Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dinner with Darryl and The President

Last night I met up with my favorite New Orleans activist. He might be my favorite because I don't know many yet, but he also looks like Santa Clause, uses a cane with a giant gold alligator as its handle, and can drink copious amounts of Cider. We ate pizza and plotted change and he told stories. A good night.

Darryl helped start Green Corps, which I've written about in the past before I ever met him, and is a leading voice in the recovery efforts of the Holy Cross and Lower Ninth Ward neighborhoods. Did I mention he looks like Santa Clause? In his younger days before he knew his lifelong path would be pushing back on the chemical industry in Cancer Alley and the Louisiana government in post-Katrina New Orleans, he bummed around the south getting involved in anti-nukes work. Once working as a janitor on the second shift in order to borrow bits of paper with important information to help the community. He has been fired for starting a union at a chemical facility. And he arrived in New Orleans twenty years ago to paint a buddy's house, then a neighbor's house, then another, and another until he didn't have time to paint any longer as his time was being spent organizing with the Sierra Club and other groups to shut chemical facilities that were poisoning his friends and neighbors. He mentioned to me that one of his big regrets was not being a whistle blower during his years of odd jobs at chemical plants. But I think he did alright.

I stumbled across this post from CIEL (Center for International Environmental Law) by Daryl Ditz. I also had dinner with this other Daryl, but that was many years ago. And the only thing I remember is that I had a massive crush on one of the guys that was also at dinner and I was nervous. Then my crush walked away without saying goodnight as Daryl made sure I was safely in a cab.

In this post, Daryl asks the question "Could the new Congress find bipartisan agreement to ratify a global treaty to reduce the risks of the “worst of the worst” toxic chemicals?" The national discussion around the updating of TSCA, our nations chemical policy, is continuing in a climate that shows more people are aware of the chemicals in the products we bring into our homes.

This week I have been shopping a bunch for my new apartment. I'm still unfamiliar with the city and so don't know the little shops to support. So big box stores here I come. Even in, yes I'll admit it, Walmart many plastic household items have big signs that say BPA free. Though these things often sit next to items with big signs that say PVC. This is the PVC manufacturing area of the country after all. I can imagine that those three letters are sources of pride and that strong odor is just the smell of jobs. But if the families who shop at Walmart are aware of the dangers of BPA, then our national conversation is much closer to where it should be on eliminating toxic chemicals than it use to be. So why couldn't this congress find bipartisan support for a better chemical policy?

Well, there is the ACC after all. I hate them. Anyways, ACC is a trade association, which I've also mentioned to you before and everyday they release an email of the day's biggest industry trends. Mostly directly corresponding to some campaign someone I work with is coordinating against them. I've kept all their emails since 2008 in order to better understand where their priorities are moving. It's really interesting to look back and see how many emails they sent on plastic bags or BPA or state bills being introduced on PVC. They send people to attend city council meetings to beat back plastic bag bans. That must be a terrible job. Their biggest defense? Discrimination against poor people. Plastic bag bans discriminate against poor people who can't afford reusable bags. Amazing.

As I was having drinks with Darryl (with two R's), I didn't watch the State of the Union, but I did read it this morning. This part struck me:

"The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation. None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from. Thirty years ago, we couldn't know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution. What we can do -- what America does better than anyone else -- is spark the creativity and imagination of our people. We're the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn't just change our lives. It is how we make our living.

Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation. But because it's not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need. That's what planted the seeds for the Internet. That's what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS. Just think of all the good jobs -- from manufacturing to retail -- that have come from these breakthroughs."

Earlier this year, the state of Louisiana passed an incentive package for technology start ups to encourage this rapidly developing industry to live in New Orleans. One of the compliants of science based industries who think of coming to Louisiana and the Gulf coast is the lack of skilled people in their field. Just yesterday, an Oil industry trade group sent out their own daily trend email and discussed the barriers to safer drilling. Skilled workers. The older generation who have been working on the rigs their whole life are starting to retire and the younger generation hasn't stepped up because the who the fuck wants to risk their life everyday on an oil rig after watching their fathers do it their whole lives. Not many people it turns out.

