Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

A Rude Intrusion

During our trip to New Orleans we had a day of storms that prevented us from working. We took advantage of the time, frustrating though it was, to visit the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.

Walking around the incredible displays, watching the otters, seals, penguins, sharks and albino alligator, I imagined sharing this with my boys and how much they would enjoy it. My frustration for not being able to work (we were extremely motivated having come all this way from San Francisco), coupled with seeing all these eager parents showing their kids some nature, while mine were thousands of miles away, began to rise.

My highlight!Since there was little point taking my frustration out on either the weather or these families, I needed to direct it on something else…I got my wish.

I was drawn to the section about the wetlands. On this trip, I have learned that the disappearing bayou had served as a natural defense to surge water, what essentially destroyed much of New Orleans. For a great documentary on this, check out Hurricane on the Bayou. Had we taken care of this beautiful natural ecosystem, it would have protected the people of NOLA from a Category 5 hurricane.

And in case you are wondering, we are still destroying the wetlands, as incredibly an area the size of a football field is vanishing every 38 minutes.

Back to the aquarium and I discover that the wetlands and ocean ecosystem presentation is sponsored by several huge multinational oil corporations, including my old nemeses – British Petroleum – who famously tried their best to silence Left Coast Voices and others who weren’t impressed by their spewing oil into the Gulf Coast.

I browsed through their presentation that firmly told children how important the contribution of the oil companies are to the area, how they are courageously fighting pollution and ensuring the energy needs for the next generation.

There is a great Yiddish word – Chutzpah! It means audaciously outrageous – but chutzpah just says it better (for best results focus on the ch and bring up all the phlegm you can manage). This is the Jewish People’s gift to the world!

I cannot believe that BP and its friends would dare to put such an exhibit in New Orleans, when it has ruined the lives of many of the people who come to the aquarium – actually they probably don’t, since they most likely can’t afford to pay the admission into the place.

The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas claims to be an educational institution for primarily young people. So why does it allow the rich, multinational corporations to rewrite history on its premises? Doesn’t it understand the legitimacy it is giving the oil companies by allowing them to tell their story under their auspices?   

The answer is, of course, money. I am sure that BP paid more than 40 pieces of silver, but the value of the transaction hasn’t changed in 2,000 years. Planet Earth, however, has, and dangerously so.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

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