Three months after BP’s Deep Water Horizon well was capped, Radical Joy for Hard Times created a day-long program, Gulf Coast Rising. People and nature had suffered badly during the three months when the well was spewing oil, 135 million gallons in total. Aquatic life from tiny organisms to dolphins died. Fishing families and those whose livelihood depended on tourism were out of work. Rates of depression and substance abuse soared. And yet, despite it all, people were determined not only to survive and to struggle through but to rely on friendship, the arts, and beauty.
To celebrate this indomitable spirit, which carried so many through a very hard time, we invited people all along the Gulf to find ways to make beauty and offer gratitude. The events were movingly diverse and personal. Three women created a labyrinth out of birdseed on the beach at Grand Isle, a long, narrow pencil-shaped island south of New Orleans that was hurt by the inrush of oil. An artist made a painting of a pelican trying to raise its oil-soaked wings. At Voodoo Experience, the annual music festival in New Orleans, three groups of musicians dedicated songs, to Gulf Coast Rising, while audience members raised their arms to show their determination to prevail in hard times. A woman in Florida did a ceremony for threatened oyster beds. In Navarre Beach, Florida, people gathered to make a gigantic sand sculpture of the RadJoy Bird. And in Alabama, a group of friends gathered around a colorful gypsy wagon to play their flutes and drums together.
The amazing team that made Gulf Coast Rising possible included, first and foremost, Margaret Saizan of Baton Rouge. Other contributors were photographers Matthew D. White, Kyle Petrozza, and Michael O’Donovan; musicians Paul Sanchez, Flow Tribe, and Treme Brass Band; the organizations Green Light New Orleans, Concordia, Blue Ocean Institute, and Gulf Restoration Network; Unitarian-Universalist, Methodist, and Jewish congregations; and numerous individuals who declared to one another: Here is a way of dealing with an environmental catastrophe that we can get behind, for it is not about blame or judging, but about reconnecting people and the land they love.