Guest Blog: How the Gulf Gathering is making an impact

Last October, ninety-five people representing forty-six community, local, regional, national and international environmental, social justice, and fishermen’s groups met at the Beckwith Camp and Conference Center on Weeks Bay, Alabama. Together, we drafted a set of principles that we believe must guide the recovery and restoration of the Gulf of Mexico, our coast and our communities in the wake of the BP drilling disaster.March 14th through 16th, these individuals came back together and worked dilligently to develop a community action plan for Gulf restoration that will be released on the one year memorial of the BP drilling disaster.Among the folks involved in this effort was Save Our Gulf Coordinator for the Waterkeeper Alliance, Renee Blanchard. Renee shared with us a little bit about why this is so important to her and how the collaborative effort at the Gulf Gathering is making a difference. I was born in Lafayette, LA, but lived in many other cities before returning to my home state earlier this year. When the BP oil disaster happened I was living in Oakland, CA, working for an international environmental organization and getting to know the city to which I had just relocated. After a couple months of watching this disaster just continue to worsen, I couldn’t take being so far away from a place I loved that was hurting so much any longer.In September 2010, I volunteered for the Gulf Restoration Network and helped with the Gulf Gathering. A three-day meeting held in Fairhope, AL that gathered so many of the Gulf coast environmental and social justice heroes I had only read about. It was a great experience. I learned about the public health and restoration concerns the media wasn’t covering. And met people from the Waterkeeper Alliance. It wasn’t long (one day actually) before I was applying for a full time job on the Gulf coast.I started as the Save Our Gulf Coordinator for the Waterkeeper Alliance in late January and have since relocated to New Orleans. I help coordinate the work of seven Waterkeepers who live and work along the Gulf coast, from Galveston, Texas to Apalachicola, FL as they help restore our communities and our waters. It’s an initiative the Waterkeeper Alliance started in the first days of the oil disaster.The first Gulf Gathering changed the direction of my career and brought me closer to my family who are still living throughout the bayou’s of Southern Louisiana. When I learned about the second Gulf Gathering, I was thrilled to return to such an exciting event. I got to see those heroes again and I was able to be more active in the discussions on how our communities are recovering and restoring our coast in the wake of the BP oil disaster.Though five months have gone by since I attended the Gulf Gathering where I met my future co-workers, the concerns I heard this time were the same. There is a public health crisis not being addressed, the safety of the seafood is still in question, and there must be greater transparency in the actions of the government and the oil and gas industry. Both experiences relit my passion to be an active participant in the wellbeing of my own community and to work closely with others reaching for those same goals.Renee Blanchard is the Save our Gulf Coordinator for the Waterkeeper Alliance. You can read her blog here.

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