Diane Wilson

EPA’s Scott Pruitt: The Great Disruptor

On January 17, a congressional hearing to confirm Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s chosen appointee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, was held in Washington, D.C. Now, anybody who knows anything about fracking or oil well drilling knows that wherever there’s a roomful of well-dressed executives, oil probably ain’t far behind. So, I figured there was going to be a lot of oil people in that room just listening to themselves talking to each other. I also thought they needed a little education from someone who knows a lot about oil from a somewhat different perspective: namely, me.   

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Why I Am on a Hunger Strike to Shut Down Guantanamo Bay Prison

As a fourth generation shrimper and an environmental activist on the Texas Gulf Coast, I have gone on hunger fasts to protect the seas that my community of fishermen depend upon. I know how far I would go to be heard. To have a voice. To push for justice. So I can vouch for the experts who say that the 100+ hunger strikes happening now in Guantanamo prison reflect the level of desperation and despair felt by the prisoners there. The detainees are screaming for justice from the outside world. And now they are being heard.

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A Prisoner's-Eye View of Harrowing Conditions in the Harris County, TX Jail

Editor's Note: CODEPINK co-founder Diane Wilson locked herself by the neck to an industrial truck hooked to a pumping station at the Valero refinery in the Manchester neighborhood of Houston to demand that Valero divest from the Keystone XL Pipeline.  Valero has committed to buy 75% of the oil pumped through Keystone and has been poisoning the community of Manchester for over 60 years.  She was immediately arrested and spent 5 days in the torturous and inhumane Harris County Jail where she began a hunger strike.  After her release last night she wrote about the heartbreaking situation in the jail:

The first time I was in the Harris County jail, Houston, Texas, I was in for five days.  I along with 40 fellow inmates was stacked into cold holding tanks for hours upon hours.  The room was so packed, that women were forced to sleep on cement floors strewn with trash and waste from backed-up toilets while guards showed up at periodic intervals yelling, “Pigs!” The cells were so cold that women wrapped their feet in plastic sandwich Baggies or toilet paper.  One woman shook violently from the cold until finally, not being able to stand it, she went to the overflowing trash can and jerked out the liner and stuck her entire body in the trash liner. As always, the guards will tell you the reason it is so cold is because of the germs.  I guess that’s the reason for the overflowing trash cans, stopped up toilets, trash everywhere, and filthy toilets.

We were eventually shuffled into the uniform room where we were forced to strip our clothes, parade in our panties, then spread-eagle, naked against the wall. Then we were told to show our most private areas to the guard.  I was so upset by this that the guard could clearly see the anger on my face.  The guard seemed to delight in this affecting me and targeted me more.  It was the most humiliating and disturbing experience of my life.  I might mention that these women forced to do this sadistic action were mostly picked up for traffic violations, missing court dates, prostitution, and one woman for not paying her library fine! All of us hadn’t even been in front of a judge, seen a lawyer, and some didn’t even know what they were being charged with.  Yet we were being treated like the scum of the earth!

After the strip torture, 70 of us were packed into a 10- x 20-foot holding cell for over an hour. A male guard occasionally opened the door and called us “stupid bitches!” because the noise was loud.  Five days later I was transferred to Victoria County jail, where I was kept in a freezing holding tank for over six hours, then put into the cell where I remained for my crime of activism. I had only one thin mat to sleep on a concrete floor. I was not given a blanket or sheet or any type of hygiene kit because I was told there were none available. I never received a blanket from the jail. After 3 days, an inmate who left the cell gave me her blanket. Three days later, I received a hygiene kit so I could finally brush my teeth and comb my hair. All prior requests for a towel or toothbrush were met with “Drop a form.”

My second experience with Harris County Jail was almost identical to the first.  For the 5 days I spent there, I didn’t receive water for three days.  Harris County does not hand out water.  They don’t believe in it. They hand out baloney sandwiches on white bread. Somebody obviously dumped Harris County Jail a warehouse of white bread.  The only water to be had is over a dirty metal toilet where there is a tiny spigot that hopefully works.  For three days, not one spigot worked.  I was on a hunger strike so no food and no water either.  
 
The overriding attitude of the guards is that you are stupid, worthless, and obviously deaf because every spoken word is a scream.  And if you dare raise an eyebrow you will get a burly sergeant in your face screaming that he doesn’t like you and he can send you to J pod which is very cold for a very long time and then he smiles and says that if he really takes a dislike to you that he will put you on the suicide cell with a paper gown and then you’ll really be cold.

