Editor's note: This week, God's Politics is launching "Voices From the Gulf" -- a series of posts from people experiencing first-hand the devastating effects of the worst oil spill in American history. Check back often for more stories each week.
Those of us living along the Gulf Coast are the sacrificial people and region for you and the rest of the Western world. We have been for many many generations. Sociologists would call us the subaltern; politicians would call us the 'don't counts'; economists call us disposable; geographers call us 'ineducable'; religious people call us hedonists or sinners; educators call us backwards. We, like other regions of the world that have extractive natural resources and people who are not of the mainstream hegemony, become prey not only for the corporate world but for the rest of society that loves those extractive resources. People in Appalachia and the Navajo areas of this country that have valued resources for extraction can validate these claims.
For years this area has been crying out to the rest of the nation and world that there is a potential for major disasters to happen on top of the critical disaster of land loss -- the amount of the state of Delaware in 50 years -- which brings takes with it the loss of estuaries and resting places for God's migrating birds that folks from the Arctic to the Andes enjoy. People like Rob Gorman who helped the political community take action through the Breaux Act; and Mike Tidwell whose book Bayou Farewell was sent to everyone in congress when Governor Foster was in office; and Shirley Laska who testified to Congress, NSF, and NAS that a large hurricane would result in what we saw in Katrina (several years before Katrina). Even I showed a map of the massive pipeline of oil pipes -- 64,000 miles of them zigzagging across Louisiana like a bowl of spaghetti -- to national ecumenical denominational leadership and their related national organizations, warning of such a looming disaster. Rob, Shirley, myself, and others have felt bewildered that even with our 'status' of credentials, our voices were over shadowed with responses like 'this isn't on our agenda', 'maybe next year we can talk about it', and 'how about writing something nice for our newsletter'.
Then there are the people of the bayous who have been raising their voices for years regarding the issues. The folks who have gone to national meetings and venues were not embraced because of their 'one-sidedness' as one person stated. Wendell Curroel of the levee district says that he is tired of speaking up at national meetings and having to put on his 'English' accent in order for people to listen to him. When he speaks with his Cajun French, though, it sounds like poetry to me; others see as 'uneducated' and 'stupid'.
A woman in my congregation said several things that sum up a host of many thoughts. She said, "They didn't care about us before, didn't listen to us before, but now that they are facing bigger prices at the pump, maybe they might just want to see who we are." Yes, she is mad. She is seeing her ancestral home washing away because of national neglect, and then, to add insult to injury, she is seeing the greed of the American economy rob her children's and grandchildren's inheritance -- the land and its beauty.
So as a pastor, an activist, and an academic, I am hurting, I am angry, but I am hopeful.
Maybe, just maybe, God is in the silence.
So we build raised bed gardens and chicken coops with those who formerly survived on shrimp from their front yards. We ponder together, how we are going to support each other for at least a generation without the resources we know? How are we going to pass down traditional knowledge and traditional ecological knowledge with our time in exile? How do we buy the plot of land in a destroyed region and have faith that one day there will be homes and vineyards? We are prayerfully looking for the deed for that plot and the seeds for that vineyard -- with God's grace.
What can the religious community do? Start looking at our lifestyle as being on the backs of people and the environment. Find out about the people who are supporting the lifestyle we have -- Who are they, and what are their desires? How do we localize our economy and have a goal of sustainability?
How are we going to have a lifestyle as God's people that will reflect the resources we have on this planet and still have this planet for the next generation? That conversation is long overdue and needs to happen. We need to stop thinking of folks in ways that separate us as brothers and sisters and as equals. We do this through titles, positions, degrees, etc. But the folks of this region are some of the brightest and best people I have ever had the privilege to serve. The rest of the country needs to learn from people who actually put community above that of the individual in all things.
All of this seems so simple, we have been there many times and ways, yet we still do not have a clue. God's grace is what we need for a new time of discernment.
Kristina Peterson lives in New Orleans, Louisiana.