On March 23, Pensacola citizens, ranging from age 7 to 70, traveled to New Orleans to protest the sale of 45M acres of Gulf Coastal waters and land for oil and gas exploration. 350 Pensacola rallied citizens to represent our area. Forty members of the community made the trip–nearly 20% of the 200 protesters who disrupted the sale of coastal lands at the Superdome on Wednesday.
During the protest, representatives from the oil and gas industry bid on the lands. Two chilling aspects of the experience were: 1) hearing the actual bids, some very low, for our precious resources called out during the chants from protesters; 2) observing the implacable faces of the industry representatives in the face of uninterrupted chanting and singing from protesters.
Later, as we enjoyed a beautiful day in New Orleans, I kept thinking about those faces, unmoved, like masks. I wondered what happens to people to become part of a violent process that is destructive to marine waters and impacts the health and well being of the people who live in the path of oil spills or areas where petroleum is refined. Hilton Kelley, a Texas citizen and winner of a Goldman Environmental Prize, addressed the protesters and media about the struggle and successes of his community in Port Arthur, Texas to work with industry to protect people from harmful chemicals and spills from petroleum refining. Kelley is also a poet:
Escambia and Santa Rosa County face their own threats to ocean and estuary habitats. Florida – a state which has notoriously exploited its own natural resources – banned offshore drilling to protect its major industry: tourism. Now, however, the state legislature is opening up its fragile aquifers to fracking and oil exploration. Santa Rosa County has already approved applications from oil companies for exploration in the shared aquifer with Pensacola. Escambia County has an application from Breitburn Operating for one as of July 2015. In a parallel process, the Escambia Board of County Commissioners is making decisions about how to spend $10M in BP fines from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill which devastated Pensacola’s economy and impacted the health of marine environments locally.
As I think back about my experience on Wednesday, this chant, and the little children up front chanting with their homemade signs rang in my memory:
“The people united can never be defeated.”