Can You Hear Me? By Cherri Foytlin

Most of you know my story by now. Four years ago, back when the banks were getting bailed out and the people were getting bailed on, I lost the first house I ever owned. After moving to South Louisiana and rebuilding our lives, my husband and I were able to move ourselves and our 6 children into a beautiful new home. Three days later the moratorium hit - and I say hit, because it was like a punch in the stomach to the people of our area. 

 The story never told about south Louisiana is that the fishermen, crabbers, oystermen and oil workers are the same. Many of our fishermen work the season doing what they love, then go back to the oil fields to make a living. All of us live to serve, and be served, from the Gulf of Mexico. You won’t find an oil worker who doesn’t love the bayou, and you won’t find a fisherman who doesn’t profit - in some way, from the oil field.

 Sadly, this spill and consequential moratorium, has effectively marched us head long into a deep depression in the deep south.

Seven weeks ago, after speaking to the Oil Spill Commission, I reached out to President Obama in a CNN interview, and asked him to come and speak with me and my friends about the devastating effects of the spill. I wanted to tell him about the illnesses we were experiencing, about the devastating debt that was accumulating, and the environmental and cultural genocide of our people and wildlife. But, I was ignored.

 This deeply saddened me, because based on the very mindset of the founding fathers, I and my family are worth no less, and nor more, than any other. And I, as an American citizen, have a right, and an obligation, to call out and be heard by representatives of my nation. As Edward Bellamy said “The primal principle of democracy is the worth and dignity of the individual.“ My call to the president was more a test of the democracy and the republic, than the man.

 Since that day, BP, at the urgence of the administration, set up a fund of $100 million to help those hurting from the moratorium. It has been over 4 months and the application process for that fund has just begun. You see, that is the Big Lie sold to the American public, that BP is taking care of this - that they are “making it right“. That we are receiving checks. That we are okay. And yet not one oil worker has received one dollar since the moratorium began.

 Last week, I hadto make the decision between buying my feverish baby Tylenol, or bologna to feed his brothers and sisters.

The reality is, 23,000 American oil workers are jobless. And this fund, administered by the Gulf Coast Restoration and Protection Foundation, created by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, will only cover, by their own admission, 9,000 people. Service workers most likely will not be paid at all - and if you don’t know anything about the oil industry, only a small portion of people work for oil companies on a rig, but each rig is supported by thousands more jobs - both on the rig and on land.

 This Charity organization, BRAF, gave $4 million dollars, in the years 2005 - 2008 to the top lobbying firm Cassidy and Associates, and pays its leader $440,000 a year - according to tax records. British Petroleum will give BRAF $6.5 million out of that $100 million for administrative services for the 60 days they will be in operation.

 In those 60 days, they are set to pay out one time grants between $3,000 to $30,000 in taxable funds. By the time this moratorium is set to end, my family will have lost $45,000, and possibly the home we worked so hard to get. And even then, with the new regulations and environmental concerns, that - had we an honest oversight might have been done a long time ago, will move the actual day of continuance back an unknown amount of time.

 Also, no funds will be paid unless you are able to show that you are in dire need. That means, if you have a 401K, or savings, that you have spent years accumulating, you will be forced to use that, to survive this. The federal government and BP are raping us of our future.

 And it doesn’t end there. On April 20, we lost 11 brave men. Nineteen children are without fathers, 22 parents are without sons and 6 wives are without husbands. A decision enacted by BP, and enforced in silence by the American government, states that those 11 families are not in any way, able to make a claim on one dime of the $20 billion BP fund.

 And thanks to the maritime law, the Death on the High Seas Act, that states, essentially, the value of a man’s life at sea, is worth less than his life on land. Those women, those mourning women, must now fight in court for their family’s future. A bill that is stalled out in the Senate, could change that, but as I speak today it has not been passed. We do not have any knowledge of when, or if, it will.

 As I see it, we need diversity in our economy. We welcome clean energy jobs, we would welcome ANY job. We are no welfare state, we learned along time ago that when you are dependent on either a corporation or a government, that entity owns you.

The truth is, we as a nation and a people have lost our way. We cannot rightly blame this on a single corporation, or even on the government itself, it is our failure. As a people we have let less important issues divide us. We’ve taken our eye off the ball, and let ourselves be led to ruin.