The area needs a science and math booster shot. Some, many large projects that can help get our people trained and skilled in industries of the future. Sprouting new businesses and trends that will help with the long term recovery of this region and therefore the rest of the country. Businesses that move us away from fossil fuels and towards a greater level of innovation.

au revior,
Renee Claire

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

From Sunrise to Sunset

Marais Street consists of several double shotguns of varying upkeep; a few boarded up with graffiti (5555) and the rest on an upwards mend. It is located between Ursline and St. Philips. Louis Armstrong Park and the African American Museum, which nestles up to the oddly fit fence and my hammock. A neighborhood known for consistently spitting out some of the best musicians the Jazz world has seen, Treme homes are pressed tightly against one another with shutters closed, sitting chairs on their porches, and is quickly becoming French Quarter North instead of the Treme steeped in musical history. All white people on my block besides the neighbors on either side of mine. My home, a former Hondurian boarding house for those that worked on ships docking at port and after that a brothel.

The rain poured for the past day, which is doing wonders for my garden beds, but limiting my cycling. I found a packed used bookstore, not unlike the one I frequented in Eastern Market during my DC days, a few blocks towards the river where I located some local gardening books and Nine Lives by Dan Baum.

Dan Baum arrived in New Orleans shortly after Katrina to write for the New Yorker the status of recovery, but realized the city is much more complicated then the recovery efforts of just the latest disaster to flood its streets.

"Most visitors to New Orleans sooner or later start asking impolite questions: Why has the rebuilding since Katrina gone so slowly? Why do you put up with such corrput and incompetent politicians? How can you waste so much money on Mardi Gras when you're still living in trailers? Doesn't anybody in this city ever show up on time?

New Orleanians are hard to offend. Stop thinking of New Orleans as the worst-organized cit in the United States, they often say. Start thinking of it as the best-organized city in the Caribbean.

That New Orleans is like no place else in America goes way beyond food, music, and architecture. New Orleanians don't even understand such fundamentals as time and money the way other Americans do. The future, for example: While the rest of Americans famously dream and scheme and chase the horizon, New Orleanians are masters at the lost art of living in the moment. If we're doing okay this minute, goes the logic - enjoying one another's company, keeping cool, maybe having something good to eat - of what earthly importance is tomorrow or next week? Given the fragility of life, why even count on getting there?

. . . . Long before the storm, New Orleans was by almost any metric the worst city in the United States - the deepest poverty, the most murders, the worst schools, the sickest economy, the most corrupt and brutal cops. Yet a poll conducted a few weeks before the storm found that more New Orleanians - regardless of age, race, or wealth - were 'extremely satisfied' with their lives than residents of any other American city."

Off to clean the turnip greens.

Renee Claire

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thursday Gumbo: Prairie dogs, Edwin Edwards No Longer in Stripes, and States Take Action on Chemical Reform,

Hello Monkies,

Did you hear Radiolab's podcast on Prairie dogs? It was really good and it was featured on NPR Morning Edition today. I like to listen to Morning Edition everyday. Anyways, Radiolab is fantastic. Several years ago I had a big sleeping problem, as in I didn't do it. So I would stay up and listen to 88.5 and at around 2am this weird little show out of NYC would come on called Radiolab. It's been one of my favorite storytelling shows ever since.

Edwin Edwards was released from prison a couple days ago. He spent 8 years in federal prison for a the usual Louisiana politician stuff. He is living at his daughter's house instead of the usual half-way house for the remainder of his sentence and just got a job as a consultant to the head of the Louisiana Democratic Party. Don't worry he isn't being paid by the state Democratic Party and he isn't getting the usual amount that they pay consultants doing this type of work. ok.

There are about 30 states that are taking action this year on chemical reform. The Environmental Defense Fund just posted this new blog what states are planning on doing.

Directly from the blog: "A summary of the types of bills introduced or soon to be introduced follows.

Comprehensive State Laws: Nine states, including Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Washington and Vermont, will be introducing or have introduced policies to change the way we regulate chemicals at the state level.

BPA Phase Outs: At least seventeen states will be introducing or have introduced policies to restrict the use of BPA in infant formula cans, receipt paper, baby bottles and/or sippy cups including: Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and the District of Columbia.

State TSCA Resolutions: At least eleven states will be calling on the 112th U.S. Congress to bring our federal chemicals policy into the 21st century: Alaska, California, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin.

Banning Cadmium in Children's Products: At least eight states will be introducing or have introduced policies to ban the use of cadmium in children's products, including: Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey and New York.

Deca BDE (toxic flame retardant) Phase Outs: At least three states will be introducing or have introduced policies to reduce exposure to deca BDE, including: Alaska, Massachusetts, New York and the District of Columbia.

Legislation planned: Chemical safety legislation is also planned in South Dakota."


Renee Claire

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Couple Good Listens: Gumbo

I'm one of those social and environmental justice activists who rereads inspiring texts and youtubes great speeches over and over again. It's true. I also like to relisten to good podcasts while baking on Sunday mornings. I bake on Sunday mornings.

