Oiled Marshes in Terrebonne Parish Sunday, Aug 22 2010 

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity (through the Coast Guard) to go out from Chauvin, Louisiana into the marshes of Terrebonne Parish to look for oil.

We left at 7:30am which meant I left my place at 5:15am. It was 39C with humidity…so hot that I had to alternately drive with the heat on or my windows down to keep the windshield from fogging…breathing was like pea soup.

The drive was beautiful and ended, literally “where the road ends” and normally, where “catching begins”. But as you will see later, mostboats I saw were docked.

The plan was that we would follow a Rapid Assessment Team but they didn’t have many reports and a storm was a-brewing, so we broke off and headed for some marsh while they went to look for some boom that was reportedly out of place.

The RAT team had two scientists, a Coast Guard liasion and a local boat captain. They respond to reports of oil, observe, take test samples of the oil and make recommendations for action.

Not far from shore,  a reminder that oil is never distant down here….

…and neither is risk….

…nor is wildlife.

A short ride away was Whiskey Island where some clean-up crews were at work.

Racing the storm, we went to Bay Junop where we saw some oil on the marshes…note the dark strip in the middle…

The oil washed ashore at high tide, hence the strip of green underneath…

…the fragility of marsh grass means that it might be safer to let air and water clean away the oil.

On my way home I saw numerous boats readied to lay boom or engage in skimming operations…

…and a bunch that should have been fishing.

100 boats in 5 miles. Sitting. Waiting.

Sad.

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Climate Change book Saturday, Aug 21 2010 

A new book Climate Change – Who’s Carrying the Burden?The Chilly Climates of the Global Environmental Dilemma came out this week, and I am proud to have written a chapter for it.

Published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives authors include Stephen Lewis, Naomi Klein, Elizabeth May, and is edited by Tor and Anders Sandberg.

The write up for the book is as follows:

“The devastating impacts of climate change are clear. But there are disturbing revelations about how global elites are tackling the issue. Al Gore—on one hand — promotes carbon emissions trading and green technologies as a solution, and—on the other—profits handsomely from his timely investments in those same initiatives. Infamous climate change skeptic Bjørn Lomborg recommends free market solutions to fight global poverty and disease. And it’s these solutions that almost exclusively receive the attention of world leaders, so-called experts and media pundits.

Climate Change—Who’s Carrying the Burden? rallies the call of climate justice advocates and activists concerned with ‘system change not climate change’. This call demands control of local resources, the restitution of past wrongs, and the willingness to conceive and accept different modes of living and seeing.

The contributors to this book draw attention to the disparity between climate change and social justice concerns. They seek to confound, confuse and extend what constitutes the meaning of climate change. They juxtapose and make connections between climate change and the chilly climates that exclude and marginalize groups and individuals who live and imagine different ways of interacting that are more respectful of social and environmental relationships.”

My piece, as can be expected, is on Katrina and the environmental impacts that caused the storm to do so much damage. It also looks at social vulnerabilities. I also touch on the effects of the oil spill.

My chapter follows one about oil…the write up says “Tanya Gulliver looks at the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, seen by some as emblematic of the consequences of climate change, as more a function of the v…ulnerabilities built up in New Orleans where the natural (wetlands) and human-made (levees) barriers to hurricanes have been degraded, and a human population, primarily Black and/or poor, has suffered the effects of Katrina to an extent greater than others. As in the Niger Delta, this is because of the vulnerabilities built up in Louisiana as result of the practices of the petro-chemical industry in the area. Gulliver’s chapter, echoing Osuoka, shows the linkages and inter-relationships between the environmental devastation in both time and place, between Louisiana and the Niger Delta, and between the long-term environmental pollution in New Orleans and the Gulf of Guinea, and the sudden and drastic effects of the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The very same corporations have been active in the same areas over a long period of time.”

Check it out! Buy a copy!

5 things to do times 2 Friday, Aug 20 2010 

Hard to believe it’s just 9 days to the 5th anniversary of Katrina.  My ongoing back problems (pinched nerve) has made writing at the computer challenging…but I think I am well enough to start playing catch-up.  So expect a few posts in the next few days…

Today’s post is about the initiatives the great folks at the St Bernard Project have going on for the anniversary. There are 5 things they are doing and 5 things you can do from home!

