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by Michael Steinberg (blackrainpress [at]
People came together at the federal building in New Orleans Friday to protest the complicity of the government and the oil industry that has resulted in the current catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. They also began to formulate a people's response to the current crisis.
New Orleans, May 14-During Friday rush hour today, people gathered at the federal building to speak out about the Gulf oil catastrophe. Several held out a banner reading “Gulf Oil Spill: System Not Fit To Be Caretaker of the Planet,” for commuters and tourists to consider.

One reason for the gathering was to highlight governmental and oil industry cogeneration of the catastrophe. A number of people pointed out that Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, whose local office is in the federal building, is the #1 recipient of BP Congressional campaign donations.

“She should give it back,” asserted Larry Everest of Revolution Newspaper. “She's one of those who literally allowed people to die for that money.”

Mike Howells of C3/Hands Off Iberville, a public housing tenants advocacy group, was one of the organizers of the event. “We find ourselves in the midst of another catastrophe here,” he said, “and at the same time face a new challenge.

“We learned from Katrina that if we leave it up to the government, people get hurt. The government's solution to the housing crisis in New Orleans after Katrina was to demolish 5000 units of low income housing. To address the health care crisis it was to close Charity Hospital, the last resort for poor people seeking health care in New Orleans. Meanwhile the ruling class did nothing to restore the Gulf Coast except for some small measures.

“Now we see that the government, which was supposed to oversee safety of drilling off the coast, and the oil industry, which promised no catastrophe of this magnitude, put profit above human need. They allowed deep water drilling that caused the largest oil leak in US history.

“We're here today to start talking about what we're going to do about this crisis.”

Elizabeth Cook, another organizer of today's event, criticized “the privatization of the oil leak response.”

“The government ceded authority to the oil industry,” she said. “The government is shielding BP and BP is shielding the government.

“Only recently did we learn the real extent of the leak: 70,000 barrels a day, not 5000 as we've been told.

“The situation is very critical. Where is the oversight?

“What do we do? Expose this relationship.

“The government has thrown up its hands. 'We don't know what to do.'

“But, for example, where are the oil tankers? They could be siphoning it up right now.

“We need to be questioning everything, constantly. To demand that the government do everything humanly possible.”

Today's New York Times reported, “The federal Minerals Management Service gave permission to BP and dozens of other oil companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico without first getting required permits from another agency [NOAA] that assesses threats to endangered species—and despite strong warnings from that agency about the impact the drilling would likely have on the gulf.”

The Times reported that among such sites approved for drilling was Deepwater Horizon, where the current catastrophe is occurring.

The Times also reported that “since January 2009” the MMS has approved, without required permits from NOOA, “”at least three huge lease sales, 103 seismic blasting projects, and 346 drilling plans.”

Another idea proposed at the gathering Friday was for New Orleans and Gulf Coast people to join together to take action.

John Nguyen of the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association told those gathered today, “The oil spill is destroying a lot of good things for Vietnamese Americans. Of Gulf Coast Southeastern Asian fishing communities, half are Vietnamese. There are 40,000 living on the coasts of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. Eighty percent of families there will be affected by the oil spill.

“There's also a language barrier problem. Many of the affected people don't have proficiency in English. BP has been hiring them to work in the cleanup. But the training is in English. They have no words to protect themselves. They need translators to convey how to keep safe.

“They also need to train workers in a different kind of industry if they can't fish anymore.”

Other ideas suggested for action included demanding public works programs for those whose jobs are being destroyed by the catastrophe, and funding those programs through seizure of BP's assets.

For more info and to get involved, call 504-587-0080, or email howellnow [at] C3/Hands Off Iberville meets every Thursday at 7 pm at St. Jude Basin Hall, 410 Basin St., New Orleans.

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William Stewart
Sun, May 16, 2010 9:58AM
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