What Do Rosa Parks, MLK, Nelson Mandela and a Mother of Six Have In Common?

Yesterday, December 5, 2013, I celebrated my 45th birthday.

Every year on this date, I make a point to start my day by being mindful and thankful. Thankful for having loving family and friends, and thankful for the sacrifices so many others have made so that I can live a life of freedom; though ever mindful of that fact that freedom doesn’t come for free.

Rosa Louise ParksDecember 5th is a date of significance for me NOT because it is the date of my birth, but because it is the same day the historic bus boycott in Montgomery Alabama was launched in 1955, after Rosa Parks, “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” refused to move to the back of the bus when she was ordered to give up her seat to a white person.

This was a seminal event in U.S. history, which ultimately led to a United States Supreme Court decision (Browder v. Gayle), that declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws requiring segregated buses to be unconstitutional.

The ripple effect of Rosa Park’s refusal to give up her seat and the subsequent Supreme Court decision catalyzed the National Civil Rights Movement that gave rise to the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King – a clergyman, activist, and one of the finest humanitarians to have every walked this Earth – until his untimely demise at the hands of a sniper at the age of 39.

If Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had survived, he would be celebrating his 85th birthday next month.

Yesterday the world lost another truly amazing leader, not due to violence, but to the cumulative effects of age. At 95 years of age at his passing, Nelson Mandela, the former South African president and Nobel Peace Prize winner, was the epitome of patience, positivity, and perseverance.

Today, I find it shocking to believe that so many do not know his story, a story of transformation; from warmongering political freedom fighter, to prisoner, to president. I mean, come on. Nelson Mandela was portrayed by Morgan Freeman in the Oscar nominated film Invictus, starring Matt Damon. And who doesn’t know Morgan Freeman or Matt Damon? Or better yet, how could one fail to witness the out pouring of love and respect for Nelson Mandela during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010 (Official Theme Song)

www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=BgyJY9yndv4

With all due respect, there was a time in my life when I didn’t know who Nelson Mandela was, what he stood for, or what he sacrificed personally; namely his freedom.

Twenty-seven years ago I had never heard of Nelson Mandela, of South Africa, or apartheid. I was an 18-year old college freshman. The year was 1986. At that time I had no interest in political activism or community organization, and social justice was not part of my daily lexicon.

In the mid-1980s, there was something happening on college campuses all across our country called “the anti-apartheid movement,” which was bringing together students of different races and cultures, in a way our country had not seen since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. I was a college student attending the University of Montevallo Alabama at the time, about 20 minutes from Selma – a city made infamous for the Bloody Sunday violence in 1965 – and an hour away from Montgomery. I knew the movement was a big deal culturally. After all, I was living in the Deep South, a place with a long history of racial hatred.

 Selma-to-Montgomery Civil Rights March in 1965

Bloody Sunday

It has taken almost 30 years for the full appreciation of this historic awakening to fully set in.

College students across the country were self-organizing and leading protests, boycotts, sit-ins, and commandeering buildings, demanding for their schools, for corporations, and our federal government to divest, or de-invest billions of dollars in stocks, capital goods, and real estate from South Africa, to the point that the economic impact of apartheid became too costly for the South African government to continue.  Thus it was subsequently dismantled.

Amid harsh financial outcomes and facing mounting political strife internationally, Nelson Mandela was granted his freedom. I remember the day he was released from 27-years in prison. CNN carried the story live.

It was a seminal moment in world history, akin to the demise of the Berlin Wall. It was February 11, 1990. I sat glued to the television in my dorm listening to a man that was humble and courageous, hopeful and gracious as he spoke before thousands of South Africans in Cape Town and to millions more by television.

“Comrades and fellow South Africans, I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all,” Mandela told tens of thousands of cheering supporters.

His smile was infectious, his words were hypnotic, and his presence was out of this world. In my mind, he became the embodiment of the best that humanity has to offer. His ability to forgive, to turn his anger, his hatred, his suffering into love, and finally, reconciliation, were a game changer for me.