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Why Being Pregnant in a Texas Lock-up Is a Living Hell

Being pregnant in a Texas lock up can be hell. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the practice of shackling women during childbirth and recovery is still done in some Texas jails even though the United States Bureau of Prisons has banned the practice. Texas jails are able to use restraints on women as a matter of course regardless of whether a woman has a history of violence (which only a minority have), regardless of whether she has every attempted escape (which few women have), and regardless of her state of consciousness. Hopefully, that will change with HB 3653 which, if signed by Governor Rick Perry when it hits his desk this month, will prohibit the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Youth Commission, and municipal and county jails from using restraints to control the movement of pregnant inmates in custody while the inmate is in labor or delivery, or recovery from delivery. The bill could take effect as early as September l.

A sister bill, HB 3654, requires county jails to have a plan for medical care of pregnant inmates in county jails as well as requiring administrators to include the number of pregnant women in their population reports. Presently there are NO numbers on pregnant inmates or the number of infants born in jail.  Also, under current law, there is no mandated medical care or nutritional supplements for pregnant inmates. Diana Claitor, executive director of Texas Jail Project who worked with Texas ACLU staffer Matt Simpson to create the initial drafts for both bills, said many people believe all of the above will occur automatically. But in her experience, unless there is a law on the books, it won’t be considered a priority or even considered at all.

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An Unreasonable Woman

Editor's Note: The following is excerpted from "An Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters, and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas," by Diane Wilson. Wilson, a fourth-generation shrimp boat captain, became an environmental activist after she discovered that her home of Calhoun County, Texas was the number one toxic polluter in the country. During her battle to stop Formosa Plastics from dumping in the bay, many of the plant's former workers sought her out to tell their stories.

The sick man said I was gonna have to come to see him instead of the other way around. It was getting worse and worse for him to go anywhere. He wanted to know if I needed any directions getting there, and I said no. I had been to Point Comfort before. 

So that was one reason I found his house so easy. The other reason was he lived right across the street from Formosa. Chairman Wang, visiting, probably could have seen us from his office window. There was a fairly new truck sitting in a tiny driveway, and I went around it to get to the door. The worker's gray, calm face stopped me. He leaned out and said, "Do you see my truck out there? It's for sale. You don't need a truck, do you?" 

No, I said. I didn't believe so. Then I came in and sat down in a small chair in a small house with wall-to-wall Christmas lights. I looked around, and he watched as I looked. "That's my wife's doin's," he said. "She'd never take 'em down if I left it up to her." 

I nodded my head and watched the lights smear like colored water on the ceiling. "Once," I said, "when it was Christmastime and I first got my driver's license, I drove around a big town for the first time and I ran every traffic light, thinking it was Christmas lights." 

"I can appreciate that," he said. "I come from a small town too. A traffic light wasn't in my vocabulary neither." Now, he said, sometimes he thought it all was just a bad dream. That somehow he would wake up and it would be nothing but a bad dream. Be back in his own bed in a small town.  "Now, I ain't nothing but sick all the time. I'm almost finished. I know it. I can't perform my craft anymore. I can't weld. I can't hold my arm up to burn a rod anymore. I have to use my other arm to hold it. My shoulders, my forearms, here. My knees. Everything. I got pains where pains ain't been invented yet." 

He said he had worked at Formosa for seven or eight years, and all the workers ever thought about was the future of that plant. They knew it was getting worse every day, and that was what worried him. They had two fellas that got hepatitis while working out there. Formosa blamed it on family history and needles and stuff. 

"Heck," he said. "I knew those fellas. I knew they didn't use needles. But that's what the Chairman would say. That's what the safety man over there would say. And you are fighting a losing battle trying to blame it on Formosa. Everything is negligence on the part of the hands. 

"Sometimes I got called out two or three times in the middle of the night, and the safety man, he wouldn't come out in the middle of the night. He would every once in a while, but most of the time he would just okay your permit over the phone to go do this hot work. Not even knowing if the line had been purged. If it was ready for you. 

"I would work thirty hours without a break. Go home. Rest a little bit. Go back out and do it again. And the whole time you are doing it, you are opening up reboilers. Exchangers. And they are never purged. As soon as you break a seal and pull it apart, you throw up. There were lots of times I would go home and wake up in the middle of the night and just throw up. Run chills. And just be sick. All the time from what I did that night. 

