TARA BOZICK, Victoria Advocate, November 5, 2008
SEADRIFT – Diane Wilson relaxes on break from her book tour in the rocking chair of her sun porch in her Seadrift home.
Photo Credit: Roni Gendler/ Advocate Staff Photographer
Diane Wilson, a longtime environmental activist from Seadrift and author, sits on her front porch with a cup of coffee in hand while talking about her new book. Wilson is currently on a book tour promoting her newest work, “Holy Roller.”
Curly black tendrils of hair stray from a loose ponytail as she reflects back on the trials of her life. She wears a purple and red Indian skirt, an allusion not only to her Bohemian spirit, but also her ties to fighting for Bhopal, India, the site of the world’s worst industrial disaster.
That’s how Wilson ended up climbing Dow Chemical’s 80-foot chemical tower in 2005, she recalled. She had been doing a hunger strike in front of the facility to support the people of Bhopal.
“I just kept noticing that big ol’ tower, and I said, ‘It would be nice to stick a banner from that thing,'” she said.
That landed Wilson in Victoria County Jail. Through her life’s activism, she’s been arrested 25 times. Her “wild and wooly” story always interested ghostwriters, but none ever wrote it.
So, she started writing it on her own, which attracted filmmakers and global interest.
Wilson, now 60, continues to travel the country to promote her latest book, “Holy Roller,” which was published this fall. She was raised Pentecostal and wrote a conversational memoir about her childhood experiences. Her mom says she’s going to hell for writing it, she said.
She wrote “Holy Roller” after the success of her first book, “An Unreasonable Woman,” which came out in 2005 after decades of her fight to clean up Calhoun County and the bays.
“Unreasonable Woman” got the attention of director Carolyn Scott, who transformed the pieces of Wilson’s story into an award-winning documentary called “Texas Gold,” which aired on PBS and the Sundance Channel and continues to screen in film festivals. The film serves as the first in an environmental documentary series titled “Quest to Save Turtle Island.”
“My life has been a lot of serendipity,” Wilson said. “I think the universe is alive and you can align yourself with it.”
The self-described fisherwoman and shrimp boat captain never really intended to fight the petrochemical companies as an environmental activist. She just wanted answers.
Wilson’s questions started when she read an Associated Press story naming Calhoun County as No. 1 in the nation for toxic disposal on the federal Toxic Release Inventory. Alcoa in Point Comfort landed the county on the list for mercury in Lavaca Bay.
“For us to be No. 1, it kind of blew my mind,” Wilson recalled. “This little county? We’re No. 1?”
She remembers calling for a meeting about it in the Seadrift City Hall in 1989, where she received a “bizarre backlash.”
Wilson then wanted to know what other companies, including Formosa Plastics in Point Comfort released. In the 1990s, Wilson fought hard for health studies and environmental controls after learning of Formosa’s $1.3 billion expansion.
Her fight cost her the respect of her neighbors and even her marriage. She keeps in touch with her ex-husband as a close friend and maintains strong family ties, visiting her 92-year-old mother in the nursing home as often as possible.
Her five children, including an autistic son, remind her why she’s fighting for the future health of the environment.
“Some local residents here think she’s just a kook, but what’s she’s done for our community is set up safer guidelines for people who live here,” Teri Austin of Magnolia Beach said.
The Strictly Business owner knew residents wanted Wilson to “shut up” because their livelihoods depended on the chemical plants. But having grown up in Point Comfort, Austin knew her town wasn’t being “taken care of,” and she went to Wilson for answers.
What amazed Austin about Wilson was how she raised five kids living paycheck to paycheck as a shrimper, then taking on pet projects in her spare time. She recognized immediately Wilson’s mothering instincts, which she applied to her environmental fight, Austin said.
“I’m so proud of her. She believed wholeheartedly in what she was doing,” Austin said, adding it made everyone more aware of the issues. “Half the people calling her crazy didn’t even know what Bhopal was.”
But the environmental fight isn’t over, Wilson said. She knows company management “lies” and that polluting continues.
“People think, ‘Oh, that’s years ago. There’s regulation and enforcement,'” Wilson said, shaking her head. “It’s tragic.”
As far as new challenges of coastal development, a coal plant expansion and a proposed nuclear plant in Victoria County, Wilson would like planners to think more sustainable. Part of the reason for “Texas Gold” was to urge the country to get back to the original intent of the Clean Water Act. She’d like to see zero discharges in all plants in a closed waste loop.
The fourth-generation shrimper won’t give up the fight and smiles thinking about the path her life ended up taking.
“I have never had so many people dislike me, and I have never liked myself so well,” Wilson said.
What happened in Bhopal?
Union Carbide Corp. leaked a gas pesticide in Bhopal, India, in 1984, resulting in 3,828 deaths, according to the company Web site. Environmentalists believe the leak could have indirectly resulted in 15,000 more deaths. Dow Chemical Company has since bought Union Carbide.
Calhoun County (Alcoa/Lavaca Bay) has not yet been deleted from the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priorities List for its Superfund program, according to the EPA Web site. It was added to the list in February 1994.
More on Diane Wilson
For more information on Diane Wilson and “Texas Gold,” visit www.turtleislandfilms. com. For more information on Wilson’s books, visit www.chelseagreen.com.