Day One of Hunger Strike Supporting Bhopal Survivors: My Truck Parked in Front of Union Carbide Plant in Texas

December 13, 2013
 I threw a milk jug of well water into my truck and drove to the Union Carbide (now Dow) plant site. I’d already missed the contractors, maintenance hands, hourly workers, and Dow’s management. I’d missed the Public Relations Lady, too, but news travels fast when its 2002, post 9/11, and you’re in a truck parked outside of a big, badass, ugly chemical plant with green cupped, helping hands painted on one side of a chemical tower as a public relations stunt to show just how green and lovable Union Carbide was. Thirty minutes later my life wasn’t my own. It belonged to eleven dead babies (counting them all) and all the Bhopal survivors in India and if they didn’t care a fig for Union Carbide or Dow or whoever they were calling themselves ever since Dow had bought out, merged, or co-joined with Union Carbide, then I didn’t care, either. I was committed.
The chemical plant threw a conniption fit. They sent out security trucks. They sent out the sheriff. They sent out the PR Lady who demanded to know what I was doing out there. Finally, Union Carbide/Dow’s management sent out a memo to all their workers that the woman parked in front of the plant in her truck was NOT broke down. She did NOT need help. Do NOT talk to her. She is protesting. Only, Union Carbide didn’t bother to tell the workers why I was protesting. That was my job.
The next morning I did the same thing as I did the first day, but lots earlier. I got at the Dow gate with an armload of fliers and met the shift workers as they came through the front gate. The fliers explained the dire situation in India: how many people were still dying a month from the l984 Union Carbide pesticide release that killed thousands that December night, how much contamination still remained in the soil and drinking water, how little compensation the survivors received for all their misery, and how many years Warren Anderson, Union Carbide’s ex CEO, had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. 
The PR Lady was the most persistent visitor and the only one officially allowed to speak to me so she walked out to the truck in the heat of the day and said, “So you’re here, again?”
I had set up a teepee in the back of my pickup after the previous hot blistering day with nothing to cover me but the hair on my head so the PR Lady had to peek under the tarp to talk to me.
“Come on in,” I said.
Oh, she couldn’t do that. Oh no, she’d just stand out there in the blistering heat.
“Suit yourself,” I said. 
What are you doing, she asked like she hadn’t already asked that the day before. I figured she thought I’d slip up and say something different than before and if I did then she had a notebook to jot down that fact. Maybe she’d run and tell her superiors. 
I handed her the information packet that I had printed from the internet plus a press release the Bhopal Network had written the night before: the now world-wide (I was the American leg) hunger fast that was seeking justice for the world’s worst environmental disaster. I asked her to pass the press release on up to her higher ups in Michigan. See if those corporate guys knew any of the Bhopal folks that wrote the press release. 
Next I lobbied some questions to her like I was whacking a kid’s tennis ball over a waist-high net. They were the kind of blunt questions that you ask when you really don’t give a heck what the other person thinks about the bluntness of the questions. There’s a certain freedom there and I just loved questions like that and not because I expected an honest answer—which I didn’t. I loved them because the questions were like a kick in a donkey’s knee and the response was, usually, uncommonly revealing. 
“Did Union Carbide merge with Dow Chemical to hide?” I asked.
“ WE MOST CERTAINLY DID NOT!”
“Well, so is it Dow in control or is it Union Carbide in control? Or is it both? Who, for instance, do you work for?”
The PR lady shot me an outraged look like I’d asked her if she was an American or not. 
“I am a Union Carbide employee!” 
“So there’s still a Union Carbide company around here someplace? Where ‘bouts is it, do you know? On paper? In the administration office? On top of that chemical tower over there?”
The PR Lady refused to answer the question so I figured she didn’t know who was in control or where that control might be so I took a wild guess and asked why Dow didn’t deal out some justice to the survivors in India. 
“ Union Carbide paid those Indians money,” she said. “ Five hundred dollars, in fact. And…”
“So Union Carbide is still in control?” I asked
“Nooooo.”
“Well, Union Carbide or Dow, five hundred dollars isn’t much money. It really isn’t.”
“Five hundred dollars is real good for an Indian,” she said. “Plus that’s American dollars.”
“ I remember when Dow paid ten million dollars as a settlement to one American family that had been harmed by Union Carbide’s product. Don’t seem fair. Ten million dollars to an American and five hundred dollars to an Indian.”
The PR Lady snapped, “Five hundred American dollars translates into a lot of money in India!”
“ I heard it amounts to a cup of tea a day for the next ten years of their lives. And, hey, how come Dow just doesn’t clean up the contamination? What’s the big deal? Clean it up!”
“But Union Carbide sold the plant!”
“Oh shoot, lady. Make up your mind. Who’s dealing the cards here? Union Carbide or Dow? ”
The PR Lady glared like she had coals for eyes so I lobbied another question across the net.
“You know, under Superfund– a federal law by the way– if a company sells a plant or land that’s contaminated, then they’re still liable. The company still has to clean it up.”
“But that’s an American law. It only applies in America. That’s not a law in India so we don’t- have- to –do- it.”
“Well, what about that arrest warrant that’s been out on Warren Anderson– your ex CEO– for the last twelve years or so. He ignored it. Union Carbide ignored it. Dow ignored it. The FBI ignored it. The US government ignored it.”
The PR Lady shrugged her shoulders. “ I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Oh yeah, you do,” I said. “ Those criminal charges. The arrest warrants those Indian courts have out on a number of Union Carbide individuals. Warren Anderson, for one. You’re ex-CEO.”
“Well,” the PR Lady said, “ that should tell you something, shouldn’t it? If the FBI ignored the warrant maybe that warrant isn’t any good. Besides, the case is closed. The settlement was reached.”
“Look, let’s forget all this legal mumbo jumbo. Why can’t Dow just do the morally right thing over there? You know, why does it take a legal crowbar to make ya’ll do the right thing?”
“We are legally in the right!” she said. Then she shrugged her shoulders, again. “Well, ok, maybe morally we’re not.”

 

 

The Safest Plant in Texas Blows Up and I Go to Bhopal

December 13, 2013
Two weeks before oyster season ended, I woke after midnight and walked to my bedroom window and there in the square of my window, Union Carbide filled the sky and shook the house. There were three explosions. Three fires. I thought I was dreaming but I wasn’t. It was the real thing. The Safest Plant in Texas was burning. 
Union Carbide, the chemical plant outside of Seadrift and my bedroom window, had just been named THE SAFEST PLANT IN TEXAS by the Texas Chemical Council who loved to say things like that, put out a press release on it, and then have it stare back in a newspaper at them. But here the safest plant had just blown up and blasted Union Carbide’s new safety award off the wall, nearly killing a worker. 
As explosions go, it was a pretty good one. If the explosion had happened at six in the morning instead of the wee hours like it had, there would have been six hundred workers injured instead of the thirty-two– with one worker dead. Lucky lucky Union Carbide and lucky lucky Seadrift, because a hundred and fifty feet from the blast and taking a hit was an ethylene oxide tank that stored the equivalent of 58 tons of TNT. As it was, the oxide tank didn’t explode and neither did Seadrift but shrapnel as huge as a Cadillac was hurled across the highway and into the surrounding marshland and workers on the edge of the blast climbed an eight-foot chain link fence and ran all the way to Seadrift. Two weeks later, Union Carbide’s lawyers went to every neighbor within shooting distance, including a neighbor whose puppies were turning up blind and with missing limbs, and bought them all out. 
A week later I got a visit from a professor named Ward Morehouse from New York City. How he found me I have no earthly idea because I’m not an easy person to find. Anyhow, Ward showed up at my door looking exactly like a corporate executive from the tip-top of his luxurious silver hair all the way down to his white shirt, black pants, black shoes, and the dozens of rubber bands that he wore around his wrist for no reason I could fathom and I was a little suspicious that Union Carbide had come to buy me out. But nope, Ward wasn’t a corporate lawyer. He was Union Carbide’s worst nightmare.
“Do you want to go to Bhopal, India?” he asked and I, having no earthly idea what he was talking about, hesitated for six seconds before I said, “Why, shore. “ Two weeks later I hopped a plane to India and learned something besides the obvious one that flying to India was a lot like camping out. 
I arrived in India eight years after a very bad day. The day was December 4, 1984 and in the very early morning hours, a thin white vapor from Union Carbide’s pesticide plant caught the wind and blew across the road into the jam-packed houses with ill-fitting windows and doors. Those who woke that night said they felt fire in their eyes, noses and throats. Many thought somebody was burning chilies over a fire. There were sudden shouts of run run, but instead of running, the people twisted in pain. Some ran with whatever they were wearing. Some had nothing on at all, but still they ran. Some fell and were never picked up. Others fell and were trampled by other people. Even cows were running. 
People died in horrible ways because the gas attacked their eyes and lungs and central nervous system. They lost control of their body and feces and urine ran down their legs. Some vomited, went into convulsions, and died. Some choked to death on their own body fluids. Many were trampled to death in the stampede through the dark alleyways. Children’s hands were wrenched from their parent’s grasp and they, lost and alone and in agony, died. 
The ground was so thick with dead that the dead became a highway. The army dumped hundreds of bodies in the forests and the rivers, but then the rivers became so choked with bodies that they formed logjams against the bridges. Union Carbide said 3,800 people died. City workers, who picked up the bodies with their own hands, loading them onto trucks for mass graves or to be burned on mass pyres, said at least 15,000 died. The Bhopal survivors, who based their numbers on the number of death shrouds sold in the city, claimed 8,000 died that first week. There were so many white death shrouds on the ground that it looked like snow. 
Bhopal was the scene of world’s worst environmental disaster and I had arrived in India without a full understanding of what I was doing there. Yes, I understood that there was a Union Carbide plant in my backyard and one in Bhopal’s back yard, but, surely, I could understand that just as easily in Texas where there was a Union Carbide plant in Texas City and one in Louisiana, too. Did I need a ticket to India? Maybe I was here to be a witness? I’d heard a hundred times about folks going to gravesites or fenced in and blocked out mortuaries of heinous crimes for the sole purpose of being a witness to the horror. Witnessing was a real legitimate reason for being somewhere. But there were two billion witnesses here already! And all much better at it then me!
The only thing I knew without a doubt—and minus India, minus Bhopal, and minus Ward Morehouse– was that something was going on. There was always some good reason for being where I was and hearing what I was hearing or seeing what I was seeing (remember, I was a borderline mystic and knew how to track shrimp) I just didn’t know what it was — but some day it would become crystal clear. At the moment, though, Bhopal was one huge puzzle with 2 billion teeny tiny pieces and I had exactly three– no, that’s an exaggeration– I had one piece. 
Permanent People’s tribunal on human rights and industrial hazards. That was it. Ward gave me the pamphlet and I looked at it and turned the thing over and read on the back that the tribunal was based on the idea that the world had ample experience of industrial and environmental hazards and lessons had to be learned from these experiences so that those who died and suffered didn’t do it in vain. In other words, learn from the past so that a better world was possible. The best part of it (I read) was that the Permanent People’s Tribunal was not a government or an official document; it was a people’s statement that came from their experience of being forced to live with the consequences of industrial hazards and it was very very fitting that the tribunal was talking place near the heart of industry’s greatest darkness: Bhopal, India.
Ward Morehouse, the Union Carbide nightmare professor who had engineered my flight to India, was involved up to his neck. Key example, among hundreds of witnesses from ten Asian countries, I was the lone American giving testimony on both Union Carbide and Formosa Plastics. Texas version, anyhow. Seriously, I knew there were at least a zillion other activists out there who could have been a much better choice (speaking better and certainly dressing better because I had lost my luggage somewhere over the Indian skies and I was dressed in an Indian man’s tunic that I had bought at a Bhopal bazaar and I was getting a lot of stares) but, oh well, Union Carbide had blown up in my back yard. 
Every morning all of us delegates hopped a dusty bus from a rambling hotel that resembled a drafty mausoleum and took a ride to an enormous beige conference center where huge black and white pictures of Gandhi hung on every wall and rioting bougainvillea spilled into the streets, up and down pathways, and over towering trellises. Between the heat, bougainvillea, chilies burning on the fire, and the wide- open skies I thought I was back in Texas. The governments were certainly alike.
Things changed on the sixth morning. Oh, we had our dusty ride on the crowded bus, all right, but that morning a tiny man in white shirt and shorts chased the bus down the road. He was hollering something with a high British accent and he was so close to the bus that it sounded like he was hollering right in my ear. I was taking it a little personal so I turned at the open bus window that was scoured with dirt and grime and a million fingerprints on the bottom half, but from the top half I could see him just fine. At that exact moment he decided to leap. For a second I thought he was going to bop me on the nose with his hand but instead, a knotted handkerchief flew through the window and hit me in the head. A white, neatly knotted handkerchief tumbled into my lap. I sat a moment, fingering the place on my head where the handkerchief had hit, and then I swung around to find that little man. Whyyy you little. The man was standing stock still in the middle of the dusty road and getting smaller by the second. I whirled around to see if anyone had noticed my brief moment with the jumping man. Did ya’ll see what he just did? Apparently not; it was just him and me in a brief one-on-one. So I unknotted the handkerchief, smoothed out the four corners, and then I flipped over what looked like a stack of photos. There were ten black and white photos of ten dead babies lying on white sheets smeared with blood. The babies were young. Very young. Maybe they were newborns. I looked closer. Did my babies look like that when they were born? Were they ever that small? Who were these babies and why were they so bloody? I looked around the bus and showed the pictures to a woman sitting next to me. There was a long silence. The woman turned her head and refused to look at the pictures. Finally, a man leaned across the seat from me and said that the night of the poison gas, women lost their unborn children as they ran. Their wombs spontaneously opened in bloody abortions. “These are those unborn babies,” he said. “They are the lucky ones. “ 
I found out soon enough who were the unlucky ones. They were sitting beside me in the conference center, sometimes filling the aisles and the hallways, and almost always, sitting on the steps when I went inside. They wore bandages and scarves around their heads and covering their eyes, but the ones with charred lungs and poisoned kidneys had no bandages. They simply pulled their shirts, scarves, and shawls tight around their bodies and resigned themselves to misery while, I supposed, the bureaucrats and corporate dogs fattened themselves on skullduggery and dirty deals. 

