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July 14th, 2010 Jacob Reingold | News Stories
 

Peek Oil

Angry Portlanders travel to the Gulf for a glimpse. What they plan to do next.

     
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A green “Fuck BP” T-shirt caught Mike Rosen’s attention last month when he was surfing Facebook.

Rosen empathized with the anger but says the blunt message gave him pause.

“We’ve essentially destroyed a regional economy and a regional habitat, but it’s just too easy to say, ‘Fuck BP,’” says Rosen, a 49-year-old City of Portland watershed resource manager.

So Rosen contacted the person whose Facebook page led him to the T-shirt, fellow city worker Megan Ponder. Ponder, a friend and sustainability adviser to Mayor Sam Adams, grew up in Mississippi. And one of her connections online had responded to the April 20 oil-rig explosion that is devastating the Gulf Coast by selling “Fuck BP” T-shirts.

“My response to Megan was, ‘OK, but what can we really do that’s meaningful?’” Rosen says.

A week later, Ponder sent Rosen a list of relief groups working on the Gulf Coast. “Let me know when you want to load up the van,” she wrote in her message. One month later, Rosen is almost ready to make Ponder’s response a reality.

On Aug. 7, about 30 Portlanders—journalists, scientists, charity workers and artists—will fly for a nine-day visit to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Their goal is to document the effects of the BP blast (almost 90 million gallons spilled since April, according to the U.S. Department of Energy) and return to Oregon with information they hope to use for school curricula on the spill, a DVD and a comic book.

Portland-based Keen Footwear agreed to give Rosen’s group $20,000 to pay for travel. The group is also holding a fundraiser at Mississippi Studios at 7 pm Monday, July 19. Tickets are $10.

Beyond educating Portlanders about what happened, organizers also want to help curb Americans’ hunger for oil-based products. Here’s what some of the travelers told us about what they hope to learn and accomplish when they return:

Shannon Wheeler, 43, is a cartoonist from the Mount Tabor neighborhood and the creator of “Too Much Coffee Man.” He has drawn for The New Yorker and The Onion, and plans to publish a book of oil-spill art. “I want to help spin the news in such a way so that it is about personal responsibility,” he says. “I am cynical about what effect cartoons can have. [But] every now and again…it actually does change policy.”

Mike Houck, 63, lives in Northwest Portland and is the executive director of the Urban Greenspaces Institute. He wants to see how city planners in the Gulf region are responding. “I cannot get that pelican out of my head,” Houck says. “Early on, there was that image of the pelican on the beach, with that piercing eye looking right at the camera, saying, ‘What the hell have you done to me?’”

Stiv Wilson, a 37-year-old Sellwood resident and communications director at an anti-petroleum nonprofit called 5 Gyres, says he’ll create documentaries about Gulf residents’ lives in the style of This American Life. He will then screen them at house parties, art venues and schools. “The amount of oil coming out of the well is almost the amount of oil that people use in single-use plastics every day,” Wilson says.

CLARIFICATION: Mike Rosen said he stumbled upon an ad for “Fuck BP” T-shirts online by surfing a friend’s Facebook connections. Rosen’s recollection was not entirely accurate. He found the T-shirt that inspired his Gulf Coast activism on a site unconnected to his friend.

 
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