Diane Wilson spoke recently at the Veterans For Peace National Convention in Madison, WI. You may remember her for her recent actions: locking her neck to a large truck in front of a Valero Refinery in Texas followed by a hunger strike., and another long-term hunger strike in solidarity with the prisoners in Guantanamo followed by an action in which she went over the White House fence. Diane is an activist who allows her intuition to guide her actions. She shares her story with humility and humor. She will inspire you.
Here is a video of her speaking in Madison:
And here is an interview after she wrote her autobiography in 2006:
Diane Wilson is the author of An Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas (Chelsea Green, 2005). It is a remarkable book, telling the story of Wilson’s life as female shrimp boat captain and an environmental activist fighting devastating toxic pollution from chemical and plastics manufacturers on the Texas Gulf Coast.
But I have to confess, when the book was first recommended to me, I hesitated to read it. As an environmental activist, I have my own personal history of endless hours of research, boring meetings, scary confrontations, nasty intimidation and the infighting that goes along with these struggles, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to hear all the gritty details of someone else’s pains and triumphs. Lois Gibbs, the courageous activist mother of Love Canal, said the same thing in her review of An Unreasonable Woman in Orion Magazine. But like Gibbs, I was hooked after the first page. For one thing, the Texas Gulf Coast seems to be unlike any other place on the planet.
Molly Ivins and others have called An Unreasonable Woman a masterpiece of American literature, and I agree. First, there is the poetry of Wilson’s language. I can only compare her to fiction writers like Cormac McCarthy and Annie Proulx. She wraps her tender descriptions of her beloved Lavaca Bay around poignant inner reflections, while rendering the home-grown dialogue and emotionally tense social ecology of her community with complete authenticity.
Then there is the excitement and exhilaration of working-class feminism that permeates Wilson’s life. The first-person feminist voices we usually hear are those of academic or professional women speaking of their battles in the bedroom, the boardroom and the halls of power. We don’t hear much about a lone woman, the first woman in her community to run a shrimp boat, relying on herself for both aid and comfort, fixing a broken engine with bailing wire and tape, satisfied with her own company through the long night, trawling for shrimp under the stars.
Finally, the best thing for me about Diane’s book was getting to share her spiritual journey to a deeper humanity. So many things can tear you apart as an activist and it’s a delicate balance you must maintain between your own passion and your compassion for your opponents, your victories and your failures. Diane has used the living sea itself as her spiritual role model:
“Risking one’s life can be strangely liberating. That’s what the sea counsels me. She still talks even though she’s got a mercury Superfund on her left breast and vinyl chloride and phthalates on her right breast. She’s a forgiving grandmother. Not unduly angry about the mix-ups and mess ups and the confounding fact of healing taking so long. She knows it is complicated. My intent will keep her, she says.”
Diane was recently released from jail in Texas after serving time for an act of civil disobedience. She is back home in Seadrift now, living in a tiny trailer she says she “paid no more than $500 for.” She agreed to answer a few questions for TruthOut readers.