Diane Wilson

by Published on
photo by Moni Hofler

On June 9, activist Diane Wilson threw, in her words, a “wall-eyed fit” when Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, ranking minority member of the Senate Energy Committee, blocked the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act—legislation that would have lifted oil companies’ paltry liability caps. Wilson poured something that looked like oil over her head, and disrupted Murkowski’s hearing by yelling, “We’re tired of the bailouts, and we are tired of being dumped on in the Gulf!”

On June 17, during former BP CEO Tony Hayward’s testimony before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Wilson smeared another oil-like substance all over herself, and shouted, “Tony, you ought to be charged with a crime!”

Wilson was charged with two counts apiece of unlawful conduct and resisting arrest. On Aug. 20, she’ll go before a jury and face a sentence of up to two years in federal prison.

To those familiar with Wilson—South Texas’ answer to anarchist Emma Goldman—none of this should come as a surprise. Nor should her insistence that raising a ruckus over the BP catastrophe, which she calls “a soul-killing, nail-in-the-coffin apocalypse,” is important enough to risk spending time behind bars.

A fourth-generation shrimper from the tiny town of Seadrift, Wilson was radicalized in the late ’80s after witnessing environmental atrocities committed by local petrochemical companies—especially Formosa Plastics Corp.

Remember in the Bible, when trumpeters made the walls of Jericho crumble? Wilson’s a trumpeter and Formosa’s Jericho. Since the early ’90s, she’s been circling their walls and blowing her horn. In 2002, she chained herself to one of Formosa’s towers to draw attention to the company’s record of environmental and public health violations. That protest earned her 180 days in jail.

Wilson recounts her adventures in a memoir called An Unreasonable Woman, a title borrowed from George Bernard Shaw’s observation that “all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Wilson gave the sentiment a feminist twist and started using it during speeches for Code Pink, the plucky antiwar group she helped start.

“Most people have no idea that you can stand up and shout,” Wilson has said. “We’re all much too well-behaved.”

 

Read Robert Leleux’s update on Diane Wilson’s arrest.

Contributing writer Robert Leleux is the author of two books, The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy and The Living End: A Memoir of Forgetting and Forgiving.