This morning I relistened to a KQED Forum podcast from last January 18, when President Obama was receiving his Nobel Peace Prize and our country (most of us anyway) were celebrating the life of Martin Luther King jr. The other day a friend told me that her parents refused to tell her their political affiliations while growing up. When she reached conclusions herself she would share them with her parents and they realized they had all reached similar conclusions.

That was not my house. I watched Jesse Jackson's Democratic national convention speech when I was 8. I ran back and forth between rooms in the house to watch with each of my parents some part of it. I appreciate those discussions in my house growing up. But I'm assuming that kids pick up social cues that turn into political philosophies regardless of these types of thought provoking discussions.

On Monday Robert Kennedy jr posted an editorial about his Uncle's assassination in 1963. His article is obviously in light of the Tucson shooting. There are stories in that writing that I had never heard before though I have read many books and articles about that time period. This morning, after listening to the Forum, I started looking around for more Martin Luther King jr speeches. And I listened again to these songs, really. They are more of song than speech. One that popped up is from Robert Kennedy announcing King's assassination.

I'm one of those Kennedy Democrats, though I'm not actually a big fan of Democrats in general. I do still remember my first time running into Teddy and his dogs in the hallways of Congress during my many years of hill drops as a low level intern/assistant/volunteer. (A hill drop is when groups bring something to raise awareness of an important issue to each member of congress. Many times it is to every single member of Congress and it takes a long time and your back hurts afterwards.) I think most who vote Democratic of my age are inspired by the Kennedys, since we grew up in homes that were filled with stories of that time.

However, without a single Kennedy in Congress at this moment new Kennedy stories aren't as sure to come so easily to mind. Though this week Patrick Kennedy has been outspoken about the need for mental health solutions and compassion. How I wish Caroline would be one of those Kennedy's. A great female progressive orator on the national stage is just what we need, not that Ann Richards wasn't. Ann always sounded like she was speaking just to you. Wait, I'm getting the feeling that the 1988 Democratic convention had a pretty big influence on me.

I've mentioned it before, but I really feel that the conflict surrounding mountaintop removal in Appalachia is similar to the civil rights movement in the South in '60s. One of the great activists in this fight is Judy Bonds. She recently passed away from cancer. Her memorial service was held yesterday. She was a tireless fighter for environmental justice in West Virginia. We need to remember that the people in her community who are fighting to end mountaintop removal are being threatened and assaulted for defending their homes and promoting cleaner energy. A good reminder that there are greater orators in our own communities when we need them.

And for one more good listen,,Lois Gibbs.

Renee Claire

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saturday Gumbo

It's a wonderfully beautiful day today in Oakland. No coldness, lots of sunshine. In between packing boxes, I'm taking short bike rides around the area and drinking coffee and snacking on my first crock pot meal. I made beef stew yesterday! It's better today with my homemade bread. Who knew I could do those things.

As I was packing my kitchen gear using old New York Times (such a fucking elitist hippy I am) I saw an ad by BP from June. It was the one with the beach full of cleanup workers and text just below that said "Making Things Right". I threw it into one of the boxes I'm mailing directly to my new apartment. Good visual reminder of what I will be doing starting January 31. Keeping corporations held responsible for poisoning communities.

I've been asked what I really want to do more times than I can count, because that's what older activists like to ask younger activists. "But what do you really want to do?" A pretty terrible question to be asked, when what you really need at the moment (which is why you are having that conversation in the first place) is a fucking job to pay the fucking bills that has something, anything to do with what you really want to do. Hold corporations responsible when they poison communities and try my best to make sure they don't in the first place.

The final Oil Spill Commission report was released last week, which I already sent you the link to. 398 pages. Most community groups think the report is pretty good. It calls for a community body to assess new oil permits, states that there are systemic safety problems within the industry that will lead to other similar disasters, and states that fundamental reform is needed to execute true oversight of the energy industry.

We all heard of the man who got on his knees to beg for the money that BP owes him so that he can pay his bills. We've also heard of the companies from out of state who are putting in claims due to the financial impacts of the spill. What I haven't heard much about are the mental health issues in those that have been impacted. When the disaster first began I saw one news report that talked about mental health clinics opening up around the gulf, but that these were so underfunded that it was unlikely to penetrate deeply into the communities who need the help the most.

