Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)  [Printer-friendly version]
February 21, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Diane Wilson, indomitable activist from
Seadrift, Texas, and author of An Unreasonable Woman was released
from jail Feb. 17. Now she can continue her quest to bring Dow
Chemical to justice.]

"Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them... or shall we
transgress them at once?" wrote Henry David Thoreau in his famed
essay, "Civil Disobedience." On Friday, February 17 another
inspiring American activist, Diane Wilson, was released after 74
days in a cold and crowded Texas jail cell. She had been arrested in
Houston on December 5th for speaking out during a fundraiser for
recently-indicted U.S. Representative Tom Delay, then jailed under
an existing warrant for protesting at the Dow Chemical plant in her
hometown of Seadrift, Texas. Diane Wilson went to prison for making
the point that the world's worst chemical disaster could well be
repeated in her backyard.

Take action now to insist that Texas governor Rick Perry enforce
laws against toxic Texas polluters.

In 2002, Wilson climbed a chemical tower at the Dow plant in her
hometown of Seadrift, Texas, and dropped a banner declaring, "Dow-
Responsible for Bhopal." Dow is the sole owner of the chemical company
Union Carbide, which operated a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India. In
1984 the poorly maintained factory exploded, filling the streets of
the city with toxic clouds of methyl isocyanate gas. The Indian
government charged Union Carbide and its former CEO Warren Anderson
with manslaughter for killing 15,000 people--although the real figure
may well be over 20,000--and claimed damages for injuries to 100,000

Wilson's imprisonment raises the question of just who our justice
system is protecting us from. Twenty one years after the explosion,
Anderson has yet to appear for his criminal trial in India. Meanwhile,
the citizens of Bhopal who survived that ghoulish night continue to
suffer and die not only from the long-term effects of continuing
contamination, but also from the poverty that comes from being too
sick to support a family. Survivors of the Bhopal gas leak are
demanding that Anderson and Dow face trial, clean up the toxic site,
pay for medical treatment and compensation for illnesses, and provide
economic rehabilitation for those whose ability to work has been

On February 20th, 150 survivors of the Union Carbide plant explosion
and victims of the resulting groundwater contamination have set off on
foot to New Delhi demanding a meeting with the Prime Minister.
Depending on the response of the central government, the marchers may
decide to go on an indefinite fast at the end of their 900 kilometer
long march. Read a daily blog on the march at

Those who suffer from Dow's pollution in the United States are
recognizing that they have a tangible common bond with the Bhopal
survivors. Wilson, a mother of five, captained a shrimp boat off the
coast of Seadrift, Texas for years until she noticed that her friends
were getting cancer and the shrimp she depended on were dying. When
she found out that Dow and other chemical plants were dumping lethal
ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride into her beloved bays, Wilson
launched herself on a mission to stop the pollution. She hatched a
plan to sink her shrimp boat on top of a dioxin flume, and left her
livelihood behind to fight full time against corporate power.
Recognizing her community's bond with others harmed by the chemical
industry, Wilson forged an alliance with the survivors in Bhopal,
resulting in her action at Dow's Seadrift plant.

A Texas court charged Wilson with a minor misdemeanor for trespassing,
but instead of showing up for her sentence immediately, she took off
in search of fellow fugitive Warren Anderson. "This company has
warrants after their arrest, and they can be defiant and not show up,
but let a little woman with a banner drop it... and I'm a dangerous
woman, and I have to be thrown in jail," Wilson decried.

Wilson's stay in jail was not a comfortable experience. She spent her
first several days sleeping huddled on the floor without even a
blanket or a toothbrush, in a cell where the one tiny window was
papered over. "It feels incredible, just incredible to be out," she
stated Friday a few hours after being released. "I've had a lot of
people, especially the girls inside who know what it's like to sit on
the floor of a crowded cell every day, tell me, 'I guess you won't do
this again.""

Yet her spirit has only been strengthened. "I told them I don't regret
it, and I would do it again. We have to take our issues as seriously
as the corporations and administration do. We need to be as committed
to our issues as we can be; we need to draw a line and hold it."

Shocked by the conditions she found in the Victoria County Jail,
Wilson drafted a letter to the local sheriff deploring the worst
abuses. "The women in this jail are predominantly African American or
Hispanic and very poor. Most of their offenses are minor, for things
like traffic tickets or soliciting or violating probation--all non-
violent, yet they are forced to remain in the cell without counsel for
long periods of time," she wrote. Wilson's letter also described how
lack of health care in the jail resulted in cases of a ruptured
gallbladder, kidney failure, and even the tragic death of a newborn
baby whose inmate mother was placed in solitary confinement when her
water broke, leaving her to face a breech birth on her own.

"Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a
just man is also a prison," Thoreau declared after spending one night
in jail in 1849 for refusing to pay taxes to a government that
supported slavery. Thoreau's teachings that individuals should follow
their own moral compass when the laws of their country are unjust
provided the philosophical base for the actions of Gandhi and Martin
Luther King, Jr. Today, Diane Wilson uses her moral compass to draw
the lines of right and wrong, to speak out that polluting her
community and taking the lives of 15,000 people and injuring 100,000
more in India is a much greater crime than unfurling a banner from a
tower, or the minor transgressions of her cell mates.

A government that allows corporations to commit crimes with impunity
becomes implicit in these crimes itself. A freedom of information act
request in 2004 revealed that the U.S. State Department denied India's
extradition order for Warren Anderson after the U.S. Department of
Commerce joined Union Carbide in pleading on Anderson's behalf.

Thoreau described the act of civil disobedience as asserting personal
freedom--freeing oneself from the fear of state retribution for non-
cooperation with injustice. "I saw that, if there was a wall of stone
between me and my townsmen, there was a still more difficult one to
climb or break through, before they could get to be as free as I was,"
he observed from his jail cell. We curtail our own freedom with fear
of speaking out. Yet there is a Diane Wilson in each of us, a core of
courage to honor our own moral compass, to stride past fear toward the
freedom to act on our convictions, to be as committed to our issues as
we can be.

Take action!

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is currently
revising its penalty policy, providing an opportunity to push for
greater accountability against polluters that break the law and put
public health at risk. Call Governor Perry to support stricter
enforcement and penalties against corporate polluters.


For more information on the struggle of the Bhopal survivors, visit
the Students for Bhopal web site:

Wilson, Diane. 2006. Letter from Jail.

Pesticide Action Network. 2005. The 21st Anniversary of the Bhopal
Pesticide Plant Explosion.

Thoreau, Henry David. 1849. "Civil Disobedience." See http://eserve

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