Saturday, July 24, 2010

Beautiful Beautiful Amsterdam

I arrived in Amsterdam on Tuesday morning. And unlike any other time that I have been in this city, it's beautiful!! Warm and sunny. It's like a whole new city to me.

I wanted to share a couple things that I've read over the last couple days.

Why We Hate The Oil Companies by John Hofmeister: Unlike what the title suggests, this is not a pro-climate change movement book. John Hofmeister is a former president of Shell Oil Company. In the book he gives his arguments about we must adapt to a changing climate by diversifying our energy sources. Though he often uses the words 'climate change fearmongers' often, he states that he believes climate change exists and that we must clean up our act to mitigate impacts. It's an interesting read that has the ability to move an average climate denier, pro drill baby driller close to where the rest of the world is, which is a start.

Anyways, one particular passage about how sustainable business just makes sense. Though his examples are completely false and a good reminder about why communities really do hate oil companies.

pg 67
"As a consequence of [clean water] regulation, we live in far greater safety, and our surroundings are much cleaner than before.

There are still liquid waste issues. Runoff from rainstorms continues to carry pollutants from the surfaces of roads, highways, parking lots, playgrounds, yards, and fields into our water systems. But overall, the nation's rivers, ponds, and lakes are cleaner than they were a generation ago when factories, processing plants, and utilities, as well as homes and offices, emitted wastes directly into waterways I have been to refineries that pull water from rivers and emit water back into the river that is clean than what they removed."

When I began reading this paragraph, I was listening some jazz, drinking my old lady summer cocktail (Martini Bianco spritzer) completely relaxed, until I finished this paragraph. Did he just say that there are no longer industry facilities polluting our waterways? Is this a joke? You don't have to receive EPA emails for more than one day to realize that industry facilities all over the country are being fined everyday for water pollution. You can sign up directly on EPA to receive news from national headquarters and all regional offices on various issues.

Then this paragraph arrived.

"The amazing thing is that I never hear anyone bellaching over the costs of water treatment. They know better. They know that if they did not do the right thing for their company and society, if they dumped foul wastes into public waterways, it would only come back to haunt them. They know that water is finite and we need to have clean water to drink. In the past 25 yeras, in all the plants that i have been a part of, from manufacturing electric motors or jet engines or telecon switches to processing oil and chemical products, I do not recall one lament over the costs of water treatment. It was simply a part of doing business responsibly. Costs of investments were capitalized, preventive maintenance was built into the operating plan, staffs were trained to do their jobs. As long as the plant was up and running, water treatment was part of its operations, no ifs, ands or buts."

Shell's water pollution problems:

Royal Dutch Shell environmental wiki

Shell to pay $1 million for water pollution

Shell Oil company in Nigeria

These are links that I pulled from a 20 second google search.

What world do these people live in? And why do communities fall the lies that people in power tell them?

I'm off to explore this city. What are you doing today?

Renee Claire

Monday, July 19, 2010

Repost: Chemical Reform is the New Our Bodies Ourselves

A good friend and I are developing a joint project about the links between social and environmental justice and art in South America. I am particularly interested in how women and girls are empowering each other to control the path of their community and stop chemical pollution. I'm also in the process of expanding a blog I wrote for Momsrising earlier this year called "Chemical Reform is the New Our Bodies Ourselves, so I thought I would repost it here. I'm really interested in your thoughts on this subject. Feel free to shoot me an email and post comment if you feel inclined. Ciao. Renee Claire

Chemical Reform is the New Our Bodies Ourselves
Originally posted February 16, 2010

Recently, I’ve had some time to sink my teeth into some really good reading. Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools by Greg Mortenso, Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, Half the Sky by Nicolas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn to name just a few. I don’t know about you, but many of the books I’ve read in my 30 years stand out as powerful moments in my life. I still remember receiving a book about the suffrage movement from my uncle when I was 9 years old. It was full of pictures including photos of women being arrested for their struggle for equal rights. (A possible origin of my own tendency for getting arrested for environmental and social justice throughout the years)

I also remember the day I first discovered Our Bodies Ourselves. A book that has empowered women to understand and care for their bodies, their health, and their community since it was first written in 1970 by the women at the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. Forty years after Our Bodies Ourselves was first published, we are finally starting to see a larger societal understanding that to care for our girls and women is to directly nurture our community at large.