It was the 1st time in my life that I understood the cliché that one person can make a difference in this world.

Today, as the world mourns the loss of Nelson Mandela, I’d like to introduce you to one of my unsung heroes, a heroine actually, that you may never have heard of. Her name is Cherri Foytlin and she is a resident of Rayne, Louisiana.

Cherri is a human rights advocate, community organizer, journalist, mother to six of the best-behaved kids I have ever met, and one of five main characters profiled in my, yet to be released, documentary film Storm Surge.

I was introduced to Cherri via Facebook in July of 2010, but didn’t meet her face to face until July of 2011.  That’s when I saw her speak at a Gulf Coast Restoration Task Force meeting being facilitated by Lisa Jackson, former EPA Administrator. “We still have oil in our marshes, fishermen are out of work and it seems like everyone knows someone with cancer. It’s time to take the blinders off and see what this industry is doing to us,” argued Foytlin.

cherri-foytlinCherri was fresh off a 1,243 mile walk from New Orleans to Washington D.C. to raise awareness of the ongoing environmental, social and economic impact of the BP Deepwater Oil Disaster, which was being compounded by lingering impacts of Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav, Rita, and Ivan, and the institutionalized lack of healthcare, educational, and job opportunities in Gulf Coast communities – beyond the oil and gas industries.

Since then Cherri has expanded her activism beyond the Gulf Coast, chaining herself to the gate of a Keystone XL pipe yard to delay the project. She has spoken before thousands at rallies across North America and Europe, and she’s been arrested four times (twice at the White House). Cherri has had a bricks thrown through her windows and has had death threats issued against her and her family.

Threats not dissimilar to those threats bestowed upon Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela.

Cherri is a tireless warrior, a loyal friend, a positive role model (notwithstanding the arrests), and a deep well of inspiration for thousands of people who live in the most vulnerable communities in our country. She is humble and courageous, hopeful and gracious.

Please take the next 11-minutes and 25-seconds to get to know her, what she stands for, and what sacrifices she has personally made to do what is right. Not for fame or for fortune, and not simply for her family or her community, but for all humanity.

Interview With Cherri Foytlin

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7_0pGxc39U

Like Rosa Parks, Cherri admits to being tired, but she continues to fight the good fight for equality, justice, human rights, and our collective divestment from the oil and gas companies that continue to shackle us to carbon emitting fossil fuels that are destroying our climate, our natural ecosystems, and our communities.

I hope her words inspire you just as they inspired me. Thanks for your time, your mindful attention, and for caring.

Very truly yours,

Stacy C. Noland

Human Rights Advocate, Community Organizer, Journalist & Mother of Six

STORM SURGE is a visual narrative that follows the lives of five unsung heroes as they work to rebuild their livelihoods and communities in the wake of historic national disasters.

Cherri Foytlin is one of the main characters we profile in the film. Listen to her candid observations on what it’s like to live in the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav, and Ivan, and the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Catastrophe. 

ROCKY MOUNTAIN WEATHER GONE WILD!

DROUGHTS, WILDFIRES, AND FLOODS, OH MY!

Whether you believe in global warming or not, chances are good you or someone you know will have their lives turned upside down by a natural disaster.  From super tornadoes in the Great Plains and Midwest, to the lingering impacts of hurricanes in the Gulf and East Coasts, to droughts, wildfires and flash floods from the Redwoods to the Rocky Mountains, millions of Americans have had their lives, livelihoods, and futures turned upside down.

Courtesy Jeremy Papasso / Daily Camera
Photo: Jeremy Papasso / Daily Camera

Amplifying the effect of these natural disasters is the fact that many American cities and rural towns have grotesquely under-invested in infrastructure and have a backlog of overdue maintenance orders to repair and replace structurally deficient roads, bridges, dams and levees, as well as transmission lines, transportation hubs, rail roads, drinking water systems, along with solid and hazardous waste management facilities.  According to a recent American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) report, the U.S. received a near failing grade of a D+ on its 2013 annual infrastructure report card.