I didn’t leave India lightly because there was no forgetting those babies. I felt like I had been hit with a train or a passing car or one of those elephants I’d heard so much about but never saw. I’d sure think twice before catching a plane to India again. Maybe that old man in the white shirt and shorts had hit me in the head harder than I thought. I didn’t know for sure. All I knew was that those dead babies with their frail arms flung across the white sheets seemed a whole lot like my own sleeping babies in their cribs at night and when I got back to Texas, their tiny fists pounded me in my dreams and railed against me forgetting. And every night I got a beating from the bed sheets and that’s one day that I didn’t forget. It got so bad that I couldn’t walk into a grocery store or out into a hot parking lot and hearing a baby cry not instinctively turn towards the sound. I had to physically stop myself from approaching the mother and grabbing the baby from her arms. I’m surprised I wasn’t arrested a time or two. Somehow those cries gave a voice to the awful silence coming from the dead babies.

 

 

My Hunt for Warren Anderson, former CEO of Union Carbide During the Bhopal Tragedy

December 13, 2013

I wanted Warren Anderson. Where was that guy and what was I gonna do about him?
My original idea about convincing Warren to turn himself in started to fizzle after I happened to catch a show of Dog, the Bounty Hunter on TV. I decided my problem (if you could call Warren ‘ a problem’) was boldness. Why should I settle for a talk with Warren when I could snag him and send him back to India? And it was kinda okay to snag someone if he had an outstanding warrant (which Warren had) or Dog, the Bounty Hunter would have been in jail instead of on TV chasing criminals. (I gave Dog a little wiggle room for made-up stuff. After all, it was TV.)
I figured there had to be some hard and fast rules out there about snagging people who didn’t want to be found. I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. When I asked Margo, she pointed to a computer in her office and told me to ‘have at it’ so I goggled ‘snatching criminals’ and got the polite term: citizen arrest.
According to Wikipedia, a citizen’s arrest was an arrest made by a person who was not a sworn law enforcement official. Not a cop, in otherwords. The practice dated back to medieval England and the English common law, when sheriffs (not like sheriffs in Texas) encouraged ordinary citizens to help apprehend lawbreakers.
These were the rules of engagement:
l. Pick your wanted man.
2. Don’t announce your coming. The wanted criminal will escape.
Note: Criminals travel frequently so watch when they will be publicly speaking or dining out and get all of their home addresses.
3. Acquire and learn to use handcuffs. Practice practice practice.

4. Consult a lawyer to avoid violating laws while enforcing the law.
5. Form a team who’s mission is to locate the criminal, detain and handcuff him, phone the police, read the criminal his rights and the charges against him, ask him if he had anything to say in response, videotape the arrest and post it online. The team should include one or more people who could produce an excellent video and be extremely fast in editing and posting it online. The team should include people capable of physically grabbing the criminal. The team should ideally include a lawyer who can read the charges and question the suspect. Everyone on the team should be able to keep a secret while planning the arrest.
6. Apprehend and handcuff the criminal (this actually might be part of Rule 5) then read the criminal his rights (rights he has denied others), which are the following:

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to have an attorney present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.”
7. Read the criminal the charges against them.

8. Ask the criminal if he would like to say anything.

9. Once you have good video footage, your top priority becomes to get it edited and online.

10. Turn the criminal over to the police or the FBI (in my case, the Bhopal Court)

11. Pass out flyers to passersby.

12. Send statement to the media.

13. Be prepared to post your video online in multiple places.

My problem with the rules was that I was not turning Warren over to the police or the FBI because I seriously doubted that either of those agencies would do anything with Warren other than turn him loose with their profound apologies. They most likely would take Warren back home in a Rolls-Royce. I needed to haul Warren back to India. Could I stuff him in a car? Then there was that huge ocean. I’d have to put him on a ship or fly him to India. So no video of the apprehension and no posting it online or I was liable to find myself stopped at an airport with Warren stuffed in the trunk of my car.
That led to another million-dollar question? Was kidnapping a wanted man legal? Obviously, Dog the Bounty Hunter was legal— or maybe he was just a celebrity and the whole thing was scripted? I didn’t think an email to Dog would get me an answer, although I wrote one anyhow, but Dog doesn’t’ answer his emails.
Next I called my old lawyer, who I won’t name for fear he will sue me. My old lawyer wasn’t old in years but old in the sense that I had fired and hired him a dozen times and we had a lot of water under the bridge. I asked him about high jacking Warren and he said he’d talk with an American Civil Liberties lawyer and friend of his– smart smart man—but, off hand, he didn’t think the ACLU lawyer would like the idea. He was right. The ACLU lawyer said, This is not funny. This is not funny.
So I googled some more and discovered that you can find anything on the Internet if you look hard enough. I found the legal precedent for ‘snatching’. One of America’s most eminent lawyers, Professor Ruth Wedgwood of Yale Law School, wrote:
In US vs. Alvarez-Machain, the US Supreme Court announced that a person could be taken from his office at gunpoint, stuffed into a car and flown over the international border to the embrace of waiting foreign police, and yet have no legal cause to complain about the method of his delivery when he was finally brought to court.

Well, there I had it. Stuffing a wanted man in a car and flying him to an international border was clearly okay. ‘Dog’ Chapman, the TV bounty hunter, had carried out a snatch against Andrew Luster, the Max Factor heir , wanted for mutiple rapes in Califronia. On another case , the snathers were mid-level US drug enforcement agent and the snatchee was Humberto Alvarez-Machain, who had been indicted two years earlier for taking part in the murder and torture of one of their colleague Enrique Camerena.
My snatch could be like that. But first, there were obvious problems to stuffing a criminal in the car that I had to consider. If I was stopped by a cop or suddenly forced to do an interview by Fox News to explain myself, I needed rock solid come-backs to all the possible objections of stuffing Warren in a car that they would think of. Such as:
1. Warren’s charges were ‘trumped-up,
2. Warren would not receive a fair trial in India,
3. Warren was an old and sick man who should not be put through the ordeal of getting stuffed in a car,
4. Warren was being persucuted.
I spent the next week researching the Internet and found all my answers.
Objection 1. Secret UCC documents showed that Anderson was part of the core team which approved pans for the manufacture of MIC (the poison gas that leaked, killing thousand in one night) which okayed the use of ‘unproven thechnology’ in the Bhopal plant. He was the ultimate buck stopper for safety matters, yet he and his board failed to respond when warned by Carbide safeter auditiors from the US that the potential existed at Bhopal for a major toxic release. Despite its claims, Anderson’s board kep a tight reign on it Indian subsidiary and instituted a cost cutting spree, one result, was that all of the Bhopal safety system were out of action the night of the disaster. That ‘trumped up’ objection wouldn’t fly.

Objection 2. It was an American judge who, against the wishes of the Indian government, refered the original case for trial in India, claiming that the Indian judicial system was perfectly competent and binding and for UCC to abide by the decisions and ruling of indian court. The Indian Supreme Court in 1991 reinstated criminal charges agains Anderson and UCC, but Anderson and UCC have been ignoring those proceeding since 1992. The case was ongoing without its two main defendants. Objection 2 won’t fly.

