Why I refuse to go to jail: Diane Wilson interview on Democracy Now

Three years ago Texan environmentalist Diane Wilson was arrested for committing civil disobedience at a Dow Chemical plant to protest the company’s connection to the Bhopal chemical disaster. She’s now refusing to go to prison until former Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson is jailed for his role in Bhopal.
The Corporate Crime Reporter is reporting that Diane Wilson is facing four months of jail in Texas. But she now says that she’s not going to jail until Warren Andersen, the former CEO of Union Carbide, is extradited to face manslaughter charges in Bhopal, India. Andersen was CEO of Union Carbide on December 3, 1984 when a deadly gas leak from Union Carbide’s pesticide factory in Bhopal, India poisoned at least 500,000 people. More than 8,000 people died within three days and over 20,000 people have died to date as a result of their exposure. In August 2002, Wilson scaled a Dow Chemical facility in Seadrift, Texas and unfurled a banner that read – “Dow Responsible for Bhopal.” When she came down, she was arrested and charged with criminal trespass. In January 2003, Wilson was convicted of that charge and sentenced to four months in prison and fined $2,000.
Diane Wilson is a fourth generation shrimper turned environmental activist from Seadrift, Texas. She is author of the book An Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters, and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas.
AMY GOODMAN: Now Diane Wilson says she’ll refuse to go to jail until Warren Andersen goes to jail. She joins us in our studio. Welcome.
DIANE WILSON: Thank you very much, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Why you are so focused on Warren Anderson?
DIANE WILSON: Well, I’m a fisherwoman, and I come from a very small town, where there’s a lot of corporations. And I have been to India. And I’ve talked with the survivors from the Bhopal emissions. And as a matter of fact, I’ve even had them come to Seadrift. And we went to the Union Carbide plant so they could talk to the plant managers there. And I believe the only way that these people will have justice is if Warren Anderson goes back to India and stands trial. That was — in the beginning, that was a part of the compromise that they had made with the Indian government, that they would give them this pittance of money and that they would show up for trial. That was the one thing that the Union Carbide executives, the corporation, Warren Anderson, they turn and just walked away from it. And Warren Anderson jumped bail, I believe, 13 years ago.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Warren Anderson was CEO of Union Carbide, which has since been bought by Dow.
DIANE WILSON: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: So what’s Dow’s responsibility now?
DIANE WILSON: Dow’s responsibility, they claim all the profits, and we believe that they claim the liabilities also. I do know that they have taken on Union Carbide’s liabilities in the United States. There was a case where a child was contaminated with some of Union Carbide’s pesticide. And I believe the American child received up to $6 million. And the children over in India, a lot of them received nothing at all. And some of them just, you know, like $500.
AMY GOODMAN: You found Warren Anderson here in this country. Can you talk about what happened?
DIANE WILSON: Well, it’s real interesting, because, you know, they had been trying to extradite him to India for a long time. And the FBI kept saying, well, they couldn’t find Warren Andersen. They just had no idea where that man was. Well, actually, it was Greenpeace who found him first. And once we heard that Warren Anderson was in South Hampton on Long Island, I was in New York one day. So I just decided just to go by his house and stand out front. And I had a big sign that said, “Warren, shouldn’t you be in India?” And I had actually had no idea that he was inside. You’d see — every once in a while you would see a curtain pull back. And I was really surprised when he and his wife walked out.
There was a reporter — a radio reporter was out and interviewing me. And Warren Anderson abruptly, he strode out there with his wife. And, matter of fact, he and the reporter started fighting over the microphone. And I thought we was going have a fight in the street at that point. And all he did was he said that we had no idea what we was doing. He had been to India. He wasn’t going back again. And he wanted to know where I was from, because, you know, he assumed I was a professional environmentalist. And I said, well, I was a fisherman from Seadrift, Texas, and there is a Union Carbide plant there, and he said, “There’s no Union Carbide plant in Seadrift.” And I said, “Well, I can get a picture of it and show it to you.” And he refused to — you know, he just believed that we were, you know, we didn’t know what we were doing, we were misinformed.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of reporters, didn’t a television producer pull up at that point?
DIANE WILSON: Oh, yeah. Yeah, matter of fact, I believe it was 60 Minutes.
AMY GOODMAN: The Executive Producer, Don Hewitt?
DIANE WILSON: The Executive Producer. And he was extremely pissed off at us for being there. He said we had — we didn’t know any of the facts. They had been over there. They checked the facts. And that Warren Anderson was, as far as he was concerned, Warren Anderson was innocent. And he said, “Personally, I wouldn’t go back over there, either.”