2013 REPORT CARD FOR AMERICA’S INFRASTRUCTURE

These infrastructure vulnerabilities, combined with major weather-related natural disasters are a malignancy metastasizing into cataclysmic disruptions in communication, transportation, human welfare, and the tragic loss of housing, food, water and energy supplies, and, to a greater extent, cause lasting damage to our national economy.

Courtesy Cliff Grassmick / Daily Camera
Photo: Cliff Grassmick / Daily Camera

What were once considered issues for a distant future, climate change, urban sprawl, and a deteriorating national infrastructure have moved swiftly, front and center into the present, and Americans are finally beginning to wake up to the changes all around them.

A TRIFECTA OF WEATHER-RELATED TRAGEDIES

In June, President Obama told an audience at Georgetown University, “Droughts and fires and floods, they go back to ancient times. But we also know that in a world that’s warmer than it used to be, all weather events are affected by a warming planet.”

Between the wildfires last year and this year, the unprecedented and continuing drought, and the recent rain storms that dumped a year’s worth of rainfall in less than 24-hours, the state of Colorado now sits at the epicenter of a perfect storm of tragic climate events.

But considering the 1,000-year rain and 100-year flood event occurred in the backyard of some of the world’s top weather and climate research institutions, we can be confident the event will be thoroughly researched, as both the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Earth System Research Laboratory are headquartered in Boulder.  Ironically, each office was forced to close during to flooding.

FLOOD IMPACTS

According the the Colorado Office of Emergency Management, at least eight deaths have been confirmed, with two more missing and presumed dead while dozens remain unaccounted for.  Over 11,000 people had be evacuated from their homes, with 700 being rescued by Black Hawk helicopters in what Lt. Col. Mitch Utterback of the Colorado National Guard described as the largest aerial rescue campaign since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Photo: Brennan Linsley/AP
Photo: Brennan Linsley/AP

Nearly 19,000 homes have been damaged, and over 1,500 have been destroyed.  The Colorado Department of Transportation estimates that at least 30 state highway bridges have been destroyed and an additional 20 are seriously damaged, with repairs for damaged bridges and roads expected to cost many millions of dollars.  Miles of freight and passenger rail lines were washed out or submerged, including a section servicing Amtrak‘s iconic California Zephyr.

DROUGHT IMPACTS

According to the National Climactic Data Center, the globally-averaged temperature for August 2013 tied with 2005 as the fourth warmest August since record keeping began in 1880.  August 2013 also marked the 35th consecutive August and 342nd consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average.

Credit: National Climate Assessment
Credit: National Climate Assessment

Until the biblical floods barreled through Colorado, 90-percent of the state was in various states of drought; in some instances dating back to a decade or more.  National Geographic’s Sandra Postel, believes “the long-term drought that has parched the area and gripped much of the Colorado River Basin over the past 14 years may be partly to blame for the severity of the floods.  Drought tends to harden the soil.  When rains do come, less of the water can absorb into the ground, so it quickly runs off the land.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor drought map of Colorado valid September 10, 2013.
The U.S. Drought Monitor drought map of Colorado valid September 10, 2013.

WILDFIRE IMPACTS

And if the floods and drought weren’t enough, the 2013 wildfire season was the most destructive in Colorado’s history.  Over a dozen fires charred more than 150,000 acres, or approximately 234 square miles.  “Fires can lead to worse flooding, because they remove vegetation that can slow down and trap rainfall,” said Postel. (See “Fire and Rain: The One-Two Punch of Flooding After Blazes.”)

