29 June 2010

In the Gulf, Women Struggle to Maintain Sense of Balance

With so much "new news" to process each day (McChrystal, Petraeus, Kagan; Russian spies among us), it's easy to forget that down in the Gulf, life is still falling apart. Oil is still gushing. As of Tuesday, that's 70 days and untold millions of gallons of crude, poisoning the waters and destroying communities, both physically and psychologically.

But residents of the Gulf aren't forgetting. They can't. Their whole way of life has been impacted, and the emotional strain is taking its toll -- a fact that a new article published by Mother Jones lays bare. Focusing on the lives of five women who are married to Gulf fishermen, the piece offers a rare look at how families are dealing with the new wave of destruction, having never actually recovered from Katrina.

Mac McClelland, who wrote the article, is a Hurricane Katrina survivor herself -- which gives her an eye for the kind of detail most reporters, looking in from the outside, miss. Like the fact that you can't buy toilet paper with food stamps. Like the fact that the unknown, and the total absence of structure in their lives, is really what's unraveling people.

And then there are hard details like these, that few news agencies are mentioning:
In Plaquemines Parish, 11 domestic violence [calls] came in on one recent weekend, compared with 3 on a typical weekend... The mayor of Bayou La Batre, Alabama, says they've had 320 percent more incidents of domestic violence since the spill.... "The more people are out of work, the more trouble we're gonna have," [a domestic violence hotline worker] says. "Plaquemines Community CARE is offering help now, but we're gonna need some more counselors. In the coming months, I'm gonna see a definite increase." She says she is also seeing an increase in child abuse calls.
We've written before about how former Ms. Foundation grantees like Sharon Hanshaw of Coastal Women for Change and Brenda Dardar Robichaux of the United Houma Nation are working to address the needs of their communities during this newest disaster. And now our current grantee, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, is using citizen reporting to map the oil spill and change the face of disaster management in the process. These organizations are intervening where government and private industry won't -- and changing the landscape of recovery as they do.

Articles like McClelland's -- journalism that gives voice to the real experiences of women on the ground -- play a vital role in expanding the story about what this disaster "means" to communities across the Gulf. And they also underscore why the work of our grantees in the Southern region remains so important. Though the cleanup of the spill has been cast as a very "male" dilemma (think about who you see on those boats, and making speeches about who is to blame and how justice will be meted out), women continue to bear a heavy burden in this crisis. And their voices will be as important as any others in crafting solution for these communities, where now even hope -- the most abundant of human resources -- seems on the verge of running out.

Ms. Foundation grantees remain front and center as the Gulf Coast struggles to combat the oil crisis. Grantee Green for All sent Dan Martin, their Director of Operations, to the Gulf to Report on the economic and environmental impact of the disaster. Read his blog posts from the region -- and watch this moving video that shines a light on how the United Houma Nation has been affected by the spill.

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