Resilient to Resistant
If there was one word that I could remove whenever folks speak about the Gulf Coast region, it would be “resilient.” From my experience, resilient is what the government agencies use when they mean, “It’s okay to keep dumping on you all, you’re tough.” It is true, of course. By and large, we survive.
But surviving is just the bare minimum. It’s not our survive-ability, it’s our thrive-ability that is often left out of the conversation regarding Gulf communities.
“Resilient” is reactive. Personally, I’m tired of being forced to react to the next theft by the state or feds, the next shake-down, the next community displaced, the next hurricane, the next spill, the next child with asthma, or all too often, cancer.
We, the Gulf Coast, are some of the poorest states in the Union, despite enormous profits earned by corporations that often use us like a doormat for their offshore operations – a doormat that our so-called political representation is more than happy to lay out for them. These multinational companies pollute big, and it is often the most disadvantaged among us who bear the burden.
Toxins from many of their operations invade our systems. They contaminate our water, poison our air, and make the earth fall away beneath us. Our bodies are violated, and we forget what feeling well means. And when our bodies finally falter, and fail us in a potpourri of ways, we find our hospitals closed and Medicaid expansion monies left to rot like cabbage in a ditch.
On our tombstones they write “Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, Daughter, Cousin,… Resilient.”
It is time to chisel out a new story.
Building for Thriving
The pulse of resistance to the status quo – regular people organizing for a brighter future – has been brewing in the Gulf for decades. Environmental justice leaders in all five of the Gulf States – from Texas to Florida – have fought long, hard battles, often with little resources, capacity or support outside of the community. Sometimes they are victorious, and sometimes they are not, but I have yet to see one give up.
Last year marked the five year memorial of the BP Deepwater Horizon Drilling Disaster, the tenth memorial since Hurricane Katrina, and the fiftieth for Selma. These recognitions show the depth and length of struggles for Gulf Coast region. Our building movement, like that of the year-long initiative Gulf South Rising, is a continuation of the resistance organizing that we have been witnessing for half of a century and more.
March 23 marked a moment of deep power in this movement. For the first time in history, hundreds of people gathered at the Superdome in New Orleans to protest the lease sale of 43 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico for oil drilling.
Originally 40 participants went through a non-violent direct action training and had agreed to risk arrest in protection of our futures. Yet, on action day, hundreds boldly stormed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s auction and directly challenged the sale.
Even though a handful of SWAT-geared police officers entered the room, menacingly displaying human-sized zip ties, the people were not deterred. Authorities, auction staff, and bidders straining to hear above the chanting, were unable to dismiss our objections.
In the end, no arrests took place, and we had a revelation–the days of “business as usual,” in the Gulf Coast have come to an end.
The recent announcement by the Obama Administration to halt plans for offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean was a monumental step toward the protection of our planet. Yet the Arctic and the Gulf were again included in the draft five year plan for offshore drilling leases. Once again, our two regions are being forced to bleed at the altar of overconsumption and greed.
This is a sacrifice we refuse. Standing with our Arctic relatives, we are here to proclaim that there will be no more sacrifice zones. Government indifference to the people can no longer be accepted.
Now, it must be said, that birth is painful. And building towards a goal of this magnitude is no different. As we evolve in skill, grow in strength, and learn how to heal from our collective and individual injuries, hope is borne in every open heart. This does not mean, however, that it will be easy. There will be hard choices. There will be sweat, tears, anger, sadness, and mistakes – and someday, there will be victory too. That is where our eyes must remain.
March 23 was a key moment where we expressed the demand to create that vision of a just world. Building upon it, and our powerful history, we will continue to create opportunity for a just transition away from fossil fuels, toward an equitable and healthy future for all the people of the Gulf Coast.
And now, along with our national allies, we are standing up to continue the call to reclaim the Gulf.
The five year plan would lock the United States and the Gulf into generations of servitude to big oil. If plans go through, nearly every parcel of offshore water in the Gulf will be held in virtual trust for a handful of multi-national corporations, to develop decades out.
We are in position to stop this, to stop merely being “resilient.” Anything else is accepting less than our children’s worth. It is resigning ourselves to their sacrifice. Frankly, I’m just not down with that. Join me as we seize our chance to thrive.