By Diane Loupe
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
The group Women of the Storm gathered force after Hurricane Katrina and descended on Congress to rally lawmakers. Five years later, after the BP oil gusher, the public-awareness group is back in attention-getting mode.
(WOMENSENEWS)--The women gather every Monday morning in a house in uptown New Orleans, each bringing her own cup of coffee.
They started meeting in January 2006 to help their blighted city after Hurricane Katrina.
Since then, Women of the Storm have continued calling attention to Louisiana's fragile coastal ecosystem. At the 2008 Democratic National Convention, for instance, members tossed out colorful footballs to dramatize the fact that coastal erosion eats away the equivalent of a football field of Louisiana wetland every 38 to 50 minutes.
April's explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig off the coast of Louisiana, which spewed more than 200 million gallons of crude oil, reinvigorated their movement. The group recently launched "Be the One," a video campaign featuring a medley of celebrities, from Saints quarterback Drew Brees to musicians Dave Matthews and Dr. John. Within 100 hours, the video produced 100,000 signatures on an electronic petition demanding funding for Gulf Coast restoration.
"Five years post-Katrina, Women of the Storm feels it has a definite brand, recognized both locally and nationally, and is focused on coastal restoration--a necessity if we are to survive in future," said Ann Milling, the former president of the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board and founder of the group
"Women of the Storm are my heroes," said Sharon Henshaw, leader of Coastal Women for Change, a four-year-old group based in Biloxi that is focused on helping the communities of the Gulf Coast.
Henshaw's group is also working on helping women of the coast adjust to the oil spill, among other activities.
"We also started a community garden to bond the community and to help solve the economic challenges we have at the present time," she said.
The "Be the One" video, which urges viewers to demand the government fully fund a plan to restore the gulf, drew some unwelcome attention. Environmental Web site DeSmogBlog criticized Women of the Storm for ties to America's Wetland Foundation, which is supported by oil and gas companies. Milling is married to R. King Milling, a retired oil company executive and chair of the foundation.
The accusation prompted actress Sandra Bullock to ask that her appearance in the video be pulled. Bullock agreed to remain in the video after Women of the Storm told her that America's Wetland Foundation had not given any money to the campaign.
"While America's Wetland Foundation is a strategic partner, it has no influence on development of Women of the Storm's strategy, content, publications or projects," the group said in a statement. "We simply share the goal of drawing attention to coastal restoration."
The incident revealed the close ties between coastal citizens and oil companies, which are major employers in New Orleans and Louisiana.
"The oil business is part of our culture; it's a way of life in Louisiana," said Peggy Laborde, a microbiologist and member of the Women of the Storm steering committee. Laborde's husband is the CEO of an independent oil and gas company. "That's often difficult for people to understand."
Laborde, who considers herself an ardent environmentalist, said that just because they drill, it doesn't mean they don't care about the environment or birds or wildlife.
"Lots of people who work in the oil industry are fishermen and hunters. Their pastime depends on the environment and they are passionate about it," she said.
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