Sunday, June 19, 2011

Whippits, Rainbow Feathers and The Groan Zone

A couple times a week (ideally) I take Georgia for a walk on the levee just off Poland st, the crux of the Industrial Canal and the River. Because of the character of a land levee Georgia gets to roll down a nice grassy bank while chasing imaginary butterflies or whatever it is that gets her running and pins her ears back. This morning around 630am I was barely awake for our walk and stumbled upon a large pile of rainbow feathers, firecrackers, roasted corn left overs and whippits. Not completely out of the ordinary for my town, where every afternoon I see a street artist cycle homeward fully dressed as a Japanese inspired painting complete with oversized wooden frame, white face paint, and long Kimono.

This was one tough week. I'll try to give you the unromantic basics. The coalition I've been working with for the past six months broke down, with several members telling me they were walking out, a hostile email exchange that ended with someone replying instead of forwarding nasty comments going public while cc'ing Executive Directors and board members, being told I'm terrible at my job on a conference call while trying to deescalate someone who wants to be my new office bully, pain medication that made me hold on to my bed because the world started spinning, having to stand next to my ex and his new girlfriend (not cute) at my favorite Lafayette local band's concert and a hairline fracture that my doctor told me there is nothing he can do to help. That does not include my desk breaking, my futon breaking, my dog getting a bloody nose and beat up at the dog park (how do i get the only non-aggressive pitbull?), the forest that has suddenly sprouted in my backyard, and an incredibly messy house that I just can't think about cleaning because I'm writing a framing document that lays out participatory decision making options for my next blow up of a coalition meeting in Chicago on Wednesday or Thursday, but maybe Friday if we can juggle somethings around and people decide that they actually want to be in the same room with each other. Oh and its been 105 everyday since last weekend and my aircon . . . not so good.

Even given all that within 5 days, it was pretty great to have one of my best friends in town (even though I wouldn't have this hairline fracture is she hadn't come to town) to laugh instead of cry after every one of those things happened, without her I probably would have quit and bought a one way plane ticket to a country I've never been to before. And I got to share my favorite spots in New Orleans and New Iberia and my lovely family with her. We even made crawfish and scrambled eggs from my aunt and uncles chickens they are raising in their backyard. I also mastered peeling crawfish and typing with one hand. In the end though, having a good friend who hands you a glass of rose champagne and pain meds at the same time and learning new skills beats it all. My mom even happened to be in a town several hours across state and hopped over to help make fruit salad, fill my fridge and be the receipent instead of me of excited muddy wet dog jumping.

As I'm writing this framing document and ignoring phone calls from the most obnoxious of co-workers on a Sunday morning, I'm reading through this book called "Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making". It's pretty helpful in what our coalition is facing right now. There is this entire section dedicated to the groan zone. This is what it says,"A period of confusion and frustration is a natural part of group decision-making. Once a group crosses the line from airing familiar opinions to exploring diverse perspectives, group members have to struggle in order to integrate new and different ways of thinking with their own. Struggling to understand a wide range of foreign or opposing ideas is not a pleasant experience. Group members can be repetitious, insensitive, defensive, short tempered, and more! At such times most people don't have the slightest notion of what's happening. Sometimes the mere act of acknowledging the existence of the Groan Zone can be a signficant step for a group to take."

Either way, after a good 'is this the zombie apocalypse' freak outs with myself, some This American Life podcast listening, and a visit to the Hi Ho to watch the latest Treme episode, I think I'm ready for next week. I would also like to know if the time that I spend with this coalition will qualify me for a psychology degree or a job with the state department. I think it should.

In other news, the head of Greenpeace International is occupying an oil rig in the Arctic and he's kind of awesome.

And now I will search through my favorite fashion blogs to remind me that there are pretty things out there somewhere while procrastinating returning calls to ugly people (ugly in spirit not appearance). There is this sign in most bars and cafes in town, it says "be nice or leave", I like it and it sums up this sweet darling eccentric town. I will also silently call those ugly people weak tot sauce in my head and listen to T.I. and Lost Bayou Ramblers before my next meeting. Thanks CH!

Ready for the next round!
Renee Claire

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Throw Your Yayas Back in Jail

I spent most of the weekend napping beneath a fan and listening to old blues records. It must be summertime on the Gulf coast. My morning walks (not runs) start at 7 with 80 degree sunshine. My fridge has raspberry zinger iced tea, but I have yet to implement some of the heat remedies I learned while traveling Southeast Asia in the summer, so I know it could be worse. I'll save those until August or maybe July.

I've been building some interesting relationships with journalists and fishermen and community organizer heroes that I use to just read about or have watched tell their stories on the John Stewart show. It's amazing and overwhelming and my question of 'who the fuck do you think you are' continues to roam around my tiny little brain. For instance I'm about to send a couple book ideas to a New York Times writer who I've been hanging out with while he writes a new book. We ate rabbit jambalaya and drank miller high life the other night at Coops Place and he mentioned that he was having a hard time figuring out what his 'story' really is, well since I know everything, I have a couple ideas I want to share with him. I mean . . . what? Who am I?