Objection 3. Warren Anderson was 69 years old when he was summoned to appear before the court in Bhopal to answer criminal charges of culpable homicide relating to a death toll that was already well into five figure. In the eleven years that Warren has been thumbing his nose at the court, a further ten thousand people have died from their injures. One person a day continues to die in Bhopal from cause directly related to the 1984 gas leak. Many survivors who are as old or older then Anderson and considerably sicker, struggle along on compensation amounting to 7 cents a day without access to the first class medical care which would be Warren Anderson’s were he to suffer a turn at the golf course. Kick that objection out.

Objection 4. Under Indian law, a defendant is presumed innocent until proven gulity. If Anderson and Union Carbide are as free from blame as they cliam, they have nothing to fear. The continued absence of not only the ex chairman but the US corporation sends a different message to the world. Union Carbide is now 100 percent owned by Dow Chemical and it is only a matter of time before Dow is named in the proceedings to answer for its subsidaiary, Union Carbide.

I had a plan of sorts but it had a hole. The clear hole was : Do I fly or use a ship to get Warren to India? I didn’t know any pilots who would pull off such a stunt so I figured I might could convince a shrimper to stick him in a cabin under total lock-down and sail off to India. I didn’t have a shrimp boat myself since I’d sunk the thing so that ruled me out sailing Warren to India. So I spent the next week talking on the phone to any shrimper in Seadrift I could catch on the line. These guys were doing poorly and had a lot of free time to bemoan that fact so I asked them if they would like to make a little money on a side job. Like what? They wanted to know. Like taking a man on a little trip to India. Not a single shrimper took the bait because all of them figured it was a good way to lose a boat. Shoot, they said, they had a hard enough time getting past the Coast Guard waiting at Beacon 21 on their way out shrimping. A ton of safety gear and a two hour inspection was what that Coast Guard boat wanted. They could only imagine what they’d get with FBI agents.
So my scheme got kicked in the head by some unabliging, worrisome shrimpers but I figured there was more than one way to skin that Warren cat. I would go back to my original idea of tracking Warren down and convincing him to turn himself in. So forget the handcuffs, forget the stuffing in the car, forget the planes and ships, and pay never-you-mind to the fact that my direction could change on a dime. I went straight to Margo’s computer and researched all of Warren Anderson’s home addresses on the Internet. Next I got my team together.
I had one team member. Her name was KG (a fake name) and she was a female Walter Mitty living a life unbeknowst to just about everybody in Texas. I don’t know what she told her husband to explain flying to Florida but I’m sure it wasn’t that Warren Anderson, ex CEO of Union Carbide, had a summer home in Vero Beach and we were tracking him down. KG and I met at the Palm Beach airport and I was astonished at how many Warren-looking men wearing shoes with no socks were wandering around the airport. KG explain to me that deckshoes without socks were the fashion in Florida. It wasn’t like in Seadrift where only deckhands wore deckshoes (rubber boots) without socks. Was one of these guys possibly Warren, I wondered? It would sure make our mission a lot easier. Sadly, no. They were just old, white haired, tanned white guys wearing white pants and light pastel shirts with shoes and no socks. I counted two hundred of them and checked everyone against the photo ID I had of Warren Anderson.
KG and I didn’t have time to waste, so we grabbed a rented car at the airport, checked into a cheap motel in Vero Beach, dropped our bags in the room, and then we hit the road to check out Warren’s house at Catalina Court. The real action was the next morning, but my team player didn’t want any sudden surprises like patrol cars, locked gates, or surly security guards so KG took notes while I shouted out possible obsticles to our plan. Busy traffic! Two highway patrol cars sitting at the intersection of a 4-way traffic light. Pinkish-looking shopping mall!
It was a thirty minute ride to Warren’s house at Catalina Courts and springing up everywhere, like thistles in a dry field, were palm trees with fronds hanging dead still in the smothering heat. Next and closer to our target was a multi-million dollar Walt Disney resort with cartoon characters on a million billboards. The Mickey Mouse billboard hid our exit so I whizzed around a cement divider, made an illegal U turn in the middle of the road and the middle of the traffic, and made a second run at Catalina Courts.
Catalina Courts was a gated community tucked between two large clumps of lush overhanging plants and there in the middle was a large black ornate gate blocking our entrance. Well, heck, this is a good thing to know, I said to Kinnu and she said nothing but she pulled out her video camera and shot a slow sequence from the security shack on the side to the wrought-iron posts cemented in the ground. I hesitated ten seconds behind my windsheild, muttering the whole while, “Okay okay. Where’s the weak hole? Where’s the weak hole? This is not gonna be our deal breaker.”
Well, everything has a weak hole and the gate’s weak hole was that it was cracked open a couple of yards. I rolled down the window of the rented car, stuck my head out to size up the hole, then after a ten second hesitation, I inched the car through and the devil take the outside mirror. Which it did. This was where a couple of guards should have rushed out of the nearby security building and flagged us down. After all, this was a gated community and not everybody was welcome like the flowers welcome the sun. But nothing happened. The security shack was empty.
This wasn’t the first time in my life that worrisome details failed to materilize. I’d come to the conclusion, long long ago, that nine-tenths of what I worried about never happened. But still, it was amazing to see it happen time and time again. I never got tired of seeing that old truth come home to roost–and this time it roosted right on top of that empty guard shack and that cracked open gate.
Once we made it through the gate without setting off alarms, I leaned back in a leasurely fashion. I shoved one arm out the window and drove through the community as KG leaned out the other window and videoed the very little life that was going on in Catalina Courts. Not once did we see anyone outside or peeking behind the curtains. Not once did we see a car drive down the road or parked in a driveway. It was a gilted cementery with pearly white stucco tombs lined up like dominos and Warren’s house was the end domino on a dead end street.
I couldn’t tell if Warren was home or not. The yard was nicely mowed but the blinds and garage door were pulled down tight. I figured, heck no, this place looked too dead. But then I decided that I couldn’t possibly know everything. Warren might be here and he might not. Personally, I liked surprises. Surpise him. Surpise me.
So Kinnu and I inched our way back through the gate and headed to a department store where we bought several pieces of bright yellow poster board, wooden stakes, and a bottle of liqued nail. Then we went back to the motel room and made posters to poke into Warren’s front yard the next day. One poster read: Warren Anderson. Wanted for homidice in India. The other poster had his arrest warrant and the public notice for his arrest that was published in the Washington Post pasted with heavy glue.
The next morning we headed out early while the fog was still heavy on the ground. To make sure our energy stayed high, KG and I drove to an early morning diner and loaded up on hot coffee and dognuts. Next we picked up a Vanity Fair writer who was staying at the Walt Disney resort hotel. She had heard of our Warren Anderson hunt and was very interested in following the story. She was standing in a crowded Disney parking lot waiting for us.
I was feeling high as a kite with my heart kicking my ribs and I suppose it was partly the coffee and six sugary donuts , but that wasn’t all it was. I recognized that signature heart-kicking emotion deep in my chest and I’m sure soldiers felt the same thing when bullets were flying over their heads in a war zone. Maybe I was smelling fear. Maybe life had forced my eyes wide open. Whatever it was, I’ve had it happen so often that I consider it the headline emotion of any action worth doing.
So I was pretty wide-eyed that second time we pulled up to the Cartina Court and, again, we found the gate cracked open. Well, hallilejah on that! My heart was pounding so hard that I could barely hear the reporter in the back seat. The writer said she wondered if the residents knew just how silly it was to have a gate if it was open all the time. She had a good mind to write the Catalina Courts residents an open letter in the newspapers and warn them about people like us, but then she guessed she’d wait until we all were long gone from Florida and then she’d sign it annomous. Didn’t want Vanity Fair magazine getting sued.
We squeezed through the gate with a quarter inch to spare on either side of the car and drove straight to the dead end cemetary lane which was Warren’s house. I got out of the car and was fixing to walk up the sidwalk and knock on the door when a man drove up in a white car. I turned and looked but couldn’t tell if the man was there to watch us or if he was checking out the house across the street. My paranoia radar was running pretty high and it sent out a red flag so I figured the guy was watching us. Next an elderly woman with a terrified-out-of-her-wits look on her face drove a white station wagon right past me and up on Anderson’s driveway.
Well, what a coincidence. Two cars at the same time on the same dead end street. Somebody must have noticed us the day before. Was this a planned manuver on their part? I was pretty sure this woman wasn’t Warren’s wife . She looked like waaay too hard working. Maybe she was the house keeper.
I walked over to the station wagon but the woman refused to roll down the window or even turn and look at me. The woman had a little electric gadget in her hand and she kept pressing it and pointing it at the garage door. She couldn’t get it to work very well, though. The garage door kept opening and closing and opening and closing and everytime it opened I thought the woman might roll down her window and talk with me. So I was standing in the yard with my hand stretched out and my mouth a little open, when the woman’s car suddenly lurched into the garage and rammed the lawn chairs stacked at the the end of the garage. Then the garage door slammed shut.
Well, this was a fine howdy-do. The woman, obviously, wasn’t coming out to talk and was now, most probably, watching us from behind the blinds. I shook my head at this sad turn of events. I sure hoped she and the man across the street could see me shaking my head and would duly note that fact to Union Carbide. Finally, I walked up to the door and knocked a number of times, but no answer. I doubted Warren was here, but if he was, he sure wasn’t talking to me. So I pulled a piece of paper out of my pocket and wrote a note to Warren:
Warren, we need to talk. You and I have something in common… our jail sentences. Now Union Carbide and Dow are feeding you some bad advice on how to handle this India problem, but I think you will feel lots better about yourseif if you just hopped on a plane and turned yourself in. Then I will turn myself into the Texas sheriff and I bet you ten dollars I’ll get the worse deal out of it.
Sincerely, Diane Wilson
I wrote my address and cell phone number on the bottom of the letter (just in case Warren wanted to write back) and KG handed me two posters through the window so I pushed them both into Warren’s newly mowed front yard. Then we hightailed it out of there. We figured several somebodies in this Tombstone town were calling the cops.