As we see a greater movement towards gender equality, we are also understanding that toxic chemicals are impacting our health, specifically our reproductive system, making this nurturing needlessly more difficult. Reproductive and developmental systems are extremely delicate and without a real commitment to the designing out of toxins, corporate interests are putting our daughter’s right to a healthy and safe future at risk.

This I believe is the next battle of the women’s rights movement. The right to not be poisoned by the things we buy for our homes, our children, and ourselves. And the right to live in our community without being regularly targeted by polluting companies. It is no secret that runaway corporate interests keeping toxic chemicals inside products we use everyday while convincing politicians to beat back regulation is creating serious environmental and health consequences, particularly to women and therefor our entire family.

With the fight to pass comprehensive and transparent federal chemical reform, we are seeing women and girls educate themselves and others on the importance of a toxic free future. Just take a look at your state’s initiatives to ban toxic chemicals and all the groups working to reform of the federal toxics laws. Moms and young women are attending community meetings and putting pressure on corporations to eliminate harmful chemicals, writing articles and talking to their friends and family members. This just isn’t a collection of environmental and health groups tackling the next big issue, this is my generation’s women’s right movement.

For a toxic free future,

Renee Claire

Friday, July 16, 2010


Buenos Diaz!

I landed in Miami late last night and have been spending the day watching the entire first season of Treme, which goes with the new books that I'm reading. The World that Made New Orleans and Letters from New Orleans. Treme is from the producers and writers of The Wire. Best damn series next to Weeds! Can't beat a sweaty cursing John Goodman screaming into a webcam about the political shit show of a post-Katrina New Orleans.

Interesting projects that I'm following:

Music Maker Relief Foundation: "Music Maker Relief Foundation, Inc. helps the true pioneers and forgotten heroes of Southern music gain recognition and meet their day to day needs. We present these musical traditions to the world so American culture will flourish and be preserved for future generations.

Our criterion for recipients is they be rooted in a Southern musical tradition, be 55 years or older and have an annual income less than $18,000."

Bridge the Gulf Project: Bridge the Gulf is a storytelling initiative promoting cultural survival, environmental justice and sustainable development in Gulf Coast communities. The project is led by Gulf Coast community activists and supported by filmmakers and new-media artists.

New Orleans Murals by Tony Green

Check out the latest video of the Macarthur and Seminary mural and community garden. Last weekend a handful of us built a garden out of found wood planks and rusted steel bars we found in the lot where several artists wrote a new mural. It was a great day, though challenging. In fact at first we all stood there staring at the huge pile of unfit boards and rusty steel, no water source, no tools, barely any donated soil and thought fuck this. But then Desi said, make it happen, and so we did.

I'm on my way to Amsterdam on Monday, Milan at the end of the month, and then driving cross country with my dad in August. Hopefully I'll find my way home.

Renee Claire

Friday, July 9, 2010

Follow Up: Radicals and Revolutions

I am writing something about the Oscar Grant situation/case/anger (not sure what the right word is there), but I wanted to follow up on my post from yesterday first.

I'll say this though - I was in downtown Oakland last night. It was peaceful and hopeful while somber. Hundreds of people stood at the corner of 14th St and Broadway to express their anger and endless pride in the Oakland community. At dark, the same kids that show up at every rally, demonstration and who, regardless of the verdict were going to be violent, started with mindless property destruction. There was a concert where at least a hundred people danced and sang and prayed together before, during, and after this was going on. There were families, children, whites, browns, blacks. The majority of the people were not violent, are deeply proud of Oakland, and believe that looting footlocker was not going to bring justice for Oscar Grant. More on this story later.

I want to share this passage in Rules for Radicals that I think closely relates to what is happening in the Gulf and the arguments being made to continue offshore drilling.

pg 30:
"The fourth rule of the ethics of means and ends is that judgment must be made int he context of the times in which the action occurred and not from any other chronological vantage point."

pg 31:
Re: Lincoln and his pre-election and pro-election statements on slavery

"This was also the same Lincoln who, a few years prior to his signing the Emancipation Proclamation, stated in his First Inaugural Address: 'I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declared that 'I have no purpose, directly, or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.' Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I made this and many similar declarations and have never recanted them.'

Those who would be critical of the ethics of Lincoln's reversal of positions have a strangely unreal picture of a static unchanging world, where one remains firm and committed to certain so-called principles or positions. In the politics of human life, consistency is not a virtue."

Just because the oil industry has been one of two industries in the Gulf doesn't mean that there are no other opportunities for its people, that those talents and experiences do not directly translate to creating a new energy industry in the area. But what does that look like?