I recently met someone who said something of the sort, oh, well the city has recovered from the flooding so the problems aren't compounding. To that I said, no. No, sir, no one has really recovered from Katrina, emotionally or infrastructurely. When I look for articles about mental health issues from the oil spill, the majority of those were written in August of last year. Seems like a few journalists decided it was important then but haven't spoken much about it since. And we wonder why church and carnival are such important cultural cornerstones in the area; distractions on what is good in life, not what has gone wrong.

The Oil Spill Commission also commented on journalists taking advantage of this disaster to create high emotions or stir controversy. Because this didn't actually exist? I'm not sure what the origin of this came from, but it seems that Anderson Cooper was pointed out in particular. He is blamed from searching for angry oil workers to come on his show to be . . . angry at what happened. The one thing that my family and I were able to agree on was how Anderson Cooper was one of the best journalists covering the oil spill. He presented different angles and with the Keeping Them Honest segment held decision makers from all over the spectrum accountable for their actions. I find it hard to believe that finding someone who was impacted by the spill to share their anger with the rest of us who were pretty damn angry as trying to stir controversy. Cooper said the incident never happened.

What I find most terrifying about heading to New Orleans are these things. The compounded traumas of a repeatedly targeted community. Systemic problems within our energy and chemical industries, financial system, and federal and state governments that allow for these traumas to happened over and over again. The men and women who are much stronger than I who continue to live in these communities, fighting to survive and thrive in the homes they built. It's all a bit much. Maybe my awkward laughing in stressful/uncomfortable situations will finally be helpful?

The LA Times published this good article on the creation of a new agency that would focus solely on the safety of offshore drilling.

Save the Gulf Walrus!
Renee Claire

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Just a Little Sugar Will Do

(This time without grotesque grammar mistakes and some slight updates. No, I don't usually read my posts before posting them, which means there are usually mistakes and sometimes I go back and try to fix them, which is what I did here.)

Hello Lovelies,

I've arrived back in Oakland just in time to finish my current contract, pack up all my belongings, and ship out to New Orleans in a week and a half. Despite the sadness of the Saints not making it to the Superbowl this year, damn you Eagles!, I'm still really excited to be heading out. If nothing else because of this cold, cold, coldness we have going on in this Oaktown. Though New Orleans faced freezing temperatures this week. Hopefully it will be nice and toasty before I have to sleep on an air mattress while waiting for my stuff to arrive.

The packing is going well, since I didn't actually unpack from moving to the Bay. Now I can spend most of my time catching up on the new work I will be doing, like reading the recently released Oil Spill Commission Report. Today is a forum in New Orleans about the specifics of the report. You can watch the forum at the link above. The commission also held an hour long press conference yesterday. Fairly interesting if you are folding clothes, cleaning your house, or making breakfast.

I keep getting asked where is home, you know since by the end of this month I will have lived in three time zones and two countries over the past 12 months (don't even let me start about how many different homes). The other night I had a discussion with a good friend about how she too has problems answering this question. Always nice to meet someone who is also stumped by this. I use to say Florida or Louisiana, but I've recently been stumped by that simple question. I'm not sure I have one home. And when I first started getting tongue tied while trying to answer that question, I felt a little sad. Everyone wants to be from somewhere. To have a place to return when all isn't going well or a place to get your favorite meal for free. And sure sometimes I feel that would be great, but that's just not my path. Many places, like Krakow, Budapest, Amsterdam, Miami, Washington DC, and Oakland, have taken me in as family and New Orleans is next.

One of the reasons I'm so excited to be arriving in New Orleans in a week and a half is because I will be close to my extended family for the first time in 24 years. Seems like an exciting new adventure. They all live within 3 hours of New Orleans. One of the more adorable family members is my Aunt Opal. She likes to drink wine in the afternoon and talk about politics with me. My kind of woman.

Another reason is because I get to work with Dean Wilson. The Atchafalya Basinkeeper originally from Spain who moved to the swamp decades ago on his way down to the Amazon. Dean ended up staying in the swamp working as a commercial fisherman and then dedicating his life to protecting the Cypress swamps in Southern Louisiana. If you have 10 minutes, check out this short film about Dean.

I'm tempted to put some commentary on the Arizona shooting in this space, but I can't really wrap my head around this. I do believe there are consequences to all the violent discourse that has been happening, though who the fuck knows why the crazy came out that day. What is also making me shake my head is the name calling of liberals as violence endorsers. I thought we want to hug the bad out of people and were plotting to take all the guns from our country's patriots? Do I hate guns or love guns? Do I preach too much compassion or too much hate? I'm so confused. Luckily there are enough idiots telling me what I think on tv and radio 24/7, so I don't have to think it up for myself and others don't have to ask me.

Renee Claire