By Marcus Patrick Ellsworth
Wednesday morning, around 300 protesters gathered outside New Orleans’s City Hall and marched half a mile to the Superdome as part of a protest to shut down the auction of a whopping 45 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico to oil companies. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s auction of the right to set up new drilling sites was opposed by a diverse coalition of environmental-justice organizations from across the region, including Greenpeace, Gulf South Rising, the Indigenous Rising movement, and Idle No More. Together, they showed big oil companies that the people of the Gulf Coast region will not sit idly by while their resources are exploited for profit.
Over 100 protesters stormed into the Superdome after the march arrived to disrupt the auction while it was in progress. Activist Cherri Foytlin of Idle No More Gulf Coast led the crowd in chants of “shut it down.” General Russel Honoré, known for his work leading relief efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, showed up to stand in solidarity with protesters. But while the crowd’s valiant effort to halt business as usual should be applauded, the sale of nearly 700,000 acres of the Gulf of Mexico for $156 million still went forward.
Activists haven’t given up, and now are coming together under the banner of #NoNewLeases and #KeepItInTheGround to continue the good fight for our environment. And there is so much more that needs to be done; more drilling sites means burning more fossil fuels, which, in turn, will only accelerate the climate change that threatens every single one of us.
The protest itself is only part of a greater rallying cry for people to work for the preservation of our coasts. Many of the residents of the Gulf Coast remember the toxic fallout of the Deepwater Horizon disaster that left an enormous oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, ravaged the coast with oil and chemicals, and disrupted the lives of millions. They know that stronger hurricanes, like 2005’s devastating Katrina, are expected to become more common as we continue to rely on oil as a source of fuel and energy. Pollution created by our oil dependence is a major driver of climate change, and this movement’s goals of prioritizing cleaner energy sources and weaning us off of oil are central to controlling the rise of coastal waters and slowing changes in weather patterns.
Many of those who came out to rally against the auction have vowed to continue opposing the exploitation of natural resources by demanding that oil companies hire workers to address failing infrastructure and leaking pipes at existing facilities; invest in clean energy alternatives; and reduce the pollution created by harvesting and processing oil and natural gas. All of this will help to chip away at threats to the gulf region’s natural resources and people.
We are not helpless in the face of this environmental destruction. Just last week, for example, the collective voices of Atlantic Coast residents, business owners, and environmentalists influenced the Obama administration to withdraw plans for drilling off the south Atlantic coast. So cheers to the brave folks who stood against exploiting our environment and people for profit in Louisiana. If you care about ensuring a better future for our world and all of its people, support the work of groups like Environmental Action, Indigenous Environmental Network, and organizations near you that work for a greener, healthier world. Our protest, our refusal to accept the poisoning of our planet, can and does make a difference.