First Person

Gulf spill video nets Emmy, much-needed attention to needs of residents

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Somewhere in Grand Isle, Louisiana, on a road so remote that our GPS thought we were now in a boat on the Gulf of Mexico, it started raining. And then it rained some more. It rained so hard that our small Oxfam film crew of myself, Shannon Hart-Reed, Sarah Livingston, and Michael Prince had to pull over. After several days and hundreds of miles shooting footage for a music video Oxfam was doing in partnership with The New Pornographers, all of us were ready to go home. We were exhausted, drenched, and hungry with nowhere to go – literally. The road ahead of us was flooded, and the road to our right was closed, by British Petroleum, which created the largest environmental disaster in US history, bungled the clean-up process, and somehow managed to dispossess the authorities of the power to manage their own beaches as evidenced by their hand-drawn cardboard “Beach Closed” sign tacked to the telephone pole behind us.

That forced pit stop was a long way from the Saturday night party where Oxfam received an Emmy for the music video. When our music outreach specialist Bob Ferguson stood up to say a few words of thanks after receiving the award he said what I think we all felt in that car in the middle of the rainstorm – and throughout the filming: the video, the award, the music and the work are all part of our effort to “raise awareness that the situation in the Gulf is far from over,” and make sure the people of the Gulf Coast, and in particular those most affected by the oil spill and Hurricane Katrina, are heard.

Oxfam’s partners and friends on the Gulf Coast have gone through a lot. We happened to be filming five years to the day after Hurricane Katrina swept through the very same bayous now covered in BP oil. Explaining a music video project to people with much more pressing matters on their hands was a challenging task. And that’s why my favorite part about this video is the people. They are serious, and they are also smiling and laughing. Some of these people have lost their homes, some have lost family, and most are out of work because of the effects of the spill and the hurricane. And yet the message they want to send to the world is one of strength and resilience. Their signs say it all: “We’re not going anywhere,” “this is our home.” If you haven’t been deep in the bayous, you should. I wouldn’t want to leave it either.

Oxfam’s work on the Gulf Coast continues. Our staff is making sure oil spill fines are directed right back to restoration efforts, and the community voice is a key part of the recovery process. The work involves a lot of community meetings, lots of driving, and long evenings in some of the most beautiful parts of the country. It’s hard, good, and necessary work with friends we’ve known for a long time. The least we can do is turn the truck on and keep going. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+