Is it possible to begin creating this new industry now? I don't think it is possible to put the people who are out of work today into a job tomorrow to create this new industry. So what now?

Do we continue to voice our support for the immediate banning of offshore drilling even though it means that people will go bankrupt and lose their homes and suffer greater mental health issues? Or do we support offshore drilling while developing a roadmap to end it . . . sometime, while developing a new clean energy industry by including the oil and gas workers? Since we understand that the oil and gas industry will do everything in its power to lobby against ever ending it when the time does come, does it make more sense to sacrifice these people today for the benefit of generations to come?

Pg 31: Lincoln said of slavery . . .
"But I do mean to say that although bad laws, if they exist, should be repealed, still, while they continue in force, for the sake of example, they should be religiously followed."

The organization Green For All has been taking these questions and turning them into real action in the Gulf states. They are dedicated to creating a green collar industry and have produced training programs all around the country for those from low income communities of color. Van Jones, who started Green for All, often gives speeches to young people of color saying this is their moment to recreate the economy so that the economic system no longer exploits their labor and their communities.

Poor southern blacks and poor southern whites haven't always had the best relationship. Poor southern whites are the Have A Little, Want Mores that I wrote about yesterday. The only thing they have had on their side in staying just out of desperation is the color of their skin, so they tend (yes, I'm generalizing) to make decisions that goes against their own self interest to continue the charade that they are less marginalized than blacks of the same economic status.

The fight to revolutionize our energy systems in the United States isn't just about capitalism, its about racism as well. The benefit to the complexity of the climate change issue is that it speaks to each of us on multiple levels. It is this complexity why we are constantly stymied in our path forward. It's why we don't have a plan, why our government doesn't know what to do. It's why we as individuals don't know what to do. It's why [insert your most trusted environmental group here] can't tell you how to take action beyond driving less, emailing [insert bad company here], and calling your senator.

The exclusivity of the environmental movement over the past 40 years have alienated the very people that the climate movement needs to find solutions. The people who get paid full time to find the solutions aren't any more capable of finding solutions than the people who work on the oil rigs. Climate change is providing us an opportunity to fix our systemic problems. Because it's not just about finding the end all be all answers to climate change, it's also about finding solutions to institutional racism and classism that keeps our country inert.

Last night, most of the people I listened to spoke about our broken justice system, about our broken communities. Our broken justice and social system is how a white cop can murder a black 22 year old single father while he is handcuffed face down with a knee on his neck and hundreds of people watching is able to get into this situation in the first place. It's not just about pulling a trigger instead of pressing a button. It's not just about not realizing that you are holding a 3 pound gun instead of a 4 oz taser. It's not just about feeling threatened enough to want to use a taser on a man in handcuffs face down with someone kneeling on his neck. It's about the social constructs that put all of those people on the Fruitvale Bart station platform that night.

And I think the same is true for finding solutions to climate change. How do we change the system so that the men and women working on the oil rigs understand the magnitude of their own power to protect their communities against climate change impacts?

And that's what my mind looks like today.

Renee Claire

Update: I just found a blog post on Sierra Club's Crossroads Blog about Senator Byrd. Once a staunch supporter of the coal industry at any cost he began to understand the need for our country to adapt to a changing climate. A really good read.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Security Blanket of Radicals and Revolution

Out of frustration of my own limited talent and experience, I am seeking the comfort of one my literary security blankets; Rules for Radicals. Though I have several that I often depend on -- anything Langston Hughes and Alice Walker, A River Runs Through It, To Kill A Mockingbird to name a few. On my trip into the city today, I began my 3rd reading of Rules for Radicals, though I often re-read highlighted passages when the need arises.

I'm at a bit of struggle on a couple fronts, but mostly the oil spill and its impacts to both the people of the gulf and the slow process of galvanizing support for the inevitable switch to cleaner energy. I am balancing in an odd position in which I don't believe I've found myself in before. In all my arguments with my friends and family over my beliefs, I never felt that I was challenging more than their intellectual understanding of an issue, but the ban on offshore drilling is a completely different animal. I am now challenging the identity of some of my family members. The very things that they wake up each morning to do and speak about and think about and provides them the resources to do the things they love.

I am confused. I am frustrated. I don't know the right answer or the right things to say or how to appropriately express love for the Blanchard identity and the need for revolution at the same time. And so I am seeking comfort in my literary security blankets.

pg: xix
"As an organizer I start from where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be. That we accept the world as it is does not in any sesnse weaken our desire to change it into what we believe it should be -- it is necessary to begin where the world is if we are going to change it to what we think it should be."