AMY GOODMAN: So, right now why exactly are you considered on the lam? You could be arrested if you were in Texas right now, but not here in New York?
DIANE WILSON: I could be — the minute I step foot in Texas I could be arrested. And my — when I talk with my attorney, he said he just didn’t believe they were going to send the Texas Rangers up here. You know, he didn’t know if there was extradition — I hate to say where I’m at, so they won’t send someone here. But, yes, I’m arrestable at any point that I step back into Texas.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Diane Wilson. A fourth generation shrimper turned environmental activist from Seadrift, Texas. Diane has also written a book. It is just out. It’s the story of her life. It’s called An Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas. Last week, Diane, an explosion shook the Formosa Plastics Corporation plant in Port Lavaca, Texas, injuring at least 13 workers. The explosion occurred just a year-and-a-half after five workers for the company were killed in a blast at its plant in Illinois. Formosa’s plant employs around 1500 people. Last April, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality fined the facility $150,000 for violations of air pollution laws that included releases of toxic chemicals like vinyl chloride. Over the past decade the Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspected the plant a dozen times, five of them resulting in violations. Can you talk about this plant? You take on a lot of chemical plants from Union Carbide to Formosa.
DIANE WILSON: Well, I probably spent — I’ve been doing this activism probably 16 years now. And I’ve probably spent the majority of the time on Formosa Plastics. I probably know more about this chemical plant than Formosa knows about it. Matter of fact, I’ve had Formosa executives call me and ask me where I was getting my information, because I had information that even they didn’t know. And I’ve got to know —
AMY GOODMAN: Where were you getting it?
DIANE WILSON: Well, I was talking to the workers. And apparently the company isn’t talking to the workers. And, matter of fact, a lot of times that there would be a release and the company would report this minute little release, and I was talking to the worker, and when they found out I was talking to the worker, they would call me, and it was like, well, how much — how much is the worker saying is being released? Because they didn’t know what kind of trouble they were going to get into by, you know, what small amount that they were saying was being released.
AMY GOODMAN: So talk about what is happening at Formosa, the third to strike — the third explosion to strike the industrial facility in Texas this year.
DIANE WILSON: Well, I was there when the plant was being constructed. It was the biggest expansion in Texas history. And Texas is known for big expansions. And when they started, they had like 400 contractors. And they were working on top of each other. And one of the things about Formosa, the way they have been able to be so profitable is they’re constantly pushing to get things up and running so they were – at some instances they were building inside of the process units before they even had the cement down. And I know one of the workers, he fell from like 75 foot. And he didn’t die because he hit the ground and – because there was no foundation underneath of it.
And I’ve had workers that said that they were supposed to be laying the pipes in the cement. And the cement was laid before the pipes were laid. And so they were having chain saws and these cement saws trying to saw into cement. And I think on the one instance, he said, ‘Well, they couldn’t get that pipe in that cement.’ So they were going to have just have this vacuum truck handy to take up all the process water all the time.
And this plant, they were constantly using cheap material. There was no training. Like a lot of the workers that were doing the wells, you know, they have to be x-rayed. They were filling the wells. I know one of the buildings totally collapsed, and Formosa was saying, “Oh, it was a tornado that hit.” And it was, you know, this little 20 mile an hour wind came through and knocked the thing over, because there wasn’t even bolts in the thing.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the casualties? In March, BP’s Texas City oil refinery burst into flames killing 15, injuring 170 people. In July the refinery exploded again. And this week in Congress, the Republican leadership pushed through a bill that would make it easier for oil refineries to build new domestic facilities, the legislational streamline government permits for refineries opened federal lands for future refinery construction, weaken environmental protections and offer subsidies to build refineries, even though oil companies are making record profits now.
DIANE WILSON: Well, I’ll tell what you I think about it, because I know the workers that worked in that BP refinery plant in Texas City. And I know —
AMY GOODMAN: That’s British Petroleum.
DIANE WILSON: Yes, that’s British Petroleum. And I know, because they would come when I would talk to them, and they would say, “Whoop, just had a near miss today. The plant just nearly went.” And the thing of it is there has been so much wrong about how these facilities are being built. And then also, they’re getting rid of the, you know, there is a real big effort to get rid of the unions, which is — you know, which — and they’re real strict about the training, about the quality and most of these corporations, that’s one of their big efforts is to get rid of the unions and, you know, I just think it’s just another disaster waiting to happen.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your activism and what got you started. You’re the mother of five kids?
