It’s a very difficult time for us down here in Southeastern Louisiana. Between trying to get viable options to stop the oil from spilling into the gulf, to the profane, black sludge reaching shore – the uneasiness in the air that is a combination of bad memories, distrust, anger, fear and insecurity. We look towards our leaders in local, state and national government to offer to us honest answers, yet they remain elusive, hidden away on a need to know basis for everyone but the people who have to live here and endure the impacts the oil spill is going to have as it kills our sea life, wrecks havoc on an ecosystem still trying to stabilize from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, enters our water system as it slowly works it way to shore. Families feel lost, having passed this tradition of shrimping or commercial fishing down generation to generation, afraid that the tradition and culture will die with their generation. In a job market where there are already too many searching, the financial impacts this has on everyone in this region is not only a frightening thought, but seems to now be inevitable.
The father that has to go home to tell his child that work is not there, the single mother that barely gets by finding that things are going to get harder now as hotels are being called for cancellations and not reservations and beaches close, for us in Southeastern Louisiana, this isn’t just about a corporate responsibility or about company oversight. This is our lives that hang in the balance, out of our control, leaving us filled with an uncertainty that no one in one of the superpowers of the world should have to feel. Our environment here is apart of us, from the marshes in Plaquemines Parish to the Mississippi to Lake Pontchartrain to the Honey Island Swamp to the beaches of Grand Isle, these places make up our communities and homes, our neighbors, our memories.
The political is always personal, but this is especially personal.
As I sit writing this, gallons of oil stream into the Gulf of Mexico, poisoning part of the 40% of the seafood that comes from the state of Louisiana. The husbands, fathers, grandfathers and sons that fish this area sit at home, wondering if all hope is lost. Unsure whether or not to file a claim with BP for $5000.00. Part of signing a deal with the devil, however, is that you sign away the devil’s responsiblity in this mess, giving him a get-out-of-jail free card, allowing the bad practices that helped cause this mess go unpunished. What is better, they question, the money now – which for many will barely pay their bills for a month – or holding out, waiting to see what will come as more information becomes available about cause, effect and damages.
In a city known for its food, surrounded by beautiful bodies of water, questions now weigh heavy on the minds of servers, bartenders and chefs. Some are finding their hours cut, businesses cutting back because sales simply aren’t what they should be this time of year while others begin trying to figure out what else they can do in a city where jobs aren’t many. Serving in New Orleans isn’t like serving in high school or college. It’s a tourist city. In this city, it is a career – and a well-paying one at that. Teachers, lawyers and accountants have left the industries they chose to educate themselves in to give a smile to the family that travels down from the mid-west, excited to see what all the noise about New Orleans is really all about.
As five years separates those here for Katrina from the anxiety that horrific time caused, we face another tragedy. I know we are strong. We are family. No matter the strength, the what-ifs and the how-comes can make even the strongest fall.
It is said that ignorance is bliss and perhaps there is truth to that. Being here, we are living this tragedy. It isn’t a sound bite on CNN or Fox or an article in the New York Times and the Washington Post. We know what isn’t being reported. We know what is happening behind the scenes – scenes that include journalists being prohibited from filming damaged areas and threatened with arrest, survivors of the explosion being held in seclusion and brow-beaten until they sign no liability clauses for BP, politics as normal in Washington – – giving $205 million dollars to Israel in aid for missiles systems as oil spews, pollutes and kills — and a great majority of people telling us to shut up, to stop having our hand out for money from the government, to accept what has happened without question because, after all, accidents happen even though protocols were not followed and safety equipment wasn’t all that safe.
While people are telling us that being hard on BP is ‘un-American’ we question what America we belong in when corporations become what matter and the consequences of their bad behavior become our consequences, forced upon us without choice. The us that are good, hardworking people of character and strength that simply want to live life, celebrate it and share it with all those who travel here from around the world for just a little taste of it. Don’t confuse our living out loud as acceptance or our humor as not caring. We are an involved, passionate bunch as can be witnessed on any number of blogs that were created since Katrina when we felt that media left us behind. There comes a point in tragedy, however, where you have to find humor in it or all you are left with is tears. We’ve cried enough tears.
It is my hope that people in other places of this country feel overwhelmed and unable to help because they are not here, instead of being apathetic to the situation. There are many things you can do. Collect non-perishable food items for the shrimpers who are impacted most by this. For a time, they couldn’t even receive food stamps from the state because they made too much money, even though their livelihoods had been lost. Sign petitions asking for stricter regulations in off shore drilling or for development of alternative energies. Contact those in your states and ask them to care about ours. Buy t-shirts made by local vendors, where profits go directly towards animal rescue efforts. Pass on news about what is happening here. In the age of twitter and facebook, you tell one person and they tell another and perhaps, maybe enough pressure can be generated for our government to stand up and see us reaching out for them to help, perhaps they will reach back through legislation or even a tougher approach with those companies involved in this disaster. Stay aware of the situation. Contact BP and express your outrage and your ire.
We aren’t asking the rest of the country to rescue us. We are, however, asking you to care.
We’ve taken a beating down here. Some question why we live here, knowing the potential of loss. It is an argument that often used after Hurricane Katrina and it is an argument being recycled now. The levee failure in Nashville shows that the disasters we have faced can happen anywhere, even in middle America. Although at times it can feel like we live in our own third world country down here, a reference we make jokingly, please dont’ treat this as such. This impacts you, too.
Don’t watch from afar as disaster tourists. Don’t make us tragedy porn.
If it were you, we would be there, doing what we could with what we had, opening our hearts and telling you we too know tragedy and we understand.