StoryCorps returns to Gulf Coast to record oil spill accountsOct 14th, 2010 | By Frank McCormack | Category: top story
People who call Southeast Louisiana home know how to tell a good story, and with all the challenges of the last five years, there are certainly some stories to share.
Now, as the BP oil spill disaster and recovery nears the sixth month mark, StoryCorps, a national storytelling organization, has come to the Gulf Coast region to record interviews with residents who have been affected by the April 20 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and aftermath.
StoryCorps’ MobileBooth – an Airstream trailer outfitted with a recording studio – arrived at the Sigur Civic Center in Chalmette Oct. 7 and will be traveling around the Gulf Coast region collecting personal accounts from the oil spill until Oct. 23. Residents interested in recording a 40-minute interview may make a reservation by calling 1 (800) 850-4406 or by visiting StoryCorps.org.
At the end of each recording session, participants receive a digital copy of the interview. StoryCorps will feature some interviews on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, and all interviews are logged in the Library of Congress.
The story collecting push along the Gulf Coast is a joint initiative of StoryCorps, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Bridge the Gulf. All three organizations have been active in the region since the oil spill began. Representatives from each sponsor organization were in St. Bernard Thursday to say just how important collecting personal accounts from the oil spill is.
“Our mission is to record the stories of the lives of everyday Americans. We do that by bringing people together who know each other well. They sit down and have a conversation together about whatever’s important in their lives,” said Eloise Melzer, mobile tour site supervisor with StoryCorps. “We say at StoryCorps that listening is an act of love, and I truly believe that you honor someone by listening to them. That’s what we’re here to do. We’re here to honor the people of the Gulf Coast by listening to them.”
Daniel Hinerfeld with the Natural Resources Defense Council said his organization first became active in the region after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He said that about the time BP capped its runaway well in mid-July he began to notice a disturbing trend in the media.
“There was a point in this disaster around the time the flow of oil was stopped that it seemed the national media was done with the story, they turned away, and the attention of the country began to rapidly turn away,” Hinerfeld said. “Simultaneously, there was a very effective push by BP and other interests to essentially suggest that the spill hadn’t been such a big deal after all and that it was pretty much over.”
Hinerfeld said he jumped at the chance to partner with StoryCorps in hopes of keeping a spotlight on the ongoing challenges along the Gulf Coast as a result of the spill.
Ada McMahon with Bridge the Gulf said it’s all about giving a voice to everyday residents, commercial fishermen, relief workers and oil industry workers – those most impacted by the spill.
“It’s the people affected most by a disaster that should have their voices heard loudest,” McMahon said.
Prominent community leaders from both Plaquemines Parish and St. Bernard Parish were on hand Oct. 7 to jump start the three week long initiative. From Plaquemines, Kendra Arnesen, who became a full-time activist after the spill, and her husband David, a commercial fisherman, spoke about how the spill affected their family and about the long-term challenges their community is facing.
“We have three industries in our parish,” Kendra said. “The oil industry, recreational fishing and commercial fishing. If the recreational and charter fishing and the commercial fishing are gone, where do we go and what do we do? We have to come up with a plan to move forward.”
David said he believes the commercial fishing industry would benefit from a rigorous seafood testing and marketing plan, perhaps put on by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“We need more testing. We need the FDA to step up and do its job,” David said. “Let’s put an FDA stamp on it. Let them take some of the liability.”
Kendra echoed Hinerfeld and said she feels the national media, for the most part, has turned its attention elsewhere since the well was capped.
“The national media forgot about us,” she said. “In Katrina, Plaquemines Parish was the first hit and the first forgotten.”
Kendra also talked about how the spill had affected her family and many other families in her community.
“I’ve already seen couples in our community split,” she said. “I’ve already seen people who recovered from drug abuse after Katrina get back into that. We saw that after Katrina. It’s part of the stress and depression.”
George Barisich, a local commercial fisherman and president of the United Commercial Fishermen Association, was the first person from St. Bernard to record a 40-minute interview. Barisich linked his own personal story to that of the boat on which he fishes.
“I was born the same month the boat was launched, so we’re linked,” he said of the 52-foot-long, 54-year-old “FJG.”
Barisich said he began working summers on the boat with his father when he was 9-years-old. Even though Barisich spent time away from home at college and even attended law school, he said he couldn’t stay off the water.
“I guess it was my destiny,” he said.
Over the years, Barisich and FJG have seen challenges come and go for commercial fishing. From Hurricanes Camille, Betsy, Katrina and Rita to more government regulations of commercial fishing, FJG has survived everything that time could throw at it, Barisich said.
“But it may not survive this BP thing,” he said.
Barisich said he hopes BP or the federal government will do more to get the word out that Gulf seafood is safe to eat. In the meantime, though, Barisich is traveling around the country hosting shrimp boils to show people how good his fresh-caught seafood really is.
Barisich talked at length about how hard commercial fishing really is and that he hopes to see more young fishermen begin to really take a leadership role in the industry. It’s a calling he felt as a young man, and he hopes others continue to hear it as well.
“I can’t wait to jump out there tomorrow morning because that’s what I do,” he said. “I could do anything, but that’s what I was born to do.”