DIANE WILSON: Five kids. Right. Right. My mother says I should have known better. But I started because I was – like I said, I was running a shrimp boat, and shrimping was so bad, I was running a fish house. And in 1989 one of my shrimpers, and he had three different types of cancers. And he had lumps all over his arms. And he gave me an Associated Press story that said that my county which is — I mean, it’s real tiny little county. It’s like 15,000 in the entire thing. And we were number one in the nation for toxic disposal. And that just — that just blew my mind. I just — and the thing of it is, I had never heard about it. I had never read it in the paper. I had never saw it on TV. And to find out you’re number one in the entire country, I couldn’t — I couldn’t get — wrap that around my head.
AMY GOODMAN: Where in Texas is it?
DIANE WILSON: It’s Calhoun County. It’s right on the Texas Gulf Coast. We’re about midway between Corpus Christi and Galveston. And so all I did was call a meeting over that little report. And I got such a backlash. I mean, people, especially officials, bank presidents, Chamber of Commerce, economic development, senators, they got furious that I would even question the chemical plants.
AMY GOODMAN: The DA asked how he could get you to stop doing what you were doing?
DIANE WILSON: That’s right. It was during my punishment phase. And he was real serious. And he said, “What is it going to take to make you stop?” And I said, “There isn’t a single thing you can do to make me stop.” And quite frankly, I’m not afraid of jail. I truly am not. I think it’s — I think my activism is like my path. And I think everything you do, you have to do it with integrity. And my taking the punishment is a part of it. But I — go ahead, I’m sorry.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you link, Diane Wilson, your protest around these environmental issues and the oil refineries in Texas where you live with the war in Iraq? Talk about the protest, September 2002 in Washington, DC, Arms Services Committee questioning Donald Rumsfeld. What did you do?
DIANE WILSON: Well, I — it was actually a very spontaneous idea. We had — I was with Medea Benjamin. And she was in Washington, DC.
DIANE WILSON: Yeah, with Code Pink, and she said why don’t I come up to Washington, DC. And we were trying to think of something we could do, and we had heard that Donald Rumsfeld was going to be before the Service Arms Committee. So we made a banner that night about 11:00. It was still wet. I remember I went to a little thrift shop and got me a pink suit. I’ve never had a suit on in my life, and I put on a pink suit. And we stood in the section to — where they were allowing people to get inside. And when it came time to allow the citizens in, the Capitol cop, he pointed to me and Medea, and he just said, “Come here, little ladies.” And he put us right behind Donald Rumsfeld. And it was like fate. I’d never felt so much like fate had put us right there. It was perfect. There was a million cameras. And all the military with their shiny brass and all those senators. And when he started talking about Iraq and all the weapons of mass destruction, we just got right up and started shouting, “More inspections! No war!”
AMY GOODMAN: Donald Rumsfeld’s comment after you started shouting that, as you were forcibly removed: “As I listened to those comments,” he said, “it struck me what a wonderful thing free speech is. And, of course, the country that threw the inspectors out was not the United States. It was not the United Nations. It was Iraq who threw the inspectors out. But, of course, people like this are not able to go into Iraq and make demonstrations like that, because they don’t have free speech.” Those are the words of Donald Rumsfeld, as you were being taken out.
DIANE WILSON: That’s right. That’s what he said. And, you know, and I don’t think the issue about Iraq is about freedom. I think it’s about oil.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you continuing your activism now? Are you continuing your protests?
DIANE WILSON: My protests for the war has started when I realized we were invading Iraq. And it will continue as long as we pursue this type of policy with the government. It will — it will continue. Right.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Diane Wilson, fourth generation shrimper turned environmental activist. Wrote the book An Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters, and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas. Do you think you’ve made any progress? Do you think you’ve changed anyone’s minds in Texas or in the rest of the country?
DIANE WILSON: Well, I know when I was — right before I got arrested for climbing that chemical tower, we — I was a part of a hunger strike supporting the Bhopal activists at that time. The Indian government was going to drop the charges against Union Carbide, against Warren Andersen, and pretty much kill the whole justice movement with Bhopal survivors. And I started a hunger strike in front of that plant in my truck. We had 1,000 people joined it. Eight different countries got involved. And at the end, the Indian government changed their mind. And they, matter of fact, kept the charges and, in fact, sent out extradition papers to the Justice Department. So I absolutely believe that people make a difference, absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us.
DIANE WILSON: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Diane Wilson. And we’ll continue to follow your journey wherever it takes you. An Unreasonable Woman, that’s the title of her book.
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