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Gulf Fishermen, Bloggers, RFK Jr. Say "BP Makes Me Sick"

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, July 8 2010

Photo credit: BP America

A growing coalition of local bloggers, elected officials, online organizers, workers, environmental groups, and public figures formally launched today a drive to get BP to allow workers wear health-saving protective gear as they go about cleaning up the Gulf coast.

The new BP Makes Me Sick Coalition is, it's probably fair to say, the first high-profile push we've seen to use political organizing tactics, online and offline, to shape the ongoing disaster in the Gulf. The implicit tactic is to coalesce public opinion around a tangible idea -- one itself important, but that stands for something bigger. The BP Makes Me Sick Coalition is a project spearheaded by the Progressive Change Coalition, with the backing of local groups like Atchafalaya Basinkeeper and Galveston Baykeeper, Gulf fishermen, local blogs like the Burnt Orange Report and Texas Kaos, local electeds like Reps. Alan Grayson (D-FL) and Kendrick Meek (D-FL), and national figures like Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who helps head the New York-based environmental group Riverkeeper.

The group, explained PCCC's Adam Green, started taking shape about two weeks ago, after Marylee Orr, the head of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, talked on Keith Olbermann's MSNBC show about BP's alleged efforts to prevent clean-up workers from wearing respirators on the job.

"It's a choice between feeding their family, and not having money to feed their family," Orr told Olbermann. "They're willing to sacrifice their health to feed their family, and I think that's tragic. When our fishermen folks had their respirators on, they were told to take them off, that they would be fired if they used them." (Clip here.) Through Orr, says Green, PCCC connected with local fisherman's organizations. Through them, they reached out to local environmental groups, and on to Kennedy, who came aboard yesterday.

This being a PCCC joint, there's also a strategic twist. The subtext of BP Makes Me Sick is using the relatively discrete matter of protective respirators to press President Barack Obama on his leadership in the Gulf -- or, to flip it around, his supposed deference to BP. Fleshing out that angle is a note on the site echoing the George W. Bush-era: "We cannot let the denial of protective gear that hurt so many 9/11 clean-up workers happen again with the Gulf clean-up workers."

At the moment, features an online petition that anyone can co-sign.

More: Worth noting that the team at Firedoglake and the folks at American Rights at Work have also been working on respirator masks.