"One leak we had out there was this vessel. I couldn't believe it. They called me out. It was the middle of the night. I couldn't believe it. I just live across the street, so I got all the calls out. I am making eighty, ninety, a hundred hours a week. Year after year. So when I go in, I seen all the lights were flashing. I seen this cloud going north. That vessel had a real nice rust hole. Well, not rust. It was eat out from the chemical. But they didn't want to shut it down. And all I had was a slicker and a face shield to go get into that. I didn't have any kind of face mask, you know, any kind of breathing or fresh air or anything. I got soaked in it. It was EDC [ethylene dichloride]...."

He took his time talking like there was nothing left for him but a cold, clear morning and he had somebody's gray mare to ride him through it, if he wanted. He sat on the couch, his hands perfectly still over his belly, and two pink-and-white pompom pillows tucked behind his back. Ever' now and then he reached and pulled out a pillow and patted the yarn balls back in place, then tucked it back.  He said he didn't know what he wanted. Maybe make it so every man that worked in a chemical plant was told the truth and tested on a regular basis in the proper way. Maybe make it so a man didn't have to die just to go to work. He said it was probably too late for him. He thought it was. His wife couldn't bear to look at him. She couldn't sleep without tranquilizers. Gave up her sewing. Baking. He pulled the pillow out again, looked at it, then left it in his lap.

"This little thing here was the last thing she messed with. Said she wouldn't touch another one. Ain't no use, so what for? About the only thing left is those Christmas lights there."   

I never saw him again. He was in the hospital for the last three months of his life, unable to speak and eventually getting so he couldn't even nod his head. His wife went to the hospital every day, and they would write on a pad. The bad dream never quit for him; he never woke up from nothing. Then, at forty-two, he died and left behind a wife, a truck, and a houseful of Christmas lights across the street from Formosa. The company said his cancer was from nitrates. "Nitrates!" his wife said. "They asked me how much barbecue he ate." 

Reprinted with the permission of Chelsea Green Publishing Company.

An Invitation from Diane Wilson to Join Her Fight for the Victims of Bhopal

At midnight on December 2, 1984, deadly toxins leaked from a badly run Union Carbide (now wholly owned by Dow Chemicals) plant in Bhopal, engulfing half a million of India's poor in the world's worst-ever industrial disaster. In hours, a historic city became a gas chamber. As dawn broke, some 8,000 dead were strewn across the city's streets in postures of agony.

That was 18 years ago. You'd think that by now the survivors would have received proper medical care, that they'd have been adequately compensated for their loss and their suffering, that somebody would have had to answer in court for what was done to them.

On all counts, you'd be wrong.

Dow-Carbide, one of the world's largest corporations, forced a "settlement" with the Indian government that gave the survivors "compensation" of a maximum of $500 each -- many received less -- not even enough to cover the cost of simple medicines.

Thirty people still die every month from the effects of the gas. Meanwhile the drinking water of the very same communities that were hit in 1984 is being poisoned by cancer- and birth-defect causing chemicals that lie in the open in the derelict factory, or were dumped on waste ground by the company for up to 10 years after the accident.

On July 17, the Indian government applied to reduce charges against Warren Anderson, the Union Carbide CEO at the time of the disaster-the same man who has been refusing to answer the court's summons for 11 years. The court's judgment will be given on August 27. If the charges are diluted it will reduce the deaths of 20,000 people and the 18 years' suffering of the survivors to the status of a car accident and virtually end hopes of ever getting just compensation for the victims. On June 28, the victims began a hunger strike in India, which I joined July 17 to force Dow Chemicals to accept its liabilities for the Bhopal disaster. Hundreds around the world have joined me.

no moreHere are things you can do to join us:

1. Join me outside Dow Chemicals, Seadrift, Texas, on Aug. 15 at 1pm to demand Dow clean up its mess in Bhopal and Seadrift, bring your own broom. Contact kinnu@subvertisement.org for details and all press inquires.

2. On the morning of Aug. 14 hold a vigil and protest outside your nearest Indian embassy or consulate.

3. Call Dow headquarters in Michigan at (800) 232-2436 demanding that Dow accept its liabilities and clean up its mess in Bhopal.

4. Demonstrate outside your nearest Dow facility.

5. Join me in the worldwide hunger strike.

6. Sign the electronic petition addressed to the Indian government or raise your own and send to your nearest Indian embassy.

7. Alert your local media and pass this message on to your friends.

8. Contribute to fund the worldwide relay hunger strikes and ongoing action. In India contact admin@del3.vsnl.net.in for details of how to do this. In the U.S. contact Jodie.

9. Let us know what you are doing and if you are interested in joining any of the international actions. For more information, flyers, banners and answers to your questions go to bhopal.net.

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