Jay Arena and Mike Howells
On Friday, July 2nd, a team of C3/Hands Off Iberville members made a trip to the Houma Indian, fishing community of Dulac, Louisiana, located in Terrebonne Parish, about 70 miles southwest of New Orleans. The day before we had called Jamie Billiot, the director of the Dulac Community Center and explained that we wanted to make a visit to learn more about how the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill was affecting the community. She was glad to hear people were concerned and invited to us to a dinner the Houma Indian community had planned for Friday evening.
There were about 80 people at the gathering, and most either worked directly in fishing, or their family members did. We spent several hours talking and learning from the community. One woman, Anna, the wife of a “shrimper”, was there with her two sister-in laws, whose husbands also work in the same industry. Sometimes the wives also accompany their husbands on the boats, as well as work repairing nets and other duties related to fishing.
Anna, about 50 years old, was born in Houma, but moved to Dulac after marrying her husband. Yet, Anna, like many Dulac families, had to relocate to Houma after Hurricane Rita, although they still dock their boat in Dulac. Their life, like those of many others, have been turned upside down again, but this time by the wholly capitalist-made oil disaster.
Their difficulties are many faceted. They can still fish, but can only work waters that have been approved by the state fish and wildlife services. If they do enter into waters that have been declared off limits they face having their whole catch being thrown overboard by authorities and fined. A further burden created by fishing in unfamiliar waters is they are more likely to run into rocks and pipes and therefore damage their boats and nets—extra costs they can ill affords at this time. Some have had to stop fishing all together.
Anna’s husbands, like most of the others in attendance at the community center, are small operators. They “shrimp”—there are also “crabbers” and those that work Oyster beds-- close to the shore, as opposed to the larger trawlers that go farther out in the Gulf. The larger boat owners appear to have gotten the bulk of the clean-up, skimming work. Anna’s husband went through two trainings--by BP and a BP-certified contractor—but has yet to have him and his boat drafted into the cleanup flotilla now operating in the Gulf. “It’s frustrating”, she says. Although they have received, like other shrimpers, $5,000 from BP in compensation, this does not come anywhere near fully compensating them for the losses they have faced already, only two months into the disaster.
Another fisherman, Justin, explained that he went through the training to work in the cleanup, but decided against participating. “It’s just too dangerous, there are too many unknowns..…I don’t want to find out 5 years from now that I’ve got cancer from working with that oil.” Justin also resented the muzzle BP is placing on workers. As part of the training, Justin explained, “they tell you that if you see any reporters, they don’t want you talking with them, they’ll fire you for that, I’ve seen and heard it”
At the end of the dinner, myself and other C3 members were able to address the crowd. We explained our concern about their health, compensation and employment, and went over some of the Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Disaster demands, including the call for a mass public works program , which was well received. We invited the attendees to the next emergency committee meeting and asked if they would like us to hold a meeting at the center in Dulac, and this proposal found wide support. Some community members were still in support of continued drilling, but were in general agreement with the demands of public works, full compensation, and health protection for workers and communities.
6-29-10 - Emergency Committee protests Vice President Joe Biden's visit to the Gulf
With less than 24 hours notice, a small but determined group braved the rain and stood in front of the New Orleans Unified Command Center to protest Vice President Joe Biden's visit and his tour of the Gulf. A tour which aimed at spreading the lie that the government is doing all it can to stop this disaster. As the motorcade drove up to the command center, protesters were right out in front with banners: "The People Must Act to Stop the Gulf Oil Catastrophe" and "Gulf Oil Disaster: System Not Fit to Be Caretaker of the Planet."
6-23-10 - Emergency Committee Disrupts BP-Government Disinformation Meeting
by Larry Everest
Tonight, in New Orleans, the BP-government informational meeting didn't go as planned, thanks to the actions of members of the newly formed Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Disaster and others in attendance who have been speaking out about the oil catastrophe.
Since the beginning of this nightmare, BP, and various government agencies -- including the Coast Guard, the EPA, NOAA, and the Dept. of Energy -- have been holding "open houses," or "informational meetings" across the state of Louisiana and beyond, to try and reassure people that they're doing all they can to stop this catastrophe, that they're on top of the situation, that they really want to hear peoples' concerns and give them all the information and help they need. In reality, those attending hear a stream of double-talk, obfuscation, vague promises, and outright lies. These are very deliberate exercises in disinformation and pacification, with BP and the government working together in an attempt to paralyze people, keep the lid on the situation, and maintain their legitimacy. Initially, people in the audience were able to come up to a mike and make statement or ask questions of the assembled officials.
But after scorching condemnations and persistent and revealing grillings at these meetings (like one I attended in Venice, Louisiana several weeks ago), BP and the government have abandoned this format. Now after a few hollow preliminary statements, people are shuffled off individually to various informational tables -- with no time to interrogate these officials in front of everyone and the media.
So tonight, a group of us from the Emergency Committee challenged this whole setup -- some outside handing out our Mission Statement and Demands (and a few of us selling Revolution as well), and some inside. When New Orleans' Mayor Mitch Landrieu introduced the meeting,Elizabeth Cook shouted out "what about fish kills?!" Landrieu claimed we'd get to that. A few moments later I asked/demanded that these officials answer questions in front of everyone not send everyone -- 150 or so people in the room and the assembled dozen or so TV cameras. Landrieu was forced to say OK to this -- how would it have looked to prevent people from questioning BP and government officials, after promising to be completely open and tell people anything they wanted to know?
And we persisted and made sure it happened. So when the Coast Guard and BP officials were done with their spiels, Landrieu said he'd briefly open it up, then called on me and I jumped in, saying we'd formed an Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Disaster because BP and the government had proven unwilling and unable to deal with this disaster and that we had demands. I quickly read through the demands (see below), gave copies to all the officials, and demanded they speak to them. It was then quite a scene to see the Coast Guard officials begin reading the demands in front of TV camera -- Stop Oil Drilling -- "I can't comment on that," then responding at length to the demand calling for the immediate end to the use of dispersants.
This kicked off a flurry of questions and challenges -- all in front of TV cameras -- on the use of dispersants and other issues which went far beyond the 10 minutes. Later, other Committee members directly challenged and took on various officials in front of others in the audience, including the government's lie that no large fish have been killed by the oil gusher. After first denying any fish had been killed, the Coast Guard backed up and said it was only some smaller fish.
The whole course of the meeting was changed, and a much more palpable spirit of resistance unleashed. By the time the meeting was through, over 40 people had signed up with the Committee.
This is just a beginning glimpse of the kind of mass action, protest, and demand for the truth so urgently needed. This is the Emergency Committee's mission -- and tonight wouldn't have been the same without it.