It’s blinding. The power of the stories that these people tell is so strong that it can change my entire life plan in a second. It takes me a while to remember why I am here and what path that I am supposed to take with this movement.
We have been visiting a number of communities on our way to Baton Rouge (and eventually Dallas) and have been hearing from a variety of community leaders. These people are strong. They have powerful stories that inspire me to give my all to the movement and not stop until our goals have been reached. I do not believe that we will accomplish this in my lifetime. One thing that really got to me, I have heard from several different speakers now. I didn’t want to hear it once, but I have now heard it at least three times. The first time I heard it was from a woman named Nara. Nara is working with Save Lake Peigneur. They are trying to keep a lake free from destruction after it was completely destroyed by an accident caused by drilling for oil. She told us “when I first started working to save the lake, I promised myself that I would dedicate six months of my life for this cause. That was five years ago”. She is still, to this day, working to save the lake. I do not think that she will ever stop.
A woman that we met, Stephanie, gave a heart-felt talk involving her work. She once heard that Exxon was looking to pass a bill so that they could increase their amount of legal emissions produced. She was immediately shocked and went to the council for the bill. At the meeting, she was even more appalled by the lack of concern for the people that the increased emissions would effect. The bill passed, contrary to her efforts, and the legal amount of emissions that Exxon Mobil could produce was raised. She was outraged and started a committee (Pray for our Air) highlighting the costs that the communities are paying because of the pollution Exxon was spewing. Her friends and people around the community were developing asthma, bronchitis, and cancers. People were getting sick all of the time (coughing, headaches, COPD [a lung disease], wheezing, etc.). And then the unthinkable happened. Exxon asked again to raise their legal limit of emissions. The bill, again, was passed. Not only was Exxon allowed to produce that much more pollution, Stephanie also knew that they were producing over their allowed limit, and covering it up. But Stephanie and her team never gave up. They continued fighting. She is a very strong woman. You can tell as soon as you meet her that she is not someone to mess with. She is built of steel and will not be crushed. Not even by the most profitable oil company in the world. What got me from her story? She told me that when the first bill passed, she said that she would spend a MAXIMUM of five years of her life on working to counter this injustice. That was back in 1985.
I lost my breath when she said this. Five years! That is such a long time! That is a fourth of my lifetime! And she has now been working for 27 years! She gave her entire life for justice of the people. And still, injustice prevails. It shocked me. It hurt me. How can someone work for so long, and not have anyone listen to them? How is it that people are listening to the men in business suits who went to school for a long time but have NEVER seen ANYTHING like she has? Does experience mean nothing? Does justice mean nothing? It is disheartening. The woman of steel broke down into tears as she told us about the people that have died because of Exxon Mobil. Her friends have died. How is the fight not over? Is death not enough? How many friends, of all of ours, will have to suffer before the injustice will stop? I do not think that it will stop in my lifetime. But I will be damned if that stops me from trying.
Although the speech made my heart sink, it also gave me hope. If there is one woman out there who has been working for 27 years, there must be many more people who care. My team has been a huge inspiration for me as well. All ten of the team members are highly dedicated activists who I look up to every day. And every day they inspire me to work harder to be more like people like Stephanie and Nara.