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BOOK REVIEW: 'Diary of an Eco-Outlaw': The Nation -- and the World -- Needs More People Like Diane Wilson
Shaw wrote about unreasonable men, which I'm sure he meant to include women, but let's grant Wilson the permission to modify the gender of the 1903 quotation. Wilson is a member of CodePink, an organization of "unreasonable" women and the occasional man. I wanted to find out what made this fellow Libra (she was born Oct. 17, 1948) tick so we met in a restaurant in her hometown of Seadrift. I had just finished reading the book and the meeting was on Wednesday, April 20, 2011, the first anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil explosion off the coast of Louisiana.
CodePink specializes in demonstrations to get media attention and Diane Wilson's at a Senate subcommittee hearing on BP's liability cap chaired by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, certainly qualified. She poured a jar of Karo syrup on her head. Why syrup? Because it closely resembles oil. Shortly after that piece of eco-theatre she demonstrated at a Congressional hearing that featured then BP CEO Tony Hayward (he resigned in September 2010), demanding Hayward's arrest and using black makeup paint to demonstrate against the largest environmental disaster in the nation's history.
In her latest book, Wilson describes demonstrating at the massive Dow Chemical Seadrift facility down Highway 185 from Seadrift proper. She had climbed a tower and chained herself to it to protest the company's involvement with the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India, caused by Union Carbide -- acquired in 2001 by Midland, Mich.-based Dow Chemical. Bhopal remains the world's largest man-made ecological disaster.
Wilson's first ecological book, "An Unreasonable Woman", told of her battle to save the bays of Calhoun County. She was an accidental activist who worked with whistleblowers, organized protests, and eventually sank her own boat to stop the plastic-manufacturing giant Formosa from releasing dangerous chemicals into water she shrimped in, grew up on, and loved.
When I asked about pollution from the boat's engine, she said she removed the diesel engine before sinking the boat over the Formosa Plastics discharge pipe in Lavaca Bay. A pickup-truck driving fourth generation Texan, Wilson did the engine-removal work herself!
"Diary of An Eco-Outlaw" goes into great detail about the medical and ecological consequences of hazardous discharges at Formosa's Point Comfort, Texas facility, one of several in the U.S. operated by the Taiwan-based firm.
Diane's experiences in jail after she was arrested at the Seadrift facility led her to work with the Austin-based Texas Jail Project, which works to improve the conditions of the approximately 70,000 people incarcerated in Texas facilities on any given day. When I asked her why she does what she does, she turned my question around and asked why more Americans don't follow her example.
Her demonstrations and protests in Calhoun County, Texas have led this outspoken woman to launch legislative campaigns, organize demonstrations, participate in hunger strikes and get herself in all kinds of trouble. Barkett's Restaurant in Seadrift, where we met, has a niche near the front where her books are on sale. She's a high school graduate, but didn't get any special encouragement on her writing. "As a little kid, I wrote my own stories, because we Pentecostals didn't have books in the house," she explained.
The bottom line, she said, it's all worth it, as we left the restaurant and Diane prepared to take her turn as caregiver for her 95-year-old mother. Jailed more than fifty times for civil disobedience, Wilson has stood up for environmental justice, and peace, around the world, which has earned her many kudos from environmentalists and peace activists alike, and that has forced progress where progress was hard to come by.
On this anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon/BP explosion, let's take some time to describe her May 24, 2010 "Nude-In" at BP's Houston headquarters. Inspired by a group of women from Nigeria who took over a Chevron oil rig and threatened to strip naked if the company didn't hire more local workers.
Diane put out a call to CodePinkers and others to join her in getting "nekkid" Texas style (see accompanying photo of two demonstrators). It's important to remember that Diane Wilson grew up in a fundamentalist Pentecostal family in rural Texas, not in a California hippie commune.
"I was brought up to not take nudity lightly," she said with a laugh. To prepare for the action, Diane got 100 pounds of fish from her fishing buddies, old fishing nets to drag the dead fish and fake oil to dump on them. She and one of her daughters made beautiful signs saying “Expose BP” and “The Naked Truth about Drill, Baby, Drill” and put them on big sandwich boards. “You could say we was cheatin’ because we decided to use sandwich boards to cover our private parts, but that’s about as nude as those of us from Texas can get,” laughed Diane. “We’ll leave the full-on nudity to the women from California.”
About 100 people showed up from all over Texas and six other states — including California. Some people wore pasties that said “No BP,” some dressed as fishermen, oily birds, and fish. Diane put on her white rubber fishing boots, smeared herself with oil and wore a sandwich board that read “Expose BP’s Obscene Side.”
Two impostor oil workers in BP uniforms doused the group with fake oil, causing the birds and fish to recoil and die on the sidewalk. The police and BP security stood by watching, as nice as could be. It was obvious that BP higher ups had the good sense to tell them that arresting protesters would not help their image.
The group was having fun mocking BP, but when Diane took the megaphone to speak, the tone changed. “I am here because I’m outraged,” she said, her voice shaking. “My family has lived on this gulf for 100 years, we’ve been fishing these waters for generations and now we’re seeing it decimated. All we’re getting from BP is lies. We’re not getting any answers from the government. That’s why people have to hit the streets to demand solutions.”
"Diary of an Eco-Outlaw" is worth reading by anyone who wants to know what to do about corporate polluters and their wanton destruction of the environment. Whether you live in the Gulf Coast states, the "Chemical Coast" of Texas, West Virginia, Ohio, Illinois or wherever, Wilson's book shows how companies -- many of them foreign based -- are damaging our environment and all too often getting away with it. Diane Wilson is not only an "unreasonable" woman, she's also, to borrow a phrase from Al Gore, an "inconvenient" one to corporate polluters.