 

I traveled to Long Island to find Warren’s second house and the first thing I learned was that Hampton meant Hamptons and there were a lot of them. There was the town of Southampton on the east end of Long Island. It was the most sophisticated, the oldest, and it was, also, the summer home to the Old Money types, captains of industry, and part of the New York-Palm Beach circuit.
East Hampton was the Tony Town; meaning, I guess, the Tony awards because I couldn’t think of another reason why it would be called Tony town. It was the summer home to celebrities like Steven Spielberg, who had a house there, and Meg Ryan, who had lunch with her girl friends in little artsy restaurants.
Bridgehampton was where Warren Anderson owned a home and played golf. It was the fifteenth most expensive zip code in the nation and residential real estate prices were among the highest in the nation.
A photographer tagging along on the Warren hunt said rich folks such as these, (meaning: ‘boat people’, he said, because they came over on incredible boats and left 300 dollar tips) used special bottled water in their bathtubs and ordered lobsters precooked before they brought them home because they didn’t like to hear lobster’s screaming.
I said, “ Awh, com’on,” thinking he was pulling my leg and he said “ It’s the truth! It’s a thrill a minute down here and money isn’t an issue. For instant, don’t ask how much the lobsters cost because lobster prices aren’t on the menu. Only dimwit yahooers ask how much a lobster cost.”
I said, “Well, how much do they cost? I can get a dozen big blue crabs for five bucks in Seadrift. “
The photographer looked at me a minute like he was having second thoughts about riding around with me. “Look, Cookie,” he said, “ all I’m gonna say is this : consider yourself educated on the Hamptons.”
Well, okay and I guess. I wasn’t going to argue with him since I wasn’t coming through Long Island but once and this time just to find Warren Anderson. Where was that guy? Golf course or home? Whacking a ball or sitting on a couch, watching TV? The photographer said he knew someone who might know someone who worked in a kitchen at a clubhouse in Bridgehampton. It had to be Bridgehampton where the club was. No other town had anything near as fancy as that place. So the photographer called his friend on his cell phone who gave us a number for the kitchen worker who said, Oh yeah, he had seen Warren Anderson at the club a number of times.
Wow. The luck of the Irish I said and the photographer agreed that he had a little Irish blood in him. That got him to talking, again, and it wasn’t hard because the photographer was full of gossip, especially about Bridgehampton. He called it the ‘horsy town’ and I leaned over the front seat, expecting my leg to be pulled again, and said, “Pardon me? Whadda you mean it’s a horsy town? It’s a dump?”
“Oh, no. Just the opposite. It’s polo horses and jumping horses. They’ve got the Mercedes-Benz Polo Challenge going on and the Hampton Classic horse show where the winner gets to take home over $300,000. It’s where Warren Anderson is probably putting that ball around….you know, where that guy working in the kitchen said. Shinnecok Hills.”
So Schinnecok Hills Golf Club was where we headed and we found it squirrled away in a little hamlet outside of Bridgehampton. The photograher said the club was the oldest club house in the nation and had hosted the US Open four times in three different centuries. That said I was surprised when we pulled into the club’s driveway. There was a big clubhouse upon a rolling hill and a generously graveled driveway, but that was it. No swimming pool. No outside anything. Where were all the golfers? Where were the concession stands? Where were all the golf carts? It look like a bad day at black rock at the Winnecock Hills Golf Club to me.
No, no, the photographer said. This clubhouse could look however it wanted to because it was so old and so prestigenous and rich people just clammering to join. It didn’t have air conditioning or heating and it only opened in the summer . That’s why those big double doors were open. To let in the good clean rich air. Schinnecock was Old Money. Old money could go around in its underdrawers if it wanted to.
I scouted out the Old Money golf course from the car window. No place to hide in this mowed place. I could see for miles in all directions. A well dressed maintence hand was messing with a water faucet so I got out of the rental car and walked up to him.
“ Hey, is Warren Anderson here today?” I asked. The maintence guy looked at me for a moment, eyeing me up and down (I later found out that there was a strict dress code. No denim), and then he pointed to the gray and white clappered club house up on the hill. I left the photographer and my new A-team member that I had recruited in New York City (Kinnu had to go back to her husband in Houston) and trudged up the thickly graveled driveway onto a huge porch where scattered white wicker chairs were in exactly the right spots. The porch scene was Gone with the Wind and all I had to do to find myself a mint julep was stroll inside the big double doors and ask.
A number of people were inside, busily doing something, but it wasn’t handing out mint juleps to total strangers in blue jeans. I didn’t see anybody in the least looking like Warren with a bag of golf clubs so I did my typical thing and went up to the first guy I saw. “Hey,” I said, “ is Warren here today? “
“Mister Anderson is not here today. May I help you?”
“Well, yeah, I want to talk with Warren Anderson.”
The man hesitated for a moment then went hard in reverse. “I really don’t know who you’re talking about. We don’t have a Mr. Anderson here.”
“Well, just a minute ago you sure acted like you did. Didn’t you say Mister Anderson wasn’t here? I never mentioned Anderson. I just said Warren. Sounds to me like you know Warren Anderson. Has he been here lately?”
“I don’t know Mr. Anderson and I’m going to have to ask you to leave. This is a members-only club.”
“Well, how ‘bout if I leave Warren a note? You think you can get a message to him?”
“You really must leave now! “
“Awh no. I’m just looking for Warren. You trying to cover for Warren or something?”
The man jerked his head up and started searching the room and I suspected it was for a security guard to escort me out the double doors. So I left on my own but turned at the open door and said, “Well, you tell Warren that Diane was looking for him. He’ll know.”
I walked outside to the car and the photogher was filming the course and the clubhouse and me getting into the car and all the men standing on the porch watching us. As we pulled out, I spotted a white mailbox alongside the driveway so I stopped long enough to scribble another note to Warren that said pretty much the same thing that I said on the note that I left at his Florida home. This time I added how worried I was that I hadn’t heard a peep from him. Was Union Carbide forcing him to go undercover and not communicate with me? Warren Warren, I wrote. We need to talk! I shoved my note into the mail box and then we hightailed it out of there in case someone had sicked the Hampton cops on us.
We drove down the road a bit, pulled into a little retail shop parking spot that had room for two cars and no more and sincronized our watches. My watch was on the rental car dashboard, but both the photographer and Nina had wrist watches. The Shinnecock Country Club episode had took one hour so we still had plenty of daylight hours left to find Warren’s home in Bridgehampton somewhere near the Atlantic Ocean. Is this a good plan or what? I asked and we all agreed that it was a delightful plan so I whirled out of the parking lot and spun fine gravel for half a dozen seconds into the warm noonday.
The highway was a black paved ribbon of tar aply named Ocean Drive and it was smooth as a baby’s behind. The road didn’t have a single pot hole so we zipped along at a pretty good clip, racing past one expensive house after another, estates tucked behind trees and shrubs and rolling hills, and every once in awhile a red slate roof glinted like copper in the sun. I didn’t see a single horse, though, and was sorely disappointed. Where were all the horses in horsey town? Then Wham! we were at the Atlantic Ocean. Sand dunes and sand dunes. From the information gleamed from a Greenpeace activist, Warren’s house wasn’t sitting on the Atlantic Ocean. We had gone too far. Well, too dang bad. We were already at the ocean so we hopped out of the car, ran up and down the beach, kicked some sand, waded into the Atlantic Ocean up to our knees, and then, with our feet good and wet, we climbed back in the car and hit Ocean Drive in the oppostite direction.

Warren Andersen was hiding behind the blinds. I’m not lying. He was actually hiding behind the blinds (or the curtains, to be exact) and I thought that was real interesting for a lot of reasons. Main reason was that the Indian government had been trying to extradite Warren to India for a very long time and the FBI had insisted that they couldn’t find him. They just had no idea where that man was. And here was Warren, hiding behind the blinds at his house that he had had for years and years (most probably with the address in a yellow phone book); now watching our antics.
But see, I didn’t know it was Warren at first. I didn’t think Warren was home. We had found his house on Ocean Drive deader than dead, but in a well-kept sort of way. An undertaker could have lived there. It was easy to imagine. There was lots of fresh white paint with everything trimmed in dark green. The yard was nicely mowed and the shrubs were clipped and a bunch of mannerly flowers were blooming around the front of the house. It was a tidy little bungalow worth a million bucks and in the back was a guesthouse with a miniature statue of a black jockey wearing a short red jacket (the closest I got to seeing anything having to do with a horse) propped up on the graveled path.
My new A-Team player was a savvy New Yorker with a lot of energy and she could out-walk any trotting horse that we were liable to come across so she and I decided to hang around Warren’s dead looking place and check it out. Let the photographer take the car on another spin to the Atlantic Ocean. After all, we had the whole afternoon and even if Warren wasn’t around, we could still leave another letter in his mailbox. So I pulled out the only piece of poster board in the car and sent the photographer on his merry way to the ocean with the instructions to return at dusk. Then I drop the poster board on the grass and wrote in big block letters with a red magic marker: WARREN, SHOULDN’T YOU BE IN INDIA?
That sign immediately got Bridgehampton’s attention and if not the sign, well, then the fact that Nina and I were standing in the road. About a third of Anderson’s neighbor gave us a thumbs up. The rest trashed us.
“Go back to India, you piece of trash.”
“ But, I’m from Texas, hoooney pie. “
“Well, go back to Texas then, you piece of white trash. And give that man a break. He’s real nice. And he’s 80 years old!”
“Yeah, there’s nice 80 year old Nazi war criminals living in Argentina, too.”
“Mr. Anderson went to India ten years ago but they told him to go back home. Leave him alone now.”
I tried to explain that Warren Anderson had spent three hours under ‘house arrest’ at Carbide’s luxury guest house and then was freed on a $1,500 bond. When he left for America, he promised that he would come back to India whenever the law required it. But when the law required it, he said he didn’t recongnize the court’s jurisdiction.
“Oh, go get a job, lady!”
Don Hewit, executive director of the TV show 60 Minutes, lived across the street in an estate behind a huge rolling hill and he jipped past us in his black jeep, then suddenly slammed on the brakes. He walked back to us and shouted, “You people are ideiologically disgusting. We went to India and invesigated the whole thing. Anderson is innocent. I wouldn’t go back to India either. You people are just disgusting.”
The first day was so much fun that Nina and I decided to come back a second day. ‘Get the f@%# out of here’, was the general reaction. One lady drove past in her luxury car and then backed up to us. She said she had worked on the medical ship Hope and she’d been to Bhopal and what had the Indians done for Bhopal? Nothing! And what have you people ever done for Bhopal? Nothing!
“Well, I like to think that I’m a part of the struggle, ma’am“I said.
“Oh, yeah, you look like a bunch of hired hippies to me. Go get a real job, why doncha.”
A lady who lived in a house up the road from Anderson’s walked over to us and shouted, “ You people have been here for three solid weeks! It must’ve been one of you that was trashing my yard!”
“Whoaaaaat?” I said. “ We’ve only been here since yesterday.”
The lady stomped off, but she sent the sheriff and he said we had exactly two hours to get off the property. We were trespassing on Anderson’s property. If we came back tomorrow he was bringing his supertinentent as a witness and we would be arrested.
I immediately perked up.
“Well, just hop to it, Sheriff,” I said. “Arrest away.”
The sheriff raised two fingers. “Two hours,” he said.