 The future of mankind lies squarely on the shoulders of every single person. If we as a people, and a nation, do not stand together for our Earth, and our freedom, then we will surely fall, and consequently fail our future generations. This is not a democrat vs. republican issue, this is not an environmentalist vs. economist issue, this is an American issue. This is a people of the Earth issue. We have not been living right on this Earth for a very long time.

 For instance, we use 20 billion barrels of oil a day. We are addicted, and just like the heroine addict, that pusher owns us. The truth is, if there weren’t such an overwhelming demand for it; no one would have to kill, or be killed, to supply it.

 I have called out the American president, I have asked for his mind, heart and hand in compassion for our people of the Gulf. I have failed. So today, on this day, I turn from that futile attempt. Too much time has been given in the name of governmental justice for the open wound of our grieving hearts. Today, I call out to my people. To my American brothers and sisters.

 Kind hearts, our children and wildlife are being poisoned by British Petroleum and the American government. There is still millions of gallons of oil all along our coastlines, and now their poison is in our water to the point where we are forced to question the validity of their safe seafood claim. We have been let down. We have been sold out, by the EPA, the FDA, the NOAA, and the ain’t no damn way. Our stomachs are empty, our hearts are filled with sorrow. We have no options, and your people need you.

 I call out to you - Veterans of World War II, Vietnam, Korea, the Gulf Wars - everything you fought for, everything your brothers and sisters in arms lost their lives for, is being taken from us all. To you, those that raised the flag at Iwo Jima, those that walked the rice fields in Vietnam, those that suffered the cold winds of Korea, those that were, and are, blistered by the sands of Iraq and Afghanistan - those that stood while their brothers fell, all in the name of freedom.

 And to you - the Sovereign Indian Nations, the Sioux, the Cherokee, the Kiowa, the Cour’delane, the Dine, the Apache. Those with the same blood of Tecumseh, Red Jacket, Sitting bull, Osceola and Geronimo - our cousins the Houma have been building berms with shovels to protect their sacred lands. I call upon you, the time is now.

 I call upon the Appalachian coal miners, the Michigan auto workers, the California wine makers, the mid-western farmers, the factory workers, the waitresses, the cab drivers, - the working public. How much will we all, as a people, be asked to loose? We have built this nation by our sweat and our calluses, the majority of blood in this Earth belongs to us. The buildings, the monuments, the mountains, the rivers, the sea - they belong to us, they belong to our children.

 I call upon the celebrities with a social conscience. I have seen you, those who have found a way to be worth more than a snap shot and an autograph. I call out to Spike Lee, the story is not yet finished, my friend. To Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Bill Cosby, Will I am, Tom Petty, Sherman Alexie and Maya Angelou - you are more than your talent, you have proven that. And we need you, we need your compassion and we need your voice.

 I call out to any politician, state or federal, who has not yet been bought or sold. I would call you by name, but frankly, I don’t know who you are. Introduce yourself, if you are real - and we will check, we will follow you.

 I call out to the mothers and fathers, the grandmothers and grandfathers, the very future of our children depend upon your taking of this fight off of their hands. They should not pay for our greed, they should not spill their blood, for the ideals that we have lost.

Do not tell me we can’t, because I will tell you to stand aside. I will tell you, WE WILL.

This September 11, one week from today, 9/11 first responders, Exxon Valdez, Katrina/Rita and Gulf Oil spill survivors will meet in New Orleans. This is the beginning of a new conversation. This is the beginning of a new day, one in which we wait no longer for a phone call or a hand up. We will build our own bridges, we protect our own people, we will take back our own Earth, we will sow love.

 Our mission is to honor those that gave their lives to protect us. To the fishermen and beach workers who continue to put their health at risk cleaning the spill. To those who make a living in the Gulf and across our nation - who have seen their livelihoods stolen from them without as much as an option for a better day. More importantly, we will honor those who have given their lives in our name - specifically those of the Exxon Valdez catastrophe, the heroes of 9/11, and the 11 men of the Deepwater Horizon.

 I invite you, my American brothers and sisters, to a twilight prayer vigil in Jackson Square, to honor them. This event will be followed by a benefit concert at Tipitina’s in the French Quarter, to raise funds to help the fishermen, crabbers, shrimpers, oil workers, environment, wildlife and way of life for the people of the Gulf Coast.

Together we will make a statement that we will no longer let our people, not any single one - across this great nation, fall to a backwards and lost democracy. We are not for sale, we will not be victims, and we will no longer let the greed of the few, decide the destiny of the many.

Can you hear me?