Foreword Reviews - July 2011
A different kind of political battle inspired change in Diane Wilson, prompting her memoir Diary of an Eco-Outlaw: An Unreasonable Woman Breaks the Law for Mother Earth (Chelsea Green Publishing, 978-1-60358-215-5). Acting as a sequel to Wilson’s previous work, An Unreasonable Woman, this passionate
memoir describes how a once-quiet shrimp boat owner and mother living in Texas becomes a true rabble-rouser who’s been jailed over fifty times for her activism. After reading a newspaper article about her area’s toxic waste disposal issues, she set up a meeting with an environmental group. “Things were set in motion and I know people sometimes expect more, but usually the simplest things start a hell storm,” she writes. “A month later the grubby world beyond my bay stomped me into something I had to look up in the dictionary to find out what it was. An environmentalist.” Her subsequent activism, from chaining herself to factory towers to
going to jail, only fuel the flame that began with that single moment, that single decision to get involved.
Kirkus Review - April 1, 2011
In her down-home, sassy style, an environmental activist tells of her latest battles against polluting corporations.
Longtime CodePink activist Wilson’s sequel to An Unreasonable Woman: The True Story of Shrimpers, Politics, Polluters, and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas (2005) continues the saga of her direct actions against those who raise her ire. Still outraged by the 1984 Bhopal disaster caused by Union Carbide (now a division of Dow Chemical), she chained herself to a 75-foot oxide tower at Dow, where she hung a banner reading “Dow Responsible for Bhopal.” Removed and arrested, she writes vividly of her treatment and the grim conditions at the county jail. Out on bond, she headed off in search of Warren Anderson, Union Carbide’s chief executive at the time of the Bhopal disaster, first in Vero Beach, Fla., and then in Bridgehampton, N.Y.—a largely futile adventure, but one that she relates with great gusto. Wilson also proudly describes her noisy protest at a Texas fundraiser attended by then–Vice President Dick Cheney, where, disguised as a Republican donor, she screamed “Corporate Greed Kills” repeatedly until being thrown out, arrested and jailed. That she has deep skepticism of the EPA’s criminal investigators is shown in her rather rambling story of working with whistleblowers who have inside information about hazardous conditions and cover-ups at Formosa Plastics, a local chemical plant. Perhaps her most dramatic public action was her appearance at the Senate hearings where Tony Hayward, then chief executive of BP, was testifying about the Deep Horizon oil spell. She poured a half-gallon of Karo syrup (which resembles crude oil) over herself before being removed and arrested yet again. At the book’s end, the author is in Taiwan, attempting to present CodePink’s negative Black Planet Award to the family heading Formosa Plastics.
A folksy memoir from a gutsy, determined, well-connected gadfly who can write up a storm when not storming the barricades.
BOOK REVIEW: 'Diary of an Eco-Outlaw': The Nation -- and the World -- Needs More People Like Diane Wilson
Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - Huntington News -
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. -- George Bernard Shaw, (1856-1950) from "Man and Superman"
When I learned that Diane Wilson's latest book, "Diary of an Eco-Outlaw: An Unreasonable Woman Breaks the Law for Mother Earth" (Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT, 256 pages, $17.95) had just been published, I had to meet her. It was no big deal, since the 62-year-old mother of five and former shrimp fisherwoman and I live in the same county, Calhoun County, Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico coast.
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.
Read the original review.
BP is Messing with the Wrong Woman - David Swanson
War Is A Crime.org - April 19, 2011
A year ago BP began filling the Gulf of Mexico with oil.
Last week BP blocked a woman from entering its annual meeting.
Which will prove the bigger mistake?
BP may have chosen the right country to hit with the worst oil disaster in world history. If there's any population that will take seeing its land and water destroyed for corporate profit lying down, it's got to be us. We're split between gratitude and indifference: should we thank BP or just stay out of its way?
BP may have chosen the right government to kick in the teeth. BP agreed to a $20 billion settlement that falls very far short of the damage. A year later, the U.S. Department of Justice is pretending to consider the possibility of charging BP with manslaughter for the deaths of 11 men in the explosion that started the gusher. Such a step wouldn't scrape the surface of the death and destruction BP has created, but it would constitute such a radical reversal of President Obama's doctrine of immunity for corporate crime that nobody really thinks it's likely.
But BP (which stands for Belching Petroleum) has made one wrong move. BP has pissed off Diane Wilson.
To understand why this blunder could prove fatal, read Wilson's newly published "Diary of an Eco-Outlaw: An Unreasonable Woman Breaks the Law for Mother Earth." This is an hilariously entertaining book of an almost impossible sort.
For years I've met fulltime hardcore activists full of powerful and colorful stories that I thought I knew would die with them. Most people are tragically and frustratingly allergic to writing anything down. Wilson is an all-out activist, a Gulf Coast shrimper turned civil resister who has made herself a major thorn in the side of several multinational corporations. She's part Forest Gump, part Erin Brokovich, part Daniel Berrigan, and she has put her stories down on paper. Her book is a guide to becoming a one-person justice movement.