Kevin Hyde, a post-doc studying post-fire erosion at the University of Wyoming, says “the compounded damages from the cycle of wildfire and flooding could very well be amplified on the Front Range in coming years. Climate models foretell larger regional storms, and scientists have also predicted bigger, more intense wildfires in Colorado’s future.”  What is that going to mean for the people living in the mouth of these areas?” wonders Hyde.

burned-forest-colorado-june-2013-e1372351982661

If the historic droughts, record-breaking wildfires, and the 100-year flood that besieged Colorado this summer, along with the personal tragedies of lives lost and dislocated, hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure repair costs, crops lost, communities isolated, water quality problems, and lost revenues to businesses, are any indication of the future living in the Rocky Mountain State — with all its majesty and splendor — people better get ready for the new normal.

To support the ongoing Colorado relief and recovery efforts, donations can be made to:

8 Years Ago Today

Courtesy of U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Hurricane Katrina: Courtesy of U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster that some have described as biblical in scale and unprecedented as a human tragedy.

“The Storm,” as the locals call it, was the most destructive natural disaster in American history, laying waste to 90,000 square miles of land, an area the size of the United Kingdom.

Before The Storm

As the sheer size of Hurricane Katrina became clear, the National Weather Service’s New Orleans/Baton Rouge office issued an ominously worded emergency alert predicting that many areas throughout the Gulf Coast would be “uninhabitable for weeks” after “devastating damage” caused by Katrina.

Contraflow lane reversal, voluntary, and mandatory evacuations were issued for coastal Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.  Approximately 1.2 million residents of the Gulf Coast heeded the evacuation orders, after hearing the following cryptic message, and fled their homes.

During The Storm

After making a brief initial landfall over Southeastern Louisiana, Hurricane Katrina made its final landfall near Louisiana/Mississippi state line, passing over the cities of Bay St. Louis and Waveland, Mississippi.

The Storm featured winds in excess of 120 mph and churned up a powerful 27-foot storm surge, which penetrated 6 miles inland, and in some areas up to 12 miles, along bays and rivers; killing close to 300 people and causing billions of dollars in damage to bridges, barges, boats, piers, houses and cars.  Thousands were left homeless, destitute, and entombed in mud.

Extreme weather photographers Mike Tice and Jim Reed captured harrowing video footage as the storm surge slammed in Gulfport, Mississippi and ripped through their hotel.

After The Storm

While the coastal Mississippi communities of Bay St. Louis, Biloxi, D’Iberville, Gulfport, Pass Christian, and Waveland Mississippi where completely washed off the map because of the massive storm surge, New Orleans was overwhelmed by flooding.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff described the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as “probably the worst catastrophe, or set of catastrophes,” in the country’s history, referring to the hurricane itself plus the flooding of New Orleans.

Katrina’s storm surge caused 53 different levee breaches in greater New Orleans, submerging eighty percent of the city.  The levee breaches and the subsequent flooding were responsible for killing over 700 people.

Survivors and evacuees reported seeing dead bodies lying in city streets and floating in flooded sections of the city well into October. The advanced state of decomposition of many corpses hindered efforts by coroners to identify many of the dead.

In the days following Katrina, residents in New Orleans who “rode out the storm,” resorted to looting stores in search of food, water, and medical supplies.  While others took advantage of the situation to loot non-essential items like televisions and tennis shoes.

All told, more than 1,833 people died.  The results were tragic loss of life and human suffering on a massive scale, and an undermining of confidence in our governments’ ability to plan, prepare for, and respond to national catastrophes.

 

50th Anniversary Of The March On Washington

On the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, we’d like to honor and acknowledge Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient, Mr. Bayard Rustin, the man behind the man, the man behind the march, and the man behind the movement.

Bayard Rustin2
Image: WorldChannel.org

Who Is Mr. Bayard Rustin You Ask?