"If the real radical finds that having long hair sets up pyschological barriers to communication and organization, he cuts his hair. If I were organizing in an orthodox Jewish community I would not walk in there eating a ham sandwich, unless I wanted to be rejected so I could have an excuse to cop out."

"Dostoevski said that taking a new step is what people fear most. Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people. They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and chance the future."

This last statement is where I stand still with a pregnant pause. Because if the people of the gulf right now, after Katrina, after Rita, after the recession, after 79 days of gushing oil into their homes, don't feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost that they still can't imagine a different economy, a different way of life where those working on the rigs, working in the offices of the oil and gas companies are part of the solutions to climate change, that the people like me, who ask if not this, then what, are the enemy to their family's happiness, then where are we in this battle, in this revolution?

What have we accomplished at all in the discussion of climate change?

From where I stand the primary, most vocal advocates for change, for revolution are still the highly educated, the upper-middle class, the whites at the desks of the big enviros taking pictures and telling everyone else caught in the middle of their mortgage payments and their fear and the reality that this is all real, that we must find an answer today, that your mortgage payment is not the priority, that you are not more important than this Take Action email.

There are so many people who have been hanging on day to day that now will probably lose the last bit that they have because we have been so busy sitting at hip restaurants in Copenhagen polishing our rhetoric that we haven't gone to Broussard, Louisiana to hold a community meeting and ask the Blanchards to be part of finding the solution.

pg xxi:
"To asume that a political revolution can survive without the supporting base of a popular reformation is to ask for the impossible in politics."

pg: 19:
"Between the Haves and the Have-Nots are the Have-a-Little, Want Mores - the middle class. Torn between upholding the status quo to protect the little they have, yet wanting change so they can get more, they become split personalities. They could be described as social, economic, and political schizoids. Generally, they seek the safe way, where they can profit by change and yet not risk losing the little they have. . . . Thermopolitically they are tepid and rooted in inertia."

"Yet in the conflicting interest and contradictions within the Have-a-Little, Want Mores is the genesis of creativity. Out of this class have come, with few exceptions, the great world leaders of change. . . "

I find comfort in reading about and hearing about the radicals and revolutions that came before me. Because then I remember that revolution is possible. Though I still don't know what to say to my uncles and cousins who can't imagine who they are without the Gulf and the rigs.

Renee Claire

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Thursday Gumbo: Dreamy and Playful With A Touch of Reality

I'm sleepy. It's wonderfully beautiful outside right now and the cool breeze and bright sun are making it a tough day to do anything but daydream of travel.

Citizen Action Defeats $5 million Industry Budget: CA Assembly passes a ban on Bisphenol-A in children's food and drink containers. Several states, including New York and Maryland, have already passed similar bans. California is often a leader in community protection and this fight proved no different yet extremely difficult to do. Read up.

Oil Rigs and The Fisherman Who Love Them:
Mother Jones released an article about the defense of offshore drilling by the fishing community in the Gulf. I'm a bit upset about the situation in the gulf, especially given that the majority of my family work on the rigs, use to work on the rigs and now work in offices, or have a large chunk of the livelihoods depend on the oil and gas industry.

The fights and misunderstandings are just beginning between me and my beloved family members that believe a ban offshore drilling is an attack on who they are as people. So I'm trying to read as much as possible about what a ban really means, what it could look like, and the possibilities for those that work on the rigs to be the change within the industry to help our country make the switch to clean energy.

Time to Travel (Plan): For the remainder of the year I have plenty of travel already planned, including way too much time in Amsterdam, Paris, Spain, and Portugal. But in two years time, I'm planning a much much longer drive through south America with one of my best friends. A trip we decided to take while watching a World Cup match after having returned from a quick trip to Mexico. I want to be an explorer when I grow up.

My Very Talented Cousin Kelly: Art is in the Blanchard/Broussard genes. Check out my very talented cousin Kelly's pieces. She lives in southern Louisiana, like the rest of the crew, and paints landscapes from the area. She also builds, sews, creates, cooks, and makes everything you can think of, none of which I'm capable of accomplishing because my talent is napping in the sunshine.

Update: Minnesota Releases List of Chemicals of Concern: The Toxic Free Kids Act, which sounds like a bad MFA poem, required the Department of Health in Minnesota to release a list of chemicals of concern. Today this list was released. This will help health and environmental officials in the state to create standards and guidelines for limiting children's exposure to the listed chemicals.

Renee Claire