The story of who and what we are decides the story of how we behave
We, the people of the Gulf of Mexico, have been born, raised, or adopted into a living, breathing region, whose cultures span the continents. We have nourished ourselves from the Gulfstream waters. Our cities breathe, our ecosystems speak, and we proudly and artfully contribute to the economic and cultural fabric of our nation and world.
Yet the fact is, this region, with its musical earth song, its unique and distinct rhythm, has the unfortunate actuality of being a continuous disaster and energy sacrifice zone.
This is our story, our art, our past, present and future.
And, after so many anxious interims and long-suffering years, our story is our science. Our science, the study of what is; the science of connection and unity, of compassion and empathy, of humanity and elasticity.
Additionally, our science, like all wisdoms, is not finite. It is constantly evolving.
The fabric of a story is found in the weave of many narratives. We must remember that if our tapestry is to be one of victory, we must work to weave through tears, with a strong focus on powerful action and resilient uplifting.
The truth is, there will be a future in the Gulf Coast. Now is the time to question, “What will that future look like?” It is imperative that we not blind our vision with hopelessness, anger or loss.
In fact, it is the collective passions, ingenuities and forethoughts of today that will decide exactly what image we will see as the future of the Gulf Coast reveals itself.
We want a revelation of healthy growth, past the borders of mere “resiliency.” Thriving communities, strong families, healthy lifestyles, deep ecological connections and protections - these are our goals.
For decades our region has borne witness to consecutive systematic failures by the federal and state governments. Our representation, on the whole, has proven to be little more than an impotent address to extended catastrophe.
Our stories of greatest admire during these decades have more than often come from the ground up. Communities and citizens who have hurdled the challenges - usually exacerbated by our official leaders - to lift our people up in both potential and existence. It is on the backs of these many, where the true vision of the future of the Gulf must be formed.
With regards to the 2010 BP Deepwater Drilling Disaster, we must follow in the footsteps of a movement already in process. That movement has once again been strengthened by resolve, and that resolve has been found in you.
So then the question becomes, how can we as a regional force move together to demand environmental and social justice?
First, we must believe, above all things, that there can be a thriving Gulf Coast. That together we can have schools of open and passionate minds, families of a wealth that is not merely measurable by bank statement, a justice that reaches past race and coin, ecosystems that are clean and cherished, and a society in which every voice is heard and every remedy discussed.
Within that vision, we must have collaborative, educated, and effective action moving in this collective direction. The basis of that vision can only be found in a renewed historic cooperation.
In the fight for justice from BP and governmental entities, this country has to be made to understand that their neighbor’s house fire must be fought, otherwise it will be the entire neighborhood that’s lost. This connection has yet to be truly established, and it must be a goal of all advocates.
At this phase of the game, we have most certainly identified the problems we face. I have not the time nor space to approach them here, but I will say that it is imperative that we are able to state them in the most simple and clear voice possible.
The gathering of resources and allies may be fairly clear, but perhaps it is time to bring that list into sharp focus.
For instance, scientific knowledge that gives witness to truth must be incorporated in terms palatable to the masses. Academic science that is not relatable is as useless as regulation that is unenforced.
I believe the easiest and most productive way to achieve this is through individual stories that cite and enforce the knowledge we have.
Once that narrative has been produced, we must all work to carry it farther, which requires constant and consistent outreach. For this reason, we must participate in sharing the stories and visions of our region.
That is why regional organizations must keep their fingers on the pulse of the communities they serve, and we must support them by outreach and response.
Groups like Bridge the Gulf, Gulf Coast Fund, Gulf Restoration Network and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (among others), are crucial to this cause. While we understand that we are the ambassadors to our area, they are engines that can help drive our work forward. Effort un-expandable and unknown is as fruitless as a problem unnamed.
Therefore there is a constant need for unlimited support to each other and to grassroots initiatives in general. That support requires vigorous participation, when possible.
Whether that participation be actualized through sign-on letters, petitions, the attending of strategy sessions or events, the glorification of sacrificing actions, financial contributions, or other, we must activate and expand our enlistment, through issue-based cooperation.
Additionally, pointing fingers without solution is as idle as apathetic blindness. Whenever possible, we must go beyond shining the light on malfunction, we must search for and identify solutions to the problems themselves. This is a powerful step in creating a future worthy of advance.
Negotiations set firmly in compassionate tone and experience, will then give possibility to support of feasible resolution.
As a last resort, the phase of “action” must be encouraged and fostered among advocates.
The range of view of the play is up to the resolve of the players and the importance of the need. It may be a non-violent direct action, it may be litigation, boycott, etc.; Whatever the means, one thing is for sure, we must escalate as warranted. If the issues come down to a fight, we must not lose. We must be willing to fight to the end, for giving up, or giving in, will set a precedence long lasting, and cripple effectiveness for the future.
For the individual, who has stayed the course of interest and advance, my advice is to steady yourself to the awareness that while there will be turbulent waters at times, there are few emergencies. A calm and steady head is your greatest tool.
Additionally, you must dismiss criticisms that come without alternatives, be aware that there is no such thing as a tiny act, use your passion to drive you, offer unlimited gratitude and accolade. And above all, find joy in your advocacy - this is the Spirit working within you – honor it.
And remember, all things are connected and one. What you give to the universe will not only be your reality, it will be your future. Make it a happy one. Leave sadness to the defeated and anger to the inefficient, it is our approach that gains or loses the ear.
Passion and joy create joining. Compassion and love create effectiveness. Courage and action create futures for us all.
Let us then gather our yarn, and get to weaving.
Photo taken by Cherri Foytlin in the Atchafalaya Basin.
Cherri Foytlin is a journalist, oil worker's wife, mother of six, and Louisiana resident whose family has been deeply impacted by the BP Oil Disaster and consequential moratorium on deep water drilling. She co-founded Gulf Change, blogs for www.BridgeTheGulfProject.org, and walked to Washington D.C. from New Orleans (1,243 miles) to call for action to stop the BP oil disaster. She has been a constant voice, speaking out to the Obama Administration's Gulf Oil Spill Commission, and in countless forms of media. Cherri will continue her fight for the industries, people, culture and wildlife of south Louisiana and the Gulf Coast "until we are made whole again."