A master strategist and tireless activist, Bayard Rustin is best remembered as the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, one of the largest nonviolent protests ever held in the United States. He brought Gandhi’s protest techniques to the American civil rights movement, and helped mold Martin Luther King, Jr. into an international symbol of peace and nonviolence.  Despite these achievements, Rustin was silenced, threatened, arrested, beaten, imprisoned and fired from important leadership positions, largely because he was an openly gay man in a fiercely homophobic era. – Bayard Rustin Film Project

BROTHER OUTSIDER (Official Trailer)

On August, 8th 2013, President Barack Obama named Bayard Rustin a posthumous recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. President Obama said, “The Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to men and women who have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours. This year’s honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world. It will be my honor to present them with a token of our nation’s gratitude.”

To learn more about the life and times for Bayard Rustin, please check out the award winning feature documentary film BROTHER OUTSIDER.

When Oil and Corexit Mix

How toxic is the oil dispersant Corexit when mixed with oil?

Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig Explosion
Courtesy: US Coast Guard

In the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Catastrophe and the subsequent use of 2 million gallons of the oil dispersant Corexit to disperse an estimated 250-300 million gallons of oil, we find ourselves asking this question almost everyday.

Three and a half years after the largest human-caused environmental disaster in history, remediation and restoration efforts have helped to remove the most obvious signs of the disaster and returned the most affected coastal communities to near pre-spill conditions.

But Gulf Coast residents now face an even more ominous health care crisis, as untold numbers of people – cleanup workers, divers, beach comers, residents, children, etc. – have been made ill from exposure to a mix of oil, methane, Corexit, and from inhaling aerosolized oil fumes from the in-situ oil burns (oil burned in contained areas on the surface of the water).

Since 2010, the Storm Surge team has interviewed scores of people who claim to suffer from acute illnesses ranging from rashes, upper respiratory infections, severe asthma, skin infections, blisters in between their fingers and arms on their legs and their feet, and blood in their urine, to heart palpitations, kidney and liver damage, migraines, memory loss and reduced IQ, after they came into contact with oil and Corexit.

We continue to remain perplexed as to the reasons why the American mainstream media fails to cover this problem.

Last week, 60 Minutes Australia published the following two-part investigative report on the use of Corexit to disperse oil, both here in the United States and in Australia.

Crude Solution – Part 1

Crude Solution – Part 2

Meanwhile, BP is reportedly spending over $5 million a week on a nation-wide marketing, advertising, and public relations campaign to convince people across the country that the Gulf of Mexico is safe to swim in, the seafood is safe to eat, the environment is being restored to pristine order, and how great a company BP is to work for.

ADDICTIVE: BP Oil Spill Song

Traveling throughout out the Gulf Coast over the last three and a half years to record stories of unbending human resilience in the face of forces to powerful to comprehend, namely Hurricane Katrina and the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Catastrophe, has been an amazing experience.

Music, as it relates to coping with an recovering from these disasters, is taking on a greater role in the Storm Surge narrative.

Recently, we connected with Shamarr Allen, Dee-1, Paul Sanchez, and Bennie Pete to hear them express their feelings about the Gulf oil disaster through an addictive earwig called “Sorry Aint Enough No More.” We hope you enjoy the riff.

“THINK PEOPLE!”

You Gotta Be Kidding, Right?

Image: Stacy C. Noland
Image: Stacy C. Noland

By Elizabeth Shogren of NPR – July 25, 2013

The government board charged with protecting New Orleans from flooding sued the oil and gas industry on Wednesday.  

The suit would require oil, gas and pipeline companies restore damaged wetlands and pay damages for the effects of the lost wetlands on levees.

But Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who appointed the flood protection board, has a different demand. He ordered the board to drop its lawsuit and fire its lawyers.

Arctic Apocalypse

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A group of economic and polar scientists warn that the rapidly thawing Arctic and the subsequent release of methane gas into the atmosphere has the potential to trigger a catastrophic “economic timebomb” which would cost trillions of dollars and undermine the global financial system.

Meanwhile, billions of people across the planet continue to keep their heads in the sand, deny that climate change is happening, or are to apathetic to care.

The world has gone mad.

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