Rhonda Jackson is an Oxfam America Gulf Coast program manager. Here is the second part of her account of what she saw on a recent field visit through Louisiana’s marshes.
I returned to the marina saddened, angry, hurt—and confused. Then, I spoke with local residents. I talked to folks who had lived and worked here for generations. I talked to fishermen, oysterman, local sheriffs, and business owners. Our conversations gave me hope; I was reminded of the resiliency of my fellow Louisiana residents. I was reminded that even if there is only a glimmer of hope, we will find a reason to stay in the battle. I was reminded why I do this work—why Oxfam does this work—because in order to stay in the battle, these folks are going to need to be armed with a few things.
They are going to need information. Again, a lesson from the Katrina survivor’s notebook is that one of the hardest things to get in a time of crisis is reliable information. Harder still is to ensure that information gets to the entire community.
They are going to need assurances. For the folks who live there, it probably doesn’t matter who is eventually at fault: British Petroleum, Transocean, Halliburton, the federal government. What they will need is the assurance that those at fault are held accountable.
They are going to need to be heard. These are the folks who not only know these waters, they know their issues. They know that while others are making decisions for them and in their best interest, truthfully, they don’t know, understand or value the culture and the livelihoods at stake. It will only be through advocacy, these folks being able to be in the position to speak to policy makers for and on behalf of themselves that will hopefully make a difference in the long-term.
They are going to need options. While some may chose to remain in the places that they have known all their lives, others may be forced to make the decision to relocate. Doing so will require support not only from our state officials, but also from federal officials and communities where folks may move.
They are going to need us. They are going to need widespread, public support if they are going to have even half a chance at justice, some small chance of fairness. They are going to need all of us to recognize that this does not just affect Louisiana residents, or Gulf Coast residents, this disaster has long-term implications for many Americans.
The day before our tour of the marshes, Oxfam organized a small meeting between the organizations with whom we work on the Gulf Coast and a White House official. The goal of this gathering was to discuss how grassroots organizations can work with the government to ensure equitable and responsive federal action.
As a program manager for Oxfam on the Gulf Coast, I was privileged to see firsthand how much the work we do every day matters. Our local partners were able to share their stories, their concerns, and their issues with someone who will be making many decisions in the coming weeks on their behalf. The White House official was able to hear firsthand why some of the potential policies and current programs will not work and promised to offer some alternative suggestions to officials.
We have a long road ahead but I was reminded just how much that the work we do matters.