How you can /really/ help spill-affected Gulf communities

Greg Harman

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In the months and even years to come, there will likely be all kinds of organizations parachuting into the Gulf to help set things aright. Unfortunately, many of these good-intentioned newcomers wouldn't know the difference between a crawfish etouffee and a steaming heap nutria tail (Myocasto deliciousos). So how are they to distinguish between a truly grassroots organization and bureaucratic shell game? That's why local experts who know the marsh and the communities that call them home are so important â?? and why the New Orleans-based eco org Gulf Restoration Network paired up with the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health in the Gulf Future Campaign.

The community-directed effort is informed by long-time local organizers familiar with the region's social, racial, and environmental justice struggles. We spoke with the GRN to find out how folks from non-Gulf communities like San Antonio could best help out.

Here's our 4-point plan.

1) Donate

“Everyone wants to come wash a pelican or help clean up the oil,” said Aaron Viles, campaign director for the Gulf Restoration Network. “The role of volunteers in all this is relatively limited, so not everyone can come. But they can definitely show their support for a full and complete recovery,”

Maybe it sounds hokey, but your $10 donation also nabs you a petroleum-free, black wristband that shows you stand with Gulf communities. If the United States was ever truly a nation of New Yorkers, as many attested following 9-11, the time is ripe for another mass conversion.

2) Go Electric

Oil is a part of nearly everything we do. It's in our clothes, our furniture, and even our food. McNuggets, anyone? But with electric cars starting to hit the showroom floors, the possibility of eliminating the internal-combustion engine is finally a prospect nearing reality. Banning transportation combustion would take a serious wedge out of the American petroleum diet and lower the need for the riskiest of drilling. “If it were the rule instead of the exception, we would not necessarily have to be going into the ultra-deep waters and be ultra risky in how we find this oil,” said Viles. If you can't trade into an electric vehicle, you can lobby lawmakers to help speed the industry's transition.

3) Party NOLA!

Or Bay Saint Louis. Or Gulf Shores. Or Key West. Or Corpus. “New Orleans is 60-plus miles from the Gulf of Mexico. So New Orleans will be New Orleans whether there's oil in the Gulf or not,” Viles said. “As much as oil is indeed coming ashore everywhere, there are a number of beaches that have been spared or will have been cleaned. So it is certainly something that, if you can, you should support these economies by coming out here.” And if you were even thinking twice about hitting your own Texas beaches, come off it. This may be the nation's largest environmental disaster, but Texas is still way out in the clear. Perry's call to prayer must be working. Eat that sinful Louisianans! Oh, wait. They're praying too. Too bad no one herded the nation into the prayer closet before this supposed “act of God” to begin with.

Which takes us to:

4) Eat the Seafood

You may have to pay as much as a dollar extra per dish at the crab shack only to find yourself needing to psyche yourself up to actually swallow, but the fishing families need your mouth and digestion thoroughly committed. “If it's on the menu, it's safe,” Viles insists. Currently, 32 percent of federal waters are closed to fishing because of the spill, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture U.S. Food and Drug Administration and National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration are working together to prevent any tainted fish from slipping out of port. “One of the most important pieces is that we as a nation learn some lessons from this and this never happens again.” Though we chide our late-praying governors, we're saying “amen” to that.

`For more on seafood safety: check this FDA Q&A.`

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