As regular readers of this blog know, SBP is one of my favourite organizations to volunteer with. My students and I have volunteered on all three trips and my partner and I have volunteered a few additional times as well.

These folks work hard with great results. More importantly, they “get it” – they use locals in their work, listen to locals and understand the needs of the community.

There are also 5 ways you can be a part of SBP’s team from home and help solve these solvable problems:

1. Vote for SBP to win $250,000 in the Pepsi Refresh Challenge – It’s easy. You can vote once a day from each email that you may have…they’re in third and the top 2 win $250,000 – help push them over the edge. The money goes to expand mental health services and to provide jobs for people affected by the oil spill.

2. Host a fundraiser in your community for SBP – This doesn’t have to be elaborate. Bring together a group of people to watch When the Levees Broke or Trouble the Water or any of the other amazing Katrina-films. Share a supper at home instead of going out and donate the money  you would have spent. Skip your coffees and lattes for the next 9 days…every penny counts.

3. Commit to volunteer in New Orleans in the coming 12 months – If you’re a friend of mine, don’t forget, I provide a free couch or futon or floorspace for folks who are coming to volunteer. I can also help you obtain cheap housing in the community. New Orleans is a wonderful town to visit – but give of yourself while you’re here!

4. Spread the word; 1,000+ families are still living in FEMA trailers because they own homes
they can not afford to rebuild, thousands of uninsured residents suffer from mental health problems related to the oil spill and Katrina. Tell your family, friends and community these stats and SBP’s solutions. Use Facebook, Twitter, blog, email, newspaper and other outlets and ask them to do 5 for 5.

5. Donate directly to SBP or via text by sending NOLA to 50555 – The texting  only works in the US. Tell all your American friends about this great opportunity to send $5 to NOLA. Otherwise, send a US money order or you can paypal/email transfer me the money and I will take it over to them. Don’t let a border be an excuse!!

**

It’s easy to forget, when you’re not here, just how much devastation occured, and continues. So we’ll end with a few photos…of loss and of hope…

Picture your school gymnasium. Ceilings of at least 20 ft. This is how high the water reached at a school (now Camp Hope for volunteers) on Aycock Street in Arabi, St. Bernard Parish, May 2010.

Inside the townhouses on Florida…social housing…neglected and mostly torn down (July 2010).

A stuffed animal in the mailbox of a house in Gentilly, July 2010.

Not quite straight, in the Lower Ninth Ward, May 2009.

My partner Michael building a home for seniors on Serpas St. (Oct 2009) with the St. Bernard Project.

The “boys” of CINT 912 – May 2009 – rebuilding with Common Ground in the Lower Ninth ward.

A Welcome Home party with the St. Bernard Project, May 2010.

Resurrection After Exoneration Tuesday, Aug 3 2010 

One of the things that I am trying to do here is to volunteer with different groups to gain both new experiences but also to learn about various organizations and meet people.

Lately, I’ve been working two afternoons a week with a group called Resurrection After Exoneration (RAE). I volunteer with a computer class that they teach providing a basic overview and introduction of everything from how to turn the computer on, to using Word and getting online.

Staff, students and volunteers at RAE

This class runs two times a week (either evenings or afternoons) for six weeks. The group I work with has Christo, the RAE staff member who leads the class, Nicole with Hands On New Orleans who coordinates volunteers and provides support to the group, myself and other volunteers, and four lovely ladies Miss Debra, Miss Josephine, Miss Rose and Miss Ester. The evening class works the same way but has about 8 students.

Recently the class learned about using the internet.  Some of the ladies have already been exploring the blog so I thought I would make a post just about them so that they could learn about the internet and see themselves, and RAE, all at the same time.  Welcome all y’all!

Here are the four students. This week they finish their lessons and have another week to finish all of their checklists (ie exams) and on Wedneday next week we hope that everyone will graduate. In the hopes of a successful graduation all hands are in for the win!!

