this open letter started us off…

An open letter demanding respect and solidarity

from Gulf Coast grassroots to national “big green” organizations and funders

You know us and you know our stories. You know our tragedies, our disasters, and our peril – Katrina, Rita, the BP oil disaster, oh, and that Shell oil spill just the other day. Not to mention, we’re losing a football field of wetlands an hour in Louisiana caused by the combined impact of oil and gas infrastructure and sea level rise due to climate change, eroding our first line of defense from increasingly strong storms. We are the frontline, grassroots communities of the Gulf Coast resisting the continued extraction of our land and our waters. And, we refuse to be a sacrifice zone for this country any longer. 

This letter is a demand for respect and solidarity from the national organizations and funders who continue to use our stories, our disasters and our peril to their own advantage, for their own campaigns, for their own purposes – oftentimes without collaboration, consideration or consent from our communities who are used as poster children of environmental injustice. For example, on June 3rd, the Natural Resources Defense Council sent an email blast from their executive director citing the recent Shell spill in our waters as the crime it is. However, attached was a petition to protect the (very beautiful) Arctic from future drilling, leaving the Gulf completely off their request. How awful for our Gulf’s devastation be used in promoting protection of an area somewhere else, without consideration of protecting our region, where the disaster actually happened. We provide this as a most recent example; and of course, many other organizations are guilty of doing the same. 

Unfortunately, it’s not the first time we’ve experienced this disrespectful lack of solidarity, and we fear not the last. This pattern of extraction from our region is hundreds of years in the making, since genocide and stealing of land and labor created the conditions of continued poverty, neglect and inequities that we see to this day in our communities. Extraction from our region has become reflexive not only for the industries we are fighting, but the very folks we expect to be our allies and friends. Enough is enough. We demand respect. We demand solidarity. Stop using our images and our stories for your campaigns and agendas. Stand with us, support us and demonstrate true solidarity. 

As such, we are writing this open letter on behalf of the Gulf Coast grassroots to call in all national “big green” groups – as well as the funders who often dictate fiscal priorities that drive organizational campaigns and fluctuating staffing making it very challenging for us to work in long-term and sustainable ways. Disaster philanthropy has driven this region’s movement for too long. However we know that the political and social environment of the Gulf is changing. It is coming on the backs of hard working and ordinary people, who want a different reality and are collaboratively envisioning a new future for the Gulf. It is coming in the form of a home-grown, grassroots, unfunded, unapologetic demand for justice across ALL of the battles we fight in our region. 

We demand:

  • Respect. Don’t use our images and our stories without consent from us, collaboration with us and consideration of us, our issues and our concerns. Our wealth of experience, talents, and passion needs to be honored and acknowledged through reciprocal exchange. 
  • Solidarity. Don’t parachute in when it’s convenient for your campaign or latest “shiny ball”. Invest in long-term relationships with, and resourcing of, individuals, organizations and communities on the ground. We are happy to travel with you as we pursue justice, but it’s important that you understand the necessity to take leadership from and stay in your lane when working with us.

Love is what justice looks like in public, and we write this in the true spirit in deep love of and for our folks and our fights. We are inspiring and inspired by others in the same struggle across Turtle Island and around the globe. We write this for us, but also for the other frontline communities we know face the very same challenges we do, who desire the same institutional and structural changes. We live in one of the most beautiful, culturally rich, historically significant, and ecologically unique regions of not only this country, but the entire world.  We are committed to defending the communities, protecting the cultures and restoring the ecosystems of our region. Join with us or be left behind as we co-create a just, sustainable and vibrant future for our people and our planet. You can either be with us, or against us, or you can get out of the way – but this change is already happening… one voice, one step, one day at a time.

Sincerely, (alphabetized by last name)

Jayeesha Dutta, New Orleans, LA

Cherri Foytlin, Rayne, LA

Benjamin Franklin, Houston, TX

Nick Slie, New Orleans, LA

Dr. Stephanie Thomas, Houston, TX

Monique Verdin, St. Bernard, LA

Ann-Meredith Wootton, New Orleans, LA

Originally published June 27, 2016 on Radical Arts & Healing Collective’s website