August 28, 2012

Send In The Clowns, RNC, Tampa, Florida

Clownbloq. Jubilant clown protesters bent on de-escalation. Their attire tends toward the militaristic, emulating the militarization of our police forces. But both militaristic and non-violent at the same time. Their armaments might have included feather dusters, but due to new, RNC-related regulations, they were not able to carry water pistols. In Tampa, in honor of the Republican National Convention (RNC), we were treated to the Clandestine Clown Counterterrorism Unit, the CCCU.

I arrived early to watch the clownbloq army assemble. First came the medics. There were four of them. Four of them! Did they expect so many casualties? Two of the medics were from the Boston area and two had catapulted across the country from Portland, Oregon. One was a real nurse, when she wasn't attending to the wounded during the RNC. The rest would not let on as to their medical credentials. They chatted about the dry-sock-dispersal campaign. Evidently, as a result of recent rains here, the biggest medical problem facing out-of-town protesters was trench foot. As if to give a stomp of approval to trench foot, the skies opened up and rained for about five minutes as we waited for the rest of the clowns to arrive. Once trench foot is treated, the prudent thing to do is to don a pair of clean, dry, new socks. Thus the dry-sock-dispersal campaign.

I was already reaping the health benefits of better medical knowledge, as the clowns dribbled in. Other than the two clown trainers, not one participant had any prior clowning or theatrical experience. But, I was soon chuckling right and left as the group warmed up. Laughter is powerful medicine. And the clowns-to-be were aiming to use laughter as a powerful tactical weapon. Nathan Pim, of the Autonomous Playhouse, showed everyone how to protect the police from the many non-violent protesters who would be rallying and marching against voter suppression later in the afternoon. They carefully picked out entertaining outfits so that everyone would be in awe of their exquisite clown fashion sense. During these short training exercises, a real police unit entered the park. Evidently, it takes eight officers to subdue one young man who was about to pull a bandana up over his face. Yes, indeed, this went against the fancy, new, RNC-related regulations. Call me paranoid, but how did they even know? When I entered the park, I had noticed a helicopter overhead, which I dutifully videotaped. I'm fairly sure that helicopter surveillance technology has not reached the point of clairvoyance, but who am I to say? Thankfully there were no clown arrests and the group continued with warm-ups, which were quickly followed by lunch - another healthy aspect of this clownbloq.

Many of these clowns were members of Food Not Bombs, a group with many chapters around the world devoted to recovering and sharing free vegan or vegetarian food with the public. We were meeting in Herman Massey Park, a park originally used by Tampa Food Not Bombs to feed folks. In order to curtail such activities, the City of Tampa closed down the park, cleaned it up, and erected a lock-able fence around the park. In the tradition of Food Not Bombs, a hearty and well-spiced meal was served.

After lunch, and a long walk in the general direction of the Rally Against Voter Suppression, we arrived at Centennial Park. Even without signs or a map, we knew we had arrived at the right spot, when we spotted the platoon of bicycle-wielding officers lining the edge of the park. I was pleased to see that the protesters outnumbered the police. Given the possibility of a hurricane, many protesters may have prematurely decided to stay home. This might have left the thousands of out-of-town police with nothing to do, but severely outnumber the protesters. Thankfully, my fears were not born out. A larger-than-life Romney puppet toured the grounds. Following some good speakers and performers, Charles McKenzie gave a rousing speech and we once again found ourselves on the march. It was great fun following the clowns' antics as they mixed with the crowd and protected the police through the neighborhood of Ybor City.

August 4, 2012

Hands Across The Sand, Lido Beach

Men, women, and children raised their voices in concern over offshore drilling at area beaches at noon today. Two years ago following the BP Gulf oil spill, Siesta Key beach was flooded with protesters.

Concerns ranged from the health of the general ecosystem, to a reduction in tourism at Gulf beaches, to our societal dependence on oil, to the health of Gulf residents and fishers (somebody tell me if that's a word). Today, two years later, a few folks continued to speak out about why they were joining "Hands Across the Sand" at Lido Beach and embracing clean energy. Several were so dedicated that they interrupted their 40th Sarasota High School reunion to participate.

I was curious about the scientific assessment of the effects of the 2010 Gulf oil spill. We have a Mote Marine Laboratory intern staying with us who is part of a team that provides care for one Mote dolphin. In June, she let us know about Edna, who had stranded on Longboat Key, just north of us. Another team at Mote is treating Edna and nursing her back to health. As it turns out, since 2010, dolphins have been dying and/or stranding in record numbers in the Gulf of Mexico. A year ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tested 32 living dolphins in Barataria Bay, where the oil spill had a big impact. The dolphins were underweight, anemic, had low blood sugar, low levels of hormones that help with stress response - all symptoms that would be expected of dolphins exposed to an oil spill. However, the data is not as clear-cut as it first appears. The dolphin deaths started increasing about two months BEFORE the Gulf spill. A recent study published in PLoS One points to the combined traumas of a very cold winter in 2010, followed by massive amounts of oil and chemical dispersants due to the BP oil spill, followed by a large 2011 snowmelt which injected a huge volume of cold freshwater into the northern Gulf.

It may be difficult to pinpoint the cause of the dolphin die-off, but it seems that it is just as difficult to evaluate the decline in fish, shellfish, and coral. I was hoping it might be easier to identify the human cost and suffering resulting from the spill. People don't usually stay quiet about such things. Some experienced short term chemically induced illnesses, some of which were severe enough to land folks in the hospital. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is studying the long-term effects such as cancer and birth defects. I hope they will be looking at the effects of eating seafood tainted by components from chemical dispersants and/or crude oil. We already know that eating some crude oil components causes cancer and developmental problems. We don't know much about the chemical dispersants. They have been shown to bioaccumulate. Might they move up the food chain from water to fish to people? Unfortunately, the study's late start and lack of baseline information may limit its ability to draw strong conclusions.

Why are we in such a state of ignorance? Based on the behavior of BP in trying to hide the extent of the spill and keep reporters away from the spill area, I am willing to hazard a guess. If there is a shocking lack of research into the long-term effects of an oil spill, that is, undoubtedly, just the way the oil industry wants it. Existing research results probably fall prey to legal settlements and non-disclosure agreements. This is all pure speculation on my part.

I am inspired that folks around the country have been protesting dirty power, including oil. Thousands marched in Washington D.C. against fracking. In West Virgina, a small group shut down a mountaintop coal removal operation. And a week ago, hundreds of people created a "human oil spill" in Burlington, Vermont. In Sarasota, across Florida, and around the globe, we held hands across the sand.

More Info:
America's Green Summer: From Vermont to Appalachia to Texas, Citizens Say No to Dirty Power, July 31, 2012,
Hands Across The Sand website,
Study Points to Causes of Dolphin Deaths in Gulf of Mexico, July 18, 2012,
'Frothy Gunk' From Deepwater Horizon Spill Harming Corals, March 26, 2012,
BP Oil Dispersant May Facilitate Skin Absorption Of Crude Oil,
"Making It Right" After BP Oil Disaster Is Up to Us - Not BP, April 20, 2012,
The Complexity of Human Health Impacts of the BP/Gulf Oil Spill, HJNO March/April 2012,