Diane Wilson Talks about Battling BP, Overcoming Fear, and the Importance of Throwing a Wall-Eyed Fit


Robert Leleux

Hello Gang!

This afternoon, my friend Ello Black and I had a rare treat.  We got the chance to talk to Diane Wilson–activist and writer extraordinaire.  I don’t know if y’all remember, but I wrote about the divine Diane last month, when she was busy throwing, in her words, “a wall-eyed fit” about the BP oil spill.  (Amen, sister.)

For those of you who don’t recall, Diane is a fourth-generation shrimper from a tiny town in South Texas, called Seadrift.  She was radicalized, in the late 80s, after discovering that Seadrift had been ranked the most polluted town in the nation–with staggeringly high incidences of autism and various forms of cancer.  Her activism has brought her jail sentences and ostracism.  But it’s also, so wonderfully, given her a kind of peace and courage and clarity that I’ve rarely witnessed.  And she’s a GREAT writer.  Her memoir, “An Unreasonable Woman,” is really one of the most marvelous books I’ve ever read.  It’s a “Norma Rae” for Texas.  And it’s also, I’d imagine, a book that BP DOES NOT want you to read.  So that’s a good reason to go ahead and order it, right there.

Here’s a link for it:

One of the reasons we were talking to Diane today is because Ello is making an animated documentary about the BP spill, called “One Fish, Two Fish, Oil Fish,” which is going to explain what’s actually going on in the Gulf to those of us who’re still a tad confused by the whole mess of it.  Ello’s delightful tag line is: “Changing the world, one cartoon at a time.”  Isn’t that adorable?

You can facebook “fan” Ello’s documentary right here:

Anyway, Ello wanted to ask for Diane’s take on the public health ramifications of the oil spill.  That’s mainly something I’ll let Ello tell you about, although I will share the following harrowing tidbit.  Diane said that many medical conditions that the oil spill could trigger, like cancer, for instance, won’t effect folks immediately.  According to her, it doesn’t take days or weeks for diseases like that to become apparent, it takes months or even years–and healthcare relief funds provided in the wake of disasters tend to primarily be given to those folks whose suffering is most immediate.  So, Diane worries that the longer it takes you to get sick from this oil spill, the less money there’ll be to help you.

So, that’s what Ello wanted to talk to Diane about.  But the reason I wanted to talk to her was to find out what folks CAN DO to change what’s going on in the Gulf.  And she pointed me towards another fabulous facebook page, all about a protest event in Washington DC that’s going to take place over Labor Day weekend, called “Spill into Washington.”

You can find that page, right here:

Also, you can find info about CODEPINK’s boycott of BP, right here:

And then, of course, I had to ask Diane about where she gets her inspiration, and how she KEEPS GOING!  And she said the most moving, sensational things.  She paraphrased Eleanor Roosevelt, and said, “Whoever you are, you’re the person; wherever you are, that’s the place; whatever time it is, that’s the time to take action.”  (Don’t you just LOVE that?)  She also said that, in her twenty-one years of
activism, she’s never felt more strongly that we are at a crossroads.  That the level of pollution we’re facing threatens to change the way we all live, unless we take action right now.

“We the people have to create change,” she said.  “And the funny thing is that the kind of change I’m calling for is already in the law books.  I just want the government to enforce the Clean Air Act.  I just want corporations to be forced to abide by the law.  Isn’t it strange that once you start demanding for the government to enforce the law, you get called a ‘radical?’  You get called a ‘crazy woman?'”

“Do you ever feel like throwing in the towel?” I asked.

“If I stopped,” she said, “I’d stop the best part of myself.  This is a way of being for me.  People talk about ‘the planet’ or ‘nature’ like it’s something ‘out there,’ but it’s not.  The planet is you.  Nature is you.  Whatever you do to the planet, you’re doing to yourself.  If you poison nature, you are poisoning yourself.  When America looks at the BP spill, it’s looking in the mirror.  Because that’s what we’re doing in America right now.  That’s what our behavior, our complacency looks like.”

“Do you ever get afraid?” I asked.

“Not anymore,” she said.  “People have the wrong idea about fear.  People experience fear, and they back off.  But when people feel fear, they should go forward.  Being afraid means you’re pushing yourself.  I don’t get afraid anymore, because I’ve faced death and jail and getting hurt, and I learned to keep going forward.  The government and big corporations want us to be afraid in order to keep us from acting.
They’ve learned to play our fear like a fiddle.  But we’ve got to learn to keep going, to pay attention to our dreams, and follow our hearts.”

And Diane said that there are some really fine folks working in the EPA now–responsive, responsible people–for the first time since she started dealing with the EPA.  But she also emphasized the importance of throwing wall-eyed fits.  “You’ve got to get people to pay attention to what’s happening,” she said.  “After you get people to look at what’s going on, after you get the story out, then the EPA starts acting.  Then OSHA comes around.  But you’ve got to get folks to pay attention, before anything can change.”

Couldn’t you all just swoon with inspiration?  But wait, there’s more!  Here’s a clip from a documentary about Diane, called “Texas Gold.”

Happy Weekend, Y’all!