Right now a controversy has arisen from a Washington Post article about NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) (the feds in charge of Gulf Coast post-BP oil disaster restoration) made a statement that the unprecedented number of sea turtle deaths this year are because of shrimpers. I'll admit I've often just taken the large enviro stance on these things, because I trusted my colleagues. They knew the shrimping industry and the sea turtle threats more than I did. But I've been put into a situation where my alligence is first to the shrimpers and then to the big enviros that are attacking them, at least professionally. It's a strange and sometimes unsettling place I find myself at the moment.

I find myself in one of those moments where I am questioning what I have put my body and freedom on the line for. I don't regret for one moment any civil disobience action I have taken, but I wonder if I've always had all the facts. As much as I question the things around me (admittedly out of pure anti-authority at times), the institutions without which I would never have been able to have the experiences I have had, but sometimes I forget to question the things I have found as my closest belief systems. I'm not sure how to explain it really. I search and eventually find an answer to a question and I stay there. After all it was real work to find that answer. But my great fault (well one of my great faults) is that I rarely find a new answer. When I find my answer I rarely seek the nuanced answer. I rarely go that one step further to understand the grey areas to those big questions. I often sit on the black and white thick line and forget about the smaller pixels that have created those blocks of color beneath my feet.

My experiences here in New Orleans as an organizer or coordinator or therapist or mediator or whatever you want to call my job have me nestled deep inside those pixels. The details on which I have historically rarely focused. But now must.

The issue of commercial fishing, specifically shrimpers, is that issue. The Washington Post article blamed the shrimpers this season for a large number of sea turtle deaths. NOAA, the feds, have stated that these deaths are certainly caused by the shrimpers who are not in compliance with a law forcing them to use TEDs (Turtle Excluder Devices). TEDs is a device that keeps shrimping nets open enough to allow sea turtles that might become bycatch (sealife not intended to be caught in fishing nets but does because the nets are so big) to escape a certain drowning death. Shrimpers lose shrimp with these devices, which means they lose desperately needed income. These devices are at the center of many fishermen v environmentalist drama.

I'm sure you understand, but I'll quickly lay out the drama. Fishermen in Louisiana are not factories, they are not large commercial fishing corporations, though they call themselves commercial fishermen. They are families that have fished in that same area for decades, generations. Environmentalists are concerned about overfishing. I am as well. Many of us are. So they help pass laws to limit the kind, scope, times of the year, that commercial fishermen can fish. This limits the fishermen's income. They fight back. Drama ensues even between friends. Or at least those that should be friends. Because when you think about it there isn't much that should divide fishermen and environmentalists. It is now, post-BP oil disaster that this important relationship is taking shape, between fishermen and environmentalist on the Gulf coast.

The Washington Post article seems pretty cut and dry. Shrimpers aren't using TEDs. Turtles are dying at high rates. But what the article leaves out are what happens to turtles who have swam, mated, spawned, in 250 million gallons of oil and 1.8 million gallons of toxic dispersants. NOAA states it knows for sure that these deaths have nothing to do with BP. Yet, have not stated anything like this on any other species deaths or sickness, including hundreds of dolphins that are washing up on our shorelines. (Yes, its not uncommon on the Gulf Coast to see a dead dolphin on the beach. A recently enacted NOAA law prevents you from touching them (ie testing their tissue to find out why they died)) And shrimping season started late, with much fewer shrimpers, while most of the turtle deaths happened before shrimping season started. This leaves many questioning the validity of NOAAs claims.

We don't know the impacts of the BP oil disaster on our sealife. Every party in this has repeated this statement. It is one of the only things we all know for sure. And we will not know the impacts for years, more likely decades. We do know that BP and the federal government have consistently stood with each other over the past year to the detriment of coastal communities. We do know that during the height of the disaster BP employees dictated government response. We do know that BP wants to limit its liability on the Gulf coast. We do know that neither NOAA nor BP have proven to the communities on the Gulf Coast that either one of them are trustworthy and has Gulf Coast restoration as its first priority. We do know that in all things related to proof of oil impacts, NOAA states over and over again that they can't say for sure. We know these things.

So, to say for certain that the shrimpers are responsible for all these deaths looks like an attack on suffering communities to allow big oil to get away with not paying up. That's what it looks like with the information given in the article and with what we know here on the Gulf Coast. Even so, several big enviros have sent a letter of intent to sue NOAA for not holding shrimpers who have violated TED laws accountable. No discussion was sought, no phone was picked up to find out what was happening on the shrimping boats this season by big enviros. And to be fair, to my knowledge, no shrimpers reached out to big enviros when word came down about this lawsuit to stop it from a friendly place first.

The already delicate relationship between big enviros and small family fishing communities on the Gulf Coast are in danger of falling apart over this. And I find myself in the middle. With a resume no shrimper would find impressive, yet with a job that requires me to stand by them regardless of their thoughts of me.

So I guess the only question in my tiny little brain isn't 'who the fuck do you think you are', it's also 'what the fuck do you believe in' or at least 'what do I know now, that I didn't know before, that might change what I believe in'. All in all, not a bad place to be in I guess. Just a little much when mixed with 100 degree moonlight at 10pm.