For three months last year the Gulf Coast oil spill was the major topic of news reports all over the world. From the explosion on April 20, 2010, until the capping of the gushing well on July 15, 2010, the headlines were consumed with images and dialogue about the tragedy unfolding before our very eyes. Shortly after the news of the capping, the government reported that “most” of the oil was gone, and that things were getting back to normal. The camera crews packed up. The reporters turned in their hotel room keys and gathered their deductible tax receipts. And they all left. Kumbaya, the oil was gone, and the world was normal again. The world could move on to other, more pressing interests. That is … the rest of the world could move on to other, more pressing interests.
For the people of the Gulf Coast the nightmare continues. Oil still washes up daily in marshes and beaches along the coast. Birds and marine animals are dying in unprecedented numbers, and scientists can’t seem to find the cause. More and more people are complaining of illnesses that are symptomatic of petroleum poisoning, but that are commonly misdiagnosed and left untreated. There is a huge public outcry over the unfairness of the claims process for damages to help those impacted by the disaster to recover personally and commercially. There are growing, unaddressed outcries of concern that the food coming out of the Gulf is not safe for consumption. There are large numbers of fisher families whose livelihoods have not been restored. The stress and anxiety are festering, adding medical and social issues to an already complex situation.
The people of the Gulf Coast are crying out in this disastrous wilderness, yet no one seems to be listening. The faith communities of the Gulf, already stressed by the multiple catastrophes of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008, in addition to a century of environmental and social injustices, have to stretch their already stretched resources just to try to keep up. Plus, all of this comes at a time when the economy of the nation is on a downward spiral. There are few resources available for those in distress. The most that organizations can do is try to assist families in finding and competing for those few, limited resources. BISCO (Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizing) is one organization which has been working in the hardest hit communities to listen to impacted residents and try to advocate for needed resources.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita showed that in times of great disaster, the nonprofit organizations — particularly faith communities — were the most successful in getting assistance to the needy in the fastest time. Faith organizations and communities do so much with so little. Time and again, they are called upon to provide not just the requirements of daily living, but also the spiritual uplifting that is so desperately needed in these darkest periods. This is in spite of the fact that these same organizations and communities are themselves victims of these disasters. We have seen this again proven true in the oil drilling disaster.
The cameras and attention needed to bring light upon the injustices that continue are darkened and silent. The plight of the voiceless has been minimized and shrugged off in the name of scoring points for one political party or another in a unique game of one-upmanship. The fact that God’s creations are priceless makes them value-less in our society, which only measures value by the dollar.
So, where are we one year later? Still suffering the impacts of human-made and natural disasters. Still fearing that the other shoe is yet to drop. Still fighting for justice. Still tired. Still aware that God is the Master and the final judge, and that God doesn’t value things by the dollar. We’re counting on that.
Patty Whitney is a Louisiana coastal communities advocate. She is an executive assistant and organizer with BISCO (Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizing) and also serves as director of the newly-formed Bayou History Center, Inc. in Thibodaux, Louisiana.