Then Mike Ruggeiero turned up. Mike was a young cub reporter from Southampton Independent, a local newspaper that ran the screaming front page headline: ANDERSON: WANTED FOR HOMICIDE BY INDIA FOR HIS ROLE IN THE BHOPAL DISASTER THAT POISONED THOUSANDS soon after a Greenpeace activist and a TV reporter found Anderson’s house the year before. Mike brought along another reporter named Neil who had brought a video cam.
Mike said he had heard through the grapevine that we were out in front of Anderson’s house drawing attention from everybody in god’s creation and he wanted to know if we would do an interview with them. Would it be okay to use a mike to record the interview? Sure thing, I said, so Mike set up wires and knobs and switches and a handheld mike and we started talking in the street as the traffic whizzed past. We had been talking about ten minutes when, suddenly, a stylish-looking couple buzzed across the yard and I knew instantly, without having ever seen them, that this was Warren Anderson and his wife. Warren’s wife was a slight woman with ash blonde hair. She was wearing a pale blue skirt with a white blouse and a sweater that was loosely tied around her shoulders like I’d seen women of a certain age do posing in catalogs. Warren looked exactly like those two hundred retirees that I saw in the Florida airport. I think he was wearing deck shoes with no socks, but I’m not certain. Maybe I imagined it. Anyhow, both Warren and his wife were flushed like they had just hopped off one of those celebrity horses I had heard so much about.
Actually, Warren looked too rosy cheeked, too well-kept, and too healthy and I had the sudden sneaky suspicion that the real reason Warren was so reclusive was not because he was old and feeble and wanted the quiet retired life, but because Warren didn’t want anyone to see what good of a shape he was in. One of the primarily reasons for not extraditing Warren back to India was that he was a sick old man. Sick ole men needed to be left alone. Well, Warren sure didn’t look sick to me. He looked tanned and fit enough to swing a golf club at me.
Warren was shouting something but I didn’t hear it. I wasn’t listening. In fact I really didn’t have time because I was too dazzled by his light chocolate tan offsetting his gleaming white teeth. What what, I said? You have no idea what you are doing. I have been to India and I’m not going back again. Go do your homework. You don’t know your facts. They kick us out of India. The Indian Government kicked me out. We put money in a clinic and they bulldozed it. So go away and do your homework.
I tried explaining to Warren that I wasn’t no dummy. I had been to India, too. And a lot more recent than him. And I had been working with the Bhopal survivors– for a long time. So I knew facts about the case. I got it directly from the survivors. Where was he getting his facts?
Warren looked at me suspiciously and said, where are you from, young lady? and I said I was a fisherman from Seadrift, Texas and there was a Union Carbide plant right outside of our town.
“There’s no Union Carbide plant in Seadrift,” he said.
“Sure is!”
“No, there’s no Union Carbide plant there.”
“ Well, how ‘bout if I get a picture of it and show you? You think you’ll believe it then?”
But Warren refused to believe who I said I was. He wanted to think I was a professional hack and didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know the facts. I was misinformed. That’s when Warren realized that Mike had a recorder that had been taping everything we had said so Warren made a mad grab for the recorder, but Mike backed into the street and started running and Warren ran after Mike. There was a wild scramble in the middle of the road; I imagined there were a few undignified chock holds, some in-your-face grabbing, shoving, scratching, and prying loose of fingers. No doubt somebody bit somebody else. I really didn’t get to see so I really don’t know. I imagined, though, how it was. Very undignified; at least that’s how it looked when Mike jerked free from Warren and ran down the road with the recorder mike dangling from his fist. Warren stood in the middle of the smooth blacktop and yelled after him, “Go away! Just go away you all.” Then Warren and his wife hopped in their silver Cadillac that had been dry rotting in the garage and zoooom…they just drove away.
Mike had been three weeks into his job as a cub reporter and he was sure that his editor would fire him for having bothered poor Mr. Anderson but his editor said, ‘Holy shit, Mike. You nail that story right now!’ So the story of Warren got covered in the Southampton Independent and Nina and I drove the rental car back to New York City that evening.
That night in the airport I thought that not only hadn’t I beat Union Carbide (Warren was still safe in Bridgehampton) I couldn’t even admit defeat because the battlefield had moved again. It had moved to Texas.

After BP, There’s More

May 26, 2010

I’m a fourth generation fisherwoman from the Texas Gulf Coast and I’ve been on a boat since I was eight.  In l989, according to the Toxic Release Information, my tiny county was named the number one county in the nation for total toxins to the land, accounting for half the waste that Texas generated.  Since that time, I’ve become a self-appointed watchdog and watched the chemical, oil, and gas corporations lay a thousand deaths at the feet of the Gulf. I hate to say it, but what I’m seeing now in the Gulf ain’t nothing new. The releases, the lies, the cover-ups, the skimping on safety, the deaths, the nonexistent documents, the ‘swinging door’ with regulators.  Same ole same ole.   What is new is the massive nature of the oil gusher and the fact that it can’t be covered up because it’s ongoing and being videoed.  This elephant can’t be swept under the carpet, but I’m sure if BP could, BP would.

There are politicians out there– and I’ve heard them– who’ve said that this oil spill is just one accident and one accident does not a case make.  Heck, one plane crashes and you don’t stop flying, do ya?  Well, this isn’t just one accident.  This is the biggest flame of the ten hundred thousand fires set by corporate America’s Sherman-like march across the Gulf.  I hate to tell you folks, but it isn’t just Mineral Management and it isn’t just an agency in bed with the corporation, although they generally are.  Sometimes the problem is because an agency doesn’t have the enforcement or the manpower or the political will to do the job that they were mandated to do.  Then, too, these corporations are self-regulating.  They’ll be sure and let us know when they’ve committed a crime.

I have an injured workers group that is basically thrown out workers that got canned after they got sick, injured, or tried to make changes that the company didn’t want. Some were whistleblowers and companies sure don’t like that.  Nobody wants these guys and there’s nobody for them to talk to except me–a high school educated fisherwoman with a pile of kids and a broke down truck.  One of my injured workers was a shift supervisor in a PVC unit of Formosa Plastics, one of the biggest chemical plants on the Texas Gulf Coast. . One night, during his supervision, there was a 16,000 vinyl chloride release. Vinyl chloride is a cancer causing and targets the liver, lungs, brain and blood-forming organs.  Vinyl chloride can give you liver cancer.  The OSHA worker standard is l ppm for an average 8-hour period.  If one pound of vinyl chloride is released, it is reportable to the EPA.  Formosa’s upper management told the supervisor to lie about the release. Get the numbers down. So the shift supervisor reported that 800 pounds were released and the company reported 2.7 lbs. to the EPA.

Like a nut, I took the worker and his documentation to an EPA criminal investigator.  This guy was a US Marshall.  He could arrest somebody.  The investigator listened to the worker, but took few notes.  “Listen,” he said, “there are only two investigators in the whole state of Texas and the US Attorney’s office Southern District (where BP wants all its lawsuits!) had an environmental prosecution record that had dwindled to zero in 2005. Its last big case was in 2004 when a farmer was fined 500 dollars for killing some doves.  Of all the types of cases that the Southern District prosecuted, the environment was the bottom of the list.   Now, he said, if I’m gonna spend all my time on something that doesn’t get thrown out, I’m gonna spend it on DEAD workers.  That BP explosion in Texas City, for instance.”

Well, what about the worker and all those lies that the company was telling? What about the releases?  Doesn’t the Clear Air Act matter any more?   Oh, make a list, the investigator said.  I’ll teach you how to be an investigator.  Me be the investigator?  Sure, he said. You make a list and maybe in a couple of years I’ll look at it.

I had another worker that worked in wastewater.  He said his supervisors were sometimes dumping outright or siphoning material out of test samples. In general, the company was manipulating and hiding wastewater data.  Sometimes gauge needles were bent to keep the graph from showing what it was showing. A few times, the worker had to wade through a diked wastewater area, the size of two-city blocks, with toxic waste coming over his boots. He lost his hard hat, lost his gloves, maggots were crawling everywhere, and right next to him was high voltage pump setting in water.  He said he thought he’d die that day.  He thought he’d die a lot of days but telling didn’t do any good.  As any good workers knows:  You keep your mouth shut ‘cause a good way to lose your job or lose your bonus is to report a worker injury or a safety violation.

That wasn’t my first dance at that rodeo.  I’ve had a Texas wastewater investigator pass me information because he couldn’t do anything with test results showing extremely high levels of priority pollutants like vinyl chloride and ethylene dichloride in the water.  He said every time he tried to pass it up further in enforcement, something blocked it.  It just so happened that his boss, the director, had a job application at the plant. He sure didn’t want to think what that was all about.  Made him sick just thinking about it.

Made me sick, too. Made me want to get on a boat and go out on the bay and forget all of it.  Last time I was on the bay, however, a seismograph crew breezed in.  You might ask what a seismograph team was doing in the bay?  They were looking for oil and gas deposits. Yep, there are approximately 4,000 oil and gas rigs out in the gulf but there are a sizable number in the bays, too, and to find these oil and gas deposits, a seismologist team sometimes uses dynamite.  The dynamite blasts produce sound waves that pin point deposits.  Generally, dynamite charges aren’t allowed near the reefs and they’re not supposed to be so powerful that they blow up fish.  That’s the law anyhow, but who’s listening.  I was trot lining for black drum and I had a string of lines near an oyster reef that black drum love to hang around.  I picked up my line and there, hanging off the hooks, was a very long line of dynamite charges.  Things really got messy when the dynamite blasts started rocking the fishermen’s boats and blowing fish out of the water.  To stop the obvious show of dead fish, the company brought in a three airboats.  Now an airboat can generate the equivalent decibels of a jet plane so imagine three giant airplanes ripping and running up and down the bay to scare the fish out of the bay.  Well, they accomplished their goal.  All the fish ran out of the bay and there went our fish for the entire season. It was nothing but a bleep on an oil company’s corporate work sheet, but for our family-based inshore fishermen, it was devastating.

You might think I could get in my little trailer or stilted shack on the river and finally get left alone.  Oh no. Just listen. The oil industry dumps over a billion pounds of mercury-contaminated drilling mud wastes into the Gulf each year.  Drilling muds are used to cool and lubricate drill bits as they bore into the well while plumbing for oil and natural gas.  The mercury is present in an element called barite, the main ingredient in the muds. In l996, the EPA limited the amount of mercury that could be present in the drilling muds to l part per million, which could still allow l,000 pounds of mecury to be dumped from the Gulf platforms each year. For 50 years, prior to the EPA rule, there were no limits on mercury in barite. A report published by the Society of Petroleum Engineers suggested that, in the past, barite with mercury up to 30 parts per million could have been used. Using information supplied by the oil industry and the EPA, hundreds of thousands of pounds of mercury have been dumped in the Gulf—via drilling muds—since the l960s.

So it shouldn’t be surprising at all that the mercury contamination at some oil and gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico appear to be so severe that the rigs could qualify for the National Priorities List Placement and lead to a federal ‘Superfund” clean-up effort like that of Love Canal in New York.  Also, the mercury concentrations in many fish and shellfish sampled around at least one of the rigs were high enough to qualify the area as a contaminated fishery and frequent use of the rigs by commercial and recreational fishermen meant that the contamination around the rigs represented a ‘human food chain threat’.