(From Left to Right – Miss Josephine, Miss Ester, Miss Rose and Miss Debra)

I missed two weeks of classes because of my pinched nerve. I did try to go one time but there were paint fumes so the class was cancelled. This week when I went in to class Miss Debra had bought me a card; everyone signed it for me….so sweet! I ❤ these folks.

Tanya and Miss Debra This is Miss Debra, a 60 yr old longtime resident of New Orleans, born and raised. She spent some time in NYC during her 20s and then came back. Following Katrina she evacuated to Washington State, then Picayune, MS.

Ms. Debra is the founder of a new organization called Q_Orleans which is hoping to renovate a property (obtained before the storm but then damaged) to create an African-American Doll Museum. It’s a fascinating project but is struggling post-Katrina; she lost at least 10% of her 5000 dolls because of Katrina.

Ms. Debra worked as an RPN since 1972 but Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since Katrina has made it impossible for her to get back to work. In fact, her PTSD left her fairly isolated and she rarely left her home.

Christo, the instructor of this class, who had met Ms Debra when he and others volunteered to clean up her house after the storm, kept in contact with her, visiting her, and encouraging her with her project. He invited her to join the class and  finally she did because she knew it would help her with Q_Orleans.

In the end, it helped with more than that. It has started to give her back her life. He helped her break out of the PTSD shell (though of course it still impacts her greatly). She has been coming to class, started back to church and getting out more.

(Christo, 24, an Exoneree Advocate with RAE,

uses the PowerPoint to show the class how to do each step).

Miss Ester wanted to learn about computers because she was somewhat intimidted by computers. She wanted to become more comfortable and try to conquer her fears.

Born and raised in the Gentilly area of New Orleans Miss Ester is 54. She is often found cruising the internet before class starts.

The day of this photo she had been at the hair salon and was so eager to not miss class, that she had them put it up in rollers and came to class to make sure she didn’t miss anything.

So far, she says the most important thing that she has learned is “not to be afraid to open things up.  If it’s not right, just X it out.”  I suspect she is soon to be a convert to my belief that Ctrl-Alt-Delete will cure just about any problem in Windows.

Miss Josephine, 63, works with Nina one of the volunteers at her laptop. She took the class because she wanted to learn more about the computer world. She says that even though it is different it will help her be more up-to-date and help make it easier for her to keep up with things. She is also excited about getting on the internet.

She also likes meeting new people and volunteers because there are different folks every day. One of the regular volunteers is Nina who says she finds it rewarding and that “it is nice to be able to share knowledge I was lucky to have growing up.”

And the final student is Miss Rose, 63. She saw a sign in the window and knew it would help her learn more for her upcoming business. She is soon going to be starting up a Pampered Chef business, selling home business.

The class is very helpful for her she says, because she didn’t know very much about computers at all. During this week’s class for example we learned about formatting in Word which she feels would be helpful for creating her business cards, correspondence and invoices/receipts.

And now, a little about RAE. The mission of RAE is to “promote reform-minded leadership among those who have been imprisoned by assisting them during their transition process to ensure a successful reentry, and by empowering exonerees to confront and reform the system that victimized them.”

RAE was founded by John Thompson; Miss Josephine is his very proud mother.  John Thompson

John spent 18 years in prison, 14 on death row at Angola, and all for a crime he did not commit. His goal is to help exonerees reintegrate into society and to empower them as leaders for social change.

John says “Exonerated prisoners (exonerees) and returning long-term prisoners re-enter the free world with high hopes of a fresh start but are soon trapped in the cycle of poverty and disillusionment that led to their original imprisonment.”

Here is a brief video about John’s experiences and RAE.

cover of Killing Time book

He’s also the subject of a recent book called Killing Time. The description states   in part: “After spending 18 years in prison, 14 of which on death row, 23 hours a day in solitary confinement, John Thompson was exonerated. Killing Time: An 18-Year Odyssey from Death Row to Freedom by John Hollway and Ronald M. Gauthier is a narrative account of John Thompson’s quest to prove is innocence. With the help of two anti-death penalty advocates, John Thompson’s freedom was granted and his case exposed severe misconducts of the Louisiana judicial system at the time.”

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