Wilson has not only lived as a shrimper who experienced the arrival of the polluting chemical companies that would kill off the shrimp, but she has put that experience into context -- and I mean context:
"I'll admit right up front that I'm soft and foolish about the fishermen so I imagine now that our inability to see our own end back then was like that first Indian who saw the first Spanish ship. At first, he couldn't see the ship. There was nothing in his life or the land where he lived that allowed him to imagine -- let alone see -- a Spanish galleon. But he could tell that the water moved different. So he did something that, probably, his granddaddy or daddy taught him. Or maybe it was his momma that taught him to watch the water carefully. So he saw how the water swirled and how the light hit the water with a charcoal blackness that he only saw at night. But it wasn't night. It was broad daylight. Then he saw the ship! It probably took two days for that Indian to see the heavy bobbing ship that was fixing to change his life forever. Fishermen aren't nearly as quick so it took us forty years to see the pipes and cement and metal towers and tanks and flares and fences and chemicals of every description that were coloring the very air we breathed. And, I say with every ounce of kindness that I possess because I love the fishermen, we were fools."
So a woman who had struggled to become a shrimper in a man's world became an activist, a resister, a hunger-striker, and an aid to whistleblowers, not to mention an author. Wilson very rapidly developed into the kind of activist who will act immediately upon the wildest idea available. When Union Carbide / Dow was poisoning her corner of Texas, while shortchanging the victims of a disaster the company had caused in India, Wilson scaled a fence, climbed a tower, dropped a banner, and chained herself up. Wilson declared herself an unreasonable woman and announced the need for more of the same. Inevitably, she was involved in launching one of my favorite peace groups, CodePink.
One of Wilson's more entertaining stories involves her sneaking into a fundraiser to protest then-Vice President Dick Cheney. Another is when she decides to sink her boat on top of an illegal discharge pipe, the Coast Guard tries to stop her, and a surprising ally takes her side.
Wilson's book is part of her activism, exposing the crimes and lies of the corporations she has protested. Her repeated willingness to risk jail leads to some of the best whistleblowing in the book, as she describes the horrors of the Texas penal system:
"Shandra was six months pregnant at the time and her police file clearly stated that she was not to be picked up until after her delivery because Shandra had a rare uterine condition that was very problematic, especially in a jail cell. That mattered not a whit to the sheriff's department. The sheriff was running a reelection campaign and outstanding warrants didn't look good on the campaign trail so in the cell Shandra went. When Shandra started bleeding the guards said she was just trying to get out of jail or she just wanted drugs. Shandra had to 'prove' she was bleeding to the guard with a bloody pad. When her water broke and she went into labor in earnest, the nurse who answered the intercom button on the jailhouse wall (a button the inmates were told never to press) said Shandra was hallucinating and trying to get drugs so they guessed Shandra needed to go into isolation to learn her lesson -- and stop bothering the guards. Shandra put up a fuss and the guard said Shandra was going the 'hard way or the easy way' and threatened to use the Taser gun on her. Fortunately an alarmed guard (yes, there are some) convinced Shandra to go into isolation, but once there, the baby started coming feetfirst. A breech birth. With a baby dangling to her knees, Shandra crawled sixty feet to a call button, pressed three times, and yelled that she was in labor. When the guards and nurse finally arrived, they rushed her to the hospital, but her baby died en route in the ambulance."
The stories Wilson tells about Union Carbide and Dow and Formosa and BP are worse, far worse. The actions she takes to counter their crimes include single-handedly filling in for the government agencies -- notably the EPA -- that are supposed to enforce laws. Wilson generates media coverage of abuses, educates the public, attempts citizens arrests, and afflicts the comfortable when she can't comfort the afflicted. After organizing a CodePink naked women's protest of BP in Houston, she greeted one of its bought-off senators, Lisa Murkowski, in a Congressional hearing by pouring oil-looking syrup all over herself and denouncing BP's destruction of the Gulf. Then Wilson managed to get back in, to another hearing the same week, to protest BP's then-CEO Tony Hayward with black paint all over her.
As Wilson demanded Hayward's arrest through the microphone of world media (and the end of his work running BP would be announced the next day, his departure from the company a month later), Wilson herself was the outlaw under our system of so-called justice. She faced criminal charges in Texas from which she was fleeing, and now in Washington, D.C., as well, but hopped a plane to Taiwan where she would present a Black Planet Award (for destroying part of the planet) to Formosa Plastics, the biggest corporation in Taiwan. The headlines all celebrated "The Woman Who Fights Formosa."
The last line of Wilson's book is "Now -- where's that Tony Hayward?"
She found him (or his company) last week, with another Black Planet Award, and despite being kept out of BP's shareholders' meeting, helped generate stories around the world about the oil that is still killing the Gulf of Mexico where once upon a time a woman could make a living with a shrimp boat.
The U.S. Justice Department, by the way, is interested in whether you think BP should be subject to the rule of law. Tell them: [email protected]
Read the original review.