But nothing is likely to happen here.  Federal officials have said there’s little chance that any agency would attempt to put any of the 4,000-odd Gulf rigs on the Superfund priorities list, regardless of the level of contamination and regardless of the health risk, because the contamination occurred as a result of on-going, federally permitted releases of pollutants.   And the same goes for when these very same oil companies, who for whatever reason, decide to ship their contaminated drilling mud into cargos that in turn, pump them into tanker trucks, that in turn dump the mud wastes into marshes along small fishing villages on the Gulf Coast.  I’ve seen these tankers dump 200 loads into a marsh outside of Seadrift and another load dumped a half-mile from my trailer.  My frequent calls to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) were answered with ‘its harmless.”  I guess I should tell that to my son who is autistic.

The bottom line is that the Gulf dies a little every day from the tens of thousands of chemical plants, oil refineries and oil and gas rigs that pockmark the gulf coast.  It’s a death of a ten thousand cuts and all of these offenses, small and large, are self reported– or, perhaps, not at all.  We, the public, really have no way of knowing. The company or the agency certainly isn’t going to tell us.  They’ve proved that time and time again.  The truth of the matter only becomes clear when something monstrous like the BP oil spill comes along and wakes us up to the nightmare.

Why I’m fixing to get naked

May 22, 2010

I am an environmental activist, CODEPINK Cofounder, a fourth-generation shrimper, mother and the author of An Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas (Chelsea Green, 2005) and Holy Roller: Growing Up in the Church of Knock Down, Drag Out; or, How I Quit Loving a Blue-Eyed Jesus

Here’s my telling of the less-well-known story behind how CODEPINK began and why all of us need to be outraged about the BP oilspill (and doing something about it!)

Eight years ago– pre CodePink– thirty very unreasonable women met for a week in a canyon in California.  These early Unreasonable Women for the Earth had a goal and that was to discuss how to bring a new, bolder, braver, and more enlightened change to our badgered and bedeviled home we call Planet Earth.  In those early days, we were very diverse; we were from all corners– left and right, top and bottom –of the USA.  Our skins were brown, white, black, and red.  We were a rainbow of women with a rainbow of causes and our struggles stretched from the theaters in New York City, to immigration in Seattle, to urban gardens in LA, to petrochemical hellholes in Texas, to the peace work in the streets of Washington, DC.   One commonality, though, united us all: a dream to bring life instead of death, hope instead of despair, justice instead of injustice, and peace instead of war to this Planet Earth.

One of our first actions as Unreasonable Women of the Earth was to support the Bhopal hunger strike.  Bhopal, India is the site of the worst environmental disaster in the world.  Over 20,000 people have died from the insecticide-like poison that was released from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, in 1984.  In 2002, the survivors of Bhopal began another hunger strike to wrestle justice from the Indian government and also the Union Carbide Corporation.  But they fell ill.  The Unreasonable Women of the Earth heard about their plight and decided to begin a USA leg of the hunger fast.  The Bhopal fast for justice enlisted over a thousand people and 8 different countries and was so successful that the Indian Government, that had been considering dropping the charges against Union Carbide and making the tragedy a little more than a traffic accident, reinstated the charges against Union Carbide and put out extradition papers to have Warren Anderson, former CEO of Union Carbide, returned to India to stand trial.  The Bhopal activists gave much of the credit for the success of that hunger strike to The Unreasonable Women of the Earth.

Shortly after that action in 2002, many of those very same Unreasonable Women of the Earth rose to the challenge of the USA government’s  pre-emptive strike on Iraq and founded CodePink.  That war, in a country thousands of miles away, enlisted all of our stamina, strength, and courage but we never lost sight of the fact that ALL the dots were connected—the war in Iraq did not stand by itself.  Sometimes it’s just a little easier to see than at other times.  For me, living in Texas along the Gulf Coast in the oil, chemical, and gas hellhole we call an energy corridor, the reason for the pre-emptive war was crystal clear.  The war was about oil.  Who had it and who controlled it.  It was not only about our addiction to oil and fossil fuel but also the stranglehold of corporations upon this nation. Corporate stranglehold in our country was such that the former CEO of a huge corporation that landed billions of dollars in war contracts in Iraq was also vice president of the USA.  I’m talking Dick Cheney, here.

We are seeing those dots connected again with the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  It is easily shown by the careless, cavalier attitude of BP CEO, Tony Hayward, who has said that the largest oil spill in US history is a tiny spill in comparison to such a big ocean and that those miles upon miles of underwater oil plumes that stretches to who knows where and doing who knows what to the fisheries, the ecosystem, and the Gulf of Mexico for possible generations, is really, by their estimate, going to have a “very very modest impact.”  The words ‘their estimate’ should have sent up a red flag.   BP’s first estimate: the oil was not leaking.  Second estimate: it was a l, 000 barrels.  Third estimate: it was 5,000 barrels.  Independent researchers have estimated the oil leaking from the ruptured well is perhaps 75,000-25,000 barrels.  BP wasn’t even close and if they were, they certainly weren’t telling.

This funny kind of truth telling isn’t news to me.  I’m a fourth generation fisherwoman and for the last twenty-one years of my life I have been fighting corporations such as these.  It’s a hard thing to do, too, when corporations are self-regulating and the agencies in control are NOT in control.  But then that’s all about corporate stranglehold, isn’t it?  Who has the resource (and profits and power!)  and who controls it.   That’s why the BP action that we are fixing to engage in is so important to Unreasonable Women of the Earth and  Codepinkers.  The dragon that we wage against in an unjust war over oil is the same dragon in the Gulf of Mexico. Just pull back the mask.  You’ll see.

Climate Justice Fast Day 10: Why I am fasting

November 17, 2009

When I talk about my reasons for going on a long hunger fast for Climate Justice Fast people  look at me like I’m crazy and I’m reluctant to correct them because fasts are difficult to explain.  But I will explain, again.  Before the hungerstrikes, my life belonged to the bay.  My dad and his Dad and his Dad were commercial fishermen so I was the daughter of a son of a son of a son of a fisherman.  Then, too, growing up on a Texas bay and having a Cherokee grandfather who liked talking with the dolphins and spotting moon signs in the sky before night turned to day made me into something of a mystic.   I remember being out on the shrimp boat with my daddy and feeling my skin stretch and thin like fog, leaving gaping holes that the waves and wind would run into and the sea would fill until my blood was so thick with salt that I could taste it on my tongue. At night, we anchored in a far far bay where sea horses hid under the rocks and pink sea birds dined on oysters and I’d lay on top of the wheel house with a blanket up to my nose, and it was like going to bed with a hunk of seaweed and deck load of shrimp and fish and crabs.  I didn’t need a sleeping pill.  The smell knocked me out.

I learned a lesson or two on the bay.  How to spot shrimp from a mile away.  (Look for the sea gulls!) What does a watermelon smell on the bay mean? (trout just threw up)  How to tell if a squall was gonna knock your boat over or lay down as harmless as a kitten. (anybody’s guess) But the best lesson that came home to roost was that boundaries were lies. There was no separation or division. No brick wall that divided San Antonio Bay from Esprito Santo Bay. Nothing to keep the sky from the water or the wind from the sea. Nothing to keep one person from a billion others.  There was just  flow and continuity of water and moon and dolphins and ratty ole captains in ratty ole shrimp boats hauling boogie across the bay to find those most elusive shrimp.

PREGNANT IN A TEXAS LOCK UP

June 4, 2009

Being pregnant in a Texas lock up can be hell. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the practice of shackling women during childbirth and recovery is still done in some Texas jails even though the United States Bureau of Prisons has banned the practice. Texas jails are able to use restraints on women as a matter of course regardless of whether a woman has a history of violence (which only a minority have), regardless of whether she has every attempted escape (which few women have), and regardless of her state of consciousness. Hopefully, that will change with HB 3653 which, if signed by Governor Rick Perry when it hits his desk this month, will prohibit the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Youth Commission, and municipal and county jails from using restraints to control the movement of pregnant inmates in custody while the inmate is in labor or delivery, or recovery from delivery. The bill could take effect as early as September l.

A sister bill, HB 3654, requires county jails to have a plan for medical care of pregnant inmates in county jails as well as requiring administrators to include the number of pregnant women in their population reports. Presently there are NO numbers on pregnant inmates or the number of infants born in jail. Also, under current law, there is no mandated medical care or nutritional supplements for pregnant inmates. Diana Claitor, executive director of Texas Jail Project who worked with Texas ACLU staffer Matt Simpson to create the initial drafts for both bills, said many people believe all of the above will occur automatically. But in her experience, unless there is a law on the books, it won’t be considered a priority or even considered at all. Texas county jails hold up to 80,000 inmates a night and approximately 14 % of those are women. Claitor said, “The public has no idea how many young mothers and their babies come out of jail injured or traumatized.”

Most jail health-care systems function independently, have no checks and balances, and are isolated from the outside medical community, except for inspections by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards which typically look for problems with male inmate overcrowding and fire exits. It doesn’t help, too, that jail administrators and staff are prone to lump complaining inmates into one big group: whiners, liars, and troublemakers. That’s why an inmate with a serious illness and injury can suffer without treatment, often until they are dying or dead.

Claitor said, “I can say with utter conviction that just because you ask for medical care or even beg for medical care in Texas jails, there are plenty of time when you’re not going to get it. Period. If it doesn’t happen when a person is convulsing in seizures or going into a diabetic coma (see a federal report on Dallas County Jail: http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/split/documents/dallas_county_findlet_12-8-06.pdf), it is certainly not likely to happen when a pregnant woman says she is not getting enough food or that she’s in pain and bleeding.”

The Texas Jail Project, a volunteer jail advocacy group that is based in Austin, became increasingly aware of cases on pregnant women through a ‘listening project’ publicized through their website (www.texasjailproject.org), where families and friends were encouraged to email and phone about problems pregnant women faced in county jails, including shackling during childbirth.

Shacking during labor and delivery can cause intense pain, cramping, swelling, reduction of circulation and increase risk of thrombosis or blood clots. It can interfere with appropriate medical care, be harmful to the health of the mother and infant, and violate the dignity of the pregnant inmate. It is not uncommon for a shackled inmate to soil herself or her bed sheets because she could not get unshackled quickly enough to get to the bathroom.

One such victim of this practice was Shanna (not her real name) at the Lew Sterret jail in Dallas, Texas, in 2009. She wrote an eloquent letter about what it was like to spend a month in Parkland Hospital eight months pregnant and with a staph infection. She was transported to the hospital with chains around her legs, hands, and lower waist, although she was charged with a non-violent crime. When she reached the hospital she was escorted down a long hallway with people looking at her like she had just killed someone. For one whole month, Shanna was without TV, phone, or books and chained to her hospital bed twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Even though Shanna’s ankles and feet were badly swollen and she had developed bedsores, the guards refused to allow her to walk around. A doctor had to intercede on her behalf in order for Shanna to be allowed to walk in the hallway, her hands and feet still chained to a long monitoring pole.

