Oilfield workers join forces with fishermen on 9/11
Yesterday, Mississippi natives Mendy Cockrell and Donna and Marty Dunn commemorated 9/11 with an unlikely crowd.
As members of the grassroots Oilfield Workers League, it's not often they find themselves on the same team as "environmentalists." But those labels and old divisions are falling away, as oil workers, fishermen, BP clean-up workers, environmental advocates, and their families come together around one goal: a clean, healthy gulf with safe jobs for their communities.
This was the message of The Battle of New Orleans, a day-long event to honor rescue and clean-up workers, and call attention to ongoing health, environmental, and economic issues on the Gulf Coast in the wake of the BP oil disaster.
9/11 first responders from New York and Exxon Valdez survivors from Alaska also joined the event, and vowed their assistance to Gulf Coast communities. The assembled groups pledged to fight together for the common cause of healthy communities and economies across the nation.
Drew Landry, who is known for playing his song BP Blues at an Oil Spill Commission hearing and helped organize the event, said of the oilfield workers, "We all have the same plight... They care about the air and the water as much as we do."
"We just want to unify," Mendy told the group. "We need to get the fishermen, we need to get the environmentalists, and we need to get the oilfield workers together to fight this... We are here for safety... All we want to do is work, but we want to work safely."
Cherri Foytlin, another organizer of the event, has been fiercely and beautifully articulating how people across the Gulf Coast, and America, must unite across labels like "environmentalist," "oil worker," and "fisherman," as well as "Democrat" and "Republican." As the wife of an oil worker who has been out of work since President Obama's moratorium on offshore drilling, Cherri has felt the devastating effects of the moratorium on her family. But she also argues passionately that America is addicted to oil, and calls for clean energy jobs.
She recently wrote,
"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."
Donna and Mendy spoke about how the deepwater drilling moratorium has hurt their community, but also their hopes for clean air, clean water, and safe jobs. They said they'd absolutely support alternatives to the oil industry, particularly in the clean energy economy, if it would mean jobs and careers for their families.
The Battle of New Orleans did more than just unite Gulf workers around a common message; it provided a space for organizing continued work. After meeting one another and speaking to the press, small groups formed around issues area (seafood safety, health concerns, and overall strategy) and dug into planning. The overall strategy group began formulating a plan to make their voices heard on a national level, before the midterm elections this November.
Later in the evening, after a prayer vigil, the workers and advocates let loose, formed closer bonds, and celebrated Louisiana heritage with a benefit concert in New Orleans' French Quarter (see more photos here).
Days before the event, Cherri reflected on its intended significance,
"This is the beginning of a new conversation. This is the beginning of a new day... We will build our own bridges, we protect our own people, we will take back our own Earth, we will sow love."
For the Oilfield Workers League, The Battle of New Orleans met that goal.
When asked, before heading back to Mississippi, if they thought the day had accomplished much, Mendy and Donna gave a wholehearted, "Yes."
"You've got to take baby steps before you walk," Donna said. "And that's what we've done today. We took a first step."