses of Enron and Worldcom, and noted the pending court case to determine the charge against Warren Anderson, the then CEO of Union Carbide. He spoke of the financial settlement that UCC had made, and explained that the amount was adequate to purchase a cup of tea a day, but could not possibly cover health care.

Then, Rahul spoke of the ecological and human health concerns associated with the industrial pollutants being expelled by Dow in both places. He drew them together quite seamlessly, and spoke to the environmental, health and social costs of irresponsible corporate behavior. He was articulate and concise and made the linkage quite beautifully between Bhopal and Seadrift.

Lastly, Diane took her turn, her husky voice clear in its purpose and intent. She told of visiting Bhopal, and the devastation she'd seen there. She spoke about the life of Galveston Bay, of dolphin die-offs and slime growing in the canals. She told of folks getting sick, and of witnessing the company's spills and air-born emissions. She spoke about the availability of zero discharge, and about the numbers of people joining this cause, across the land. Then she read her letter to Warren Anderson aloud and the crowd cheered.

I met two of Diane's longtime friends and allies in this work, from PACE, the union that's combined the paper workers with oil, chemical and atomic workers, a union that's been highly supportive of her work for many years, bringing her in to speak at their annual convention in the past.

These guys drove three hours down from Houston, through that flood, and hadn't even wanted to speak "on the record." They were there, they said, to show their commitment to Diane's work, and to proclaim their solidarity. It was fine, they felt (though of course we'd have to run anything by them, first) to mention the union in connection with their support of her work.

Five of us walked into Dow with Diane, to deliver the letter. Kathy Hunt was sitting on the benches outside, waiting for us, in the brutal sun. She stood to meet us halfway, received the letter awkwardly, as the radio reporter recorded the exchange. Asked who we all were (those she didn't know). Said she'd forward it to Michigan for review. Kinnu gave her a couple of brooms, as a gift from the people of Bhopal, and we left.

I leave tomorrow back to New Mexico. Bioneers has already been greatly affected by Diane, again I feel her affects and the depth of her love and commitment to the planet and her people.

Nina Simons is an UnReasonable Woman and Executive Director of the Bioneers Conference.

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