An inmate we will call Roberta was a trustee for three months at Harris County’s Baker Unit last year. She described her wait for medical attention sitting on the floor next to a woman who was pregnant with twins. The pregnant woman had waited 5 or 6 hours to see a nurse. She was cramping, in pain, bleeding through her pants onto the floor, and extremely upset. Roberta said she remembered the woman repeating how scared she was that she might lose her babies. Roberta and the other waiting inmates kept telling the guard to take the pregnant woman first, but the guard only replied with something along the lines of, “Shut the f… up!”

Claitor was contacted in March of this year by a woman in Henderson County Jail who said her pregnant daughter had requested to see a doctor four times but had yet to see one. She was having a fever, discharge, swollen glands, and she was six months pregnant. Her daughter ended up in the emergency room where the nurses told her she was dehydrated and undernourished. Luckily, she had only a few days before her release and her mother had her in the doctor’s office the next day. But what if she had another two months to serve?

Women in jails differ from their male counterparts in more reasons than that they get pregnant and give birth. Women’s crimes are less likely to be violent and more likely to be motivated by poverty and addiction where drugs are often used to medicate the pain of abusive relationships. Women are seldom drug dealers or traffickers. When they do commit a violent offense, it is often against a man who abused them. They rarely pose a violent threat to the general public. Jailed women also have more challenges to overcome in dealing with their pregnancies and their birth experiences. Their pregnancies are often high-risk and complicated.

Frankie was 24 years old and six months pregnant with her first child when she was picked up on a warrant in Victoria, Texas and thrown into jail. Frankie had a rare uterine condition and so, immediately, she began bleeding. When she notified the guard, the guard demanded that Frankie show her the bloody underwear. Frankie’s condition worsened further: her water broke. But the guard said Frankie was hallucinating and that she wouldn’t have that baby for a month. Then the guards decided that Frankie was faking and a troublemaker so she was put into isolation and threatened with a taser gun if she didn’t go. Frankie proceeded to go into labor in an isolated cell and, with a breech birth, the baby died. Frankie was not even allowed to attend the baby’s funeral.

Last year, 19-year-old Amber was in the Ellis County Jail when she was 10 weeks pregnant. Recently, however, Amber had the satisfaction of bringing her story to the Texas capitol where she helped HB 3654 pass the scrutiny of the House County Affairs Committee. Her voice trembling at times, Amber described her stay at the jail. She said no one seemed to care that she needed prenatal vitamins, the right food to eat, or milk to drink for her baby to grow normally. She never saw an obstetrician or had any prenatal checkups. For several weeks she bled and spotted and she reported that to the guards. The guards in turn would call the nurse who gave her Tylenol. She finally saw a doctor who told her that he did not think she was pregnant or even had a uterus. A nurse listened to the baby’s heartbeat and told her she could not hear the baby’s heartbeat. She thought the baby might have died. Amber called her mother and begged her to do something. She became so upset that the jail put her on suicide watch in an isolation cell where she bled even more. After her release, Amber’s baby, Zannah, was born, weighing 6 lbs and 6 ounces. To this day, Amber said, she still worries that something might not be right with Zannah as she grows older because of the neglect and unhealthy conditions that she suffered in the Ellis County Jail.

Amber summed up her unsettling testimony before the Texas legislature in April by saying, “Babies deserve to be taken care of no matter what the mother has done. The baby is not responsible.”

These stories are only too common because many jail administrators, without rules and guidelines, fail to do the right thing—the healthy and humane thing—for the women in their care and the babies they carry. However, even in the midst of the chaos of a Texas legislative system that was overburdened with bills and dominated by controversy, an unlikely coalition– the Catholic Conference of Texas, Texas ACLU, Texas Right to Life, and Texas Jail Project– worked on passing two small bills that may start Texas on a path to more healthy moms and healthy babies.

During the long tedium of one House committee hearing, Representative Valinda Bolten asked a pointed question of Adan Munoz, the director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. He was providing background information when Bolton abruptly asked, “How long have county jails in Texas been housing incarcerated women?”
Munoz replied, “As long as jails have been open.”
Bolton said, “So…we don’t really have the answer to why it’s taken till 2009 to address this issue of the medical needs of pregnant women.”

It is a question and answer that is long overdue.

Harris County Jail: Revisited

June 26, 2008

The security cops have confiscated my computer. Said they had to check for threats, bugs, secret messages.  That type of thing. I’m arrested. In handcuffs.  The handcuffs THAT acting consulate general said wouldn’t happen.  Oh, no no. We don’t do handcuffs, he said.  But here I am.  Sitting in the Security office for the Three towers at Post Oak Boulevard in Hot Houston. In handcuffs.   

   I was arrested unexpected like.  I was sitting in a folding chair outside the Reception Room of the General Consulate of India.  I had brought the folding chair from the house I was staying in and I had my  poster with Day 15 of a hunger strike posted and leaning against the wall.  An armful of flyiers was in my lap and I had already passed out about forty.  Very interesting reception that I was getting.  Almost every Indian I talked with acted totally surprised that the situation in Bhopal still existed.  Yes, it does, I said.  30 Bhopalis are dying a month from that release in l984.  Over 25,000 dealths.  Over 8 times the amount of  Americans that were killed during 9-11.  And the USA invaded two countries over that one!

   They express astonishment and some want to know EXACTLY what they can do.

     About this time, here come 3 men  sashaying out of the elevator.  They are dark suited, under-cover cops wearing badges.  They come directly to my chair.

 I’m astonished.  “Are ya’ll coming for me?”  I’m totally flabbergasted.  My jaw has dropped.  “Why that consulate general said I could sit here. “   

   No no, they say. You don’t have permission.

    Why,yes yes, I do have permission.  The acting consulate on Friday said I could stay here.  Just a bit away from that fancy consulate sign is all.”

   The three security cops exchange puzzled looks.  Consulate General?  Really?  Then they shift gears.  No no, you don’t have permission.

   Well, I refuse to leave because I know I DO have permission, but they’re not bothering to even check.  So I’m getting arrested.  The security cop says, C’mon, Momma.  C’mon with us.”  (Later and in confidence, the security cop says maybe that consulate knew what he was doing when he got you to move away from that sign.  Are you sayin he set me up? I say.  Could be, he says.)

   Pretty fast I’m delivered to that wicked ole Harris County jail. It’s wicked alright. It averages 22 deaths a year.  Just recently, in April, a prisoner that was brought in for a hot check died because of some sort of choke hold administered by some sort of guard.  So the Feds are coming in to investigate the string of deaths and wondering what else is being violated.  What will they find in Harris County Jail. 

    What I find is  36  hours of  a processing nightmare. No sleep unless you like sleeping on a cement floor where a stream of women have come and gone for days.  Plus its  crowded, plus its  cold.  One woman got a roll of toilet paper and wrapped her legs.  Another woman pulled the plastic garbage liner out of the trash can, ripped a hole for her head, and pulled it over her.  I get double time in that cold holding cell because a guard took a real dislike to me and put my processing papers back for the next shift.  They tell us over and over again.  “We can turn out the lights and nobody will know you’re even there.”  It’s not a veiled threat. It’s a real threat.  

  

 

 

    Around six oclock of the next evening Im ordered into a medical unit with fifty women.  Every seat on the bench is taken.  At least twenty women are sprawled on the floor.  I’m one of them on the floor and confused out of my mind. I get dizzy lifting my head.  I haven’t had water in two days but liquids are one thing these guards are not big on.  My breath is beginning to stink but I don’t worry. Everybody in this cell is stinking.  For once it is not cold.  This time it is hot– and fifty female bodies make it worse.  The medical unit is a little strange.  Not something that I remember from the last time I was in Harris County Jail. Then– way back when– dying on the floor wouldn’t get you into the medical unit.  Having a heart seizure wouldn’t do it neither.  You could bleed to death and it would be alright. 

    One of the girls explained the crowed room.  The feds are coming in next week, she said.  Checking who is and who ain’t getting medical attention if they want it.  Seeing who died too, and what were the circumstances.

   So apparently EVERYBODY coming in now goes straight to medical after 30 hours of a processing torture.  Some are sick (staph infection that is a potential killer), some are mentally ill (one girl has gone off three times into a hysterical frenzy about being a model and a college graduate and having 4 boyfriends and the only reason she’s in jail is because SOMEBODY stole her air conditoner.)  One young black girl, 21 years old, is eight months pregnant.  She said she knows three women who lost their babies in jail. Even though her water is leaking and she is bleeding, she thinks she will do alright, though.  She will be ok. 

One woman inmate said “Do not dare talk to those investigators coming here.  You will end up dead dead.    Her own daddy died in the same jail.  Ruled a suicide, but the girl said, Tell me how he could’ve killed himself.  There wasn’t no way he could’ve  where he was found.”  Another woman inmate is trying to convince her to talk.  She said she saw a woman die.  Right there, she says and points to a low cement bench in the unit we’re in.  Margarita was her name and before she died that woman said to me, “Lookey here at these sores. Lookey here”.  Margarita had two huge cankerous sores: one on her chest and another on her arm.   Well, Margarita died right there.  She had diabetes.  Plus stapth infection.  Anyhow, she died.

    Looks like we’re gonna be in medical a long long time. Guess I’m right because a guard comes in and says, Y’all gonna be here a long long time.  Might even have to pull y’all out in the morning for court, then throw y’all back in.   Eventually the girl with the air conditioner goes crazy and some of the inmates start howling to be let out of the room.  One girl says. Don’t matter. It’s crowded upstairs, too.  Wherever you go, its crowded.

     Next is the strip down.  Total strip down.  Worse than having a baby.  Im getting a little sick with the whole thing and try to imagine myself in a room all by myself.  But nope. Twenty women in the middle of a strip down.  Worse than having two babies.  Finally I get issued my orange jail outfit and ten minutes later I find I’ve been bonded out but I’m totally paranoid that I really won’t be allowed to leave.  I’ll be stuck in a cell with the lights out.  Nobody will know I was even there. 

Not thrown out yet

June 20, 2008

  Today there is a security guard downstairs at Tower #3.  Protecting Tower #3, I guess.  I don’t remember him being there when I was there last time so I’m very leery of MR. Security Guard.  But he is harmless and just wears his badge for show and directs me to an open elevator.  I’m starting to get a bit paranoid and I’m not even up on the 6th floor yet.

  Paranoia is for a good reason, I suppose. A healthy quality if you’re alone and decided the plan of action is to do a Sit In.  A ‘sit in’ is basically just sitting down somewhere (General Consulate’s office, for example) and not getting up until you’re thrown out or until you run out of material on your issue.  My issue is Bhopal and that lowlife, Union Carbide. 

      So I sit on the floor underneath that lovely brassy General Consulate sign again and make myself comfortable.  My poster board sign announcing the sit in and Day 11 of the hunger fast is up against the wall,   Ive got 40 copies of a Bhopal fact sheet at my fingertips, and my lap top computer on my lap , but alas! fat lot that will do me.  No free internet.  Lots of folks wandering in; coming and going and I realize real fast that I don’t have enough sheets and here I am, sitting on the fast track to the Consule’s office.  Must be lots of folks visiting him.  I’m  wondering how fast the news that I’m sitting outside his door will trickle in.  That’s why I place my cell phone within easy reach: in case that security guard hauls up to the sixth floor and hauls me off. 

  I’ve brought a bottle of fresh water with me, but not much that’s gonna do me.  All the bathroom doors are locked.  ONLY EMPLOYEES.  I can see I won’t be drinking much water.  An Indian gentleman comes by twice.  He smiles broadly.  Very friendly fella.  He goes to the door of the consulate’s reception room but turns and looks at me again.  Then he reads the sign I have propped up.  He looks at me again and asks if I’m from India.  No. I’m from Texas.  Land of the big long horned cows.  Then he smiles again and says his hometown is Bhopal.  He thinks I look like I’m from India.  Well, thank you very much.  That’s quite a compliment. But nope, I’m from Texas.

   Actually there was not a single person that was unfriendly or hostile.  Not one that did not take my flier. Many said it was a shame . A shame.  And they went away shaking their heads.  Finally a tall gray haired man comes out of the Reception Room.  No no, he says.  You mustn’t do this.  No no!  He flutters his hand like I’m to get up and GO!.  No no, he says. This is not possible.  I kinda shrug, Oh, well, bring on the handcuffs.

   Two seconds later the gray haired gentleman leaves and returns with a very nicely dressed man. VERY NICE. Black suit, tie, white shirt i can barely see.  Black shiny shoes.  This man is OBVIOUSLY very important.  The gray haired man throws his hand out towards me as if to say, “SEE, look at her!”  The nice suited man says just like the first, Oh no, you can’t stay here and I said, Yes i Know but I’m staying here so he says, Well, come in then.  Come in.

   I’m thinking: Really?? I can do the sit in INSIDE? Inside the RECEPTION ROOM.  Really?  Well, this was looking good!  So  I take all my posters and fliers and my non-functioning computer and drag it into the RECEPTION ROOM where the nicely suited man sits me down at a pink and tan couch.  The nicely suited man seems very sad.  Yes, what is it? he says.  What is it you want? 

   I give him the fliers and start talking about Bhopal and he says they at the consul general’s office have always, have always, he emphasized,  supported the cause.  They had spoke with Bhopal activists several times in the last three years and I say yes, I was here yesterday. 

   Well, what are the demands? he says and I say, Ashish, the Indian student, brought them by yesterday evening.  Then I proceed to tell him that there is an international hungerstrike going on and he wanted to know what international meant and I said many countries around the world have joined the hungerfast.  I said I had joined the hunger fast.  He says, Are you an Indian?  Or an American citizen.  I said I’m four generations of fishermen from Texas.  He says, An American citizen?  Not from India?

   Now this is getting peculiar.  There seems to be a suspicion that I’m from India. 

  No, thank you I say.  I’m Native American.  Beeen here a mightly long time.

   Then  he says again that I must not sit out there under that sign. Not respectful.  Oh, it is so sad. And I say i am so sorry but I am going to sit out there.  And he say, Oh you cannot and I say, Well, bring up the cops.  Bring in the handcuffs. Haul me off. I don’t mind going to jail.

   He smiles.  Oh, we don’t do handcuffs he says.  Just move a little. Take it down the hall a little. By the elevator door.

  Okay, I say. I could move a bit. 

   So we shake hands and he smiles– very different from the first time he smiled.  Almost conspiratorial. You know, he says, we support the cause.  We have ALWAYS supported the cause.

     Would I write my name down? he asks and I say, Sure, will you write your name down?

His name was  MR.Pillai.  The acting consulate general when the real consulate general is out.

  

Bhopal Hunger Strike

June 19, 2008

Thought I was in Delhi.  Nope.  It was hot Houston.  Downtown Houston with a lot of tall, black marble towers.  There were five of us out in the park.  This park wasn’t for regular folks.  The parking signs said ONE HOUR PARKING ONLY.  There were signs posted near the jubilant water fountain: PRIVATE PROPERTY. NO SOLICITING. 

   I guess that meant us.  We were soliciting justice. 

 One guy had a camera.  Two students from India (they had been in the United States for two years) were carrying posterboard  that they had drawn messages. Another guy was a savvy activist. Organizer.  He had worked with Caesar Chavez in Mexico with the farm workers.  Now he was working on ol’ bad ol’ environmental justice around the Houston Ship Channel, which was the armpit of the industrial world.  Then there was me.  Day 6 of a hunger strike.  I think.  Day 5 and Day 6 were messing with each other.

    We had a target.  Indian Consulate’s office.  Sixth Floor.  Now if this was any USA federal agency we were visiting we would first be going through a metal detector.  Then our bags might be checked.  Today it was just a regular semi-harmless building.  We went straight to an elevator, hit the 6th floor button and sailed away to the consulate’s office.  Our camera man was now filming and taking down every little word we said.

    The consulate’s office was down the hall and there on the white wall was a dark brassy sign: Consul General of India.  Lovely sign. We took half a dozen pictures in front of it.  Then our next impromptu move was to go inside and disrupt as much as possible while we tried to get a meeting with the consulate.  Well, that was the wrong room for that, but we did carry the posters around to everybody sitting there (there were about 10 Indian citizens/passport carriers/immigrants).  I handed out some wonderful fliers about the Bhopal tragedy.  They were simple and very clear on the message:   The Atrocity still continues!  Everybody that was sitting there took a flier.  A few asked questions.  Almost all had heard about the incident and that lowlife, Union Carbide. 

   Juan, the organizer extraordinaire, out we needed to have a number before we could talk withthe lady at the window.  (There were people lined up to talk with the lady at the window and we DEFINITELY did not want to shove them over to talk with her ourselves!).  Anyhow, Juan went and drew #8 and he said too bad it wasn’t #7.  Lucky number 7.  Anyhow, the lady at the window decided to jump a few people because we were decidedly annoying her andshe told us to go to the RECEPTION ROOM down the hall where we could talk with another woman at a window.  So we bid everybody an ‘adios’ and hauled off to the next lady at the window.

    The lady at the next window was lots more serious.  What were our names?  What was our business?  She looked over her glasses at us pinned into the tiny little room where people talk with her. (The little room was the size of a jail cell i was in once).  Anyhow, after letting her know that we were gonna stay around until we heard from the consulate ndher saying, ‘yes yes, I know.  yes yes, I know,” we were finally given a piece of paper with the consulate’s secretary’s, Mr. Heyn (or something like that), phone number.  We should call MR. Heyn and MR. Heynwould tell us if we could talk with the consulate or not.  It was beginning to look like OR NOT.  There is nothing like giving somebody a half dozen instructions to wear them down.  But we weren’t wore down.  Heck no, we were just starting to pursue our MR. Consulate General.

   The only one of us with a cell phone that had a loud speaker (yes yes, there are phones like that!) was Juan, the organizer, so he called MR. H and told him that we were all sitting outside their office wanting and waiting to talk with the Consulate.  Well, Mr. H had to consulate the consul.  MR. H would get back to us.  Well, when?  Today?  Surely, today!  Well, soon, he said. So to get our message across that we weren’t that easy to get rid of, we went out into the hallway leading up to the lst room andsprawled out.  I sat on the floor with one banner.  The two Indian guys held two more signs andwe talked with everybody that came down that hall.  Many folks visiting the consulate for India.  Some students approached us andwanted information.  They said they had studied the Bhopal tragedy in school so seeing us there brought the tragedy to real life.  And ain’t nothing like real life as apposed to something like a blurb in a textbook.  Anyhow we were doubting that Mr.H.  He was just fooling around with us.  That was our thinking.  So we sent the camera man (Juan’s son) into the little tiny room with the lady at the window.  We figured that the lady in the window wouldn’t recognize him since he had had the camera up to his face the whole time.  We wanted our camera man to pretend he needed to see the consulate and see how fast HE got a meeting.  Well, the lady at the window recognized him and sent him back out.  Soon, she said.  Soon. 

   Well, surprise surprise.  MR. H called and said indeedy we could talk with the consulate general, Mr. Gavai.  We had five minutes!  So we were hustled in and told NO! we could not film the meeting because we did NOT ask for a meeting prior to coming and maybe if we had, then we might have been allowed the filming.  That’s what we got for being so RUDE.

    Anyhow, we all traipsed into the consulate’s office and MR. H. offered us little couches to sit on.  Mr. Gavai sit down and shook hands all around.  Nice nice man. Very polite. VERY TALL.  Yes, what did we want.  Ashish, our Indian student, explained the Bhopal situation.  Yes yes, Mr. G said.  Terrible tragedy.  Everybody agreed it was a terrible tragedy.  The Indian Goverment agreed it was a terrible tragedy.  Then why, we asked, weren’t things that were promised being done?  Constraints, he said.  Well, I pounced on that one.  Constraints!  Constraints!  What constraints?   Well, then Mr. G got very vague and said he was no expert.  he could only pass down the information that we gave him to the Prime Minister.  That was his job.  To just pass the information down.

    Well, i could’ve gone into a little tirade on what those constraints were.  Everybody knew the constraints.  The whole world knew.  its like a big fat elephant in a small room and nobody wants to talk about the elephant.  Goes something like this (this is my thinking, here)  the corporate world and the US government does not care to have corporate killings and environmental mayhem took to task in another country.  They’re thinking, Hey we brought our company down here.  Now give us a free license to do what we will.  That way all involved will make a profit. Oh well, not the poor and not the disfranchised.  No!  The important people!  Besides if Union Carbide and Dow are brought to task for this horrendous crime, doesn’t that mean that other foreign corporations that create a mess will be brought to task?? Well, that wouldn’t do!  That would set a precedent! 

   Anyhow, that was my thinking on what those ‘constraints’ were.  But the nice MR. G. said to write down.  Write down. BE explicit.  What are the demands?  Well, i said i believe those demands are already out there!  Well, didn’t matter. Mr. G said Write the demands what you want down on paper.

    So that was the end of that and we left with handshakes all around.  Very good. very good. We got our five minutes. 

    Then we went down the elevator and out under the great covering of the number 3 tower and plotted for tomorrow.


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