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Anger, frustration on rise in Gulf disaster

By Roland S. Martin, CNN Contributor
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Roland Martin: Residents of small rural town totally dependent on fishing industry
  • He says their way of life is threatened by the Gulf oil disaster
  • Martin: Stress is intense and people are getting frustrated by pace of cleanup effort

Editor's note: Roland S. Martin, a CNN political analyst, is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith," and the new book, "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for TV One Cable Network and host of a Sunday morning news show.

Port Sulphur, Louisiana (CNN) -- This Fourth of July weekend New Orleans will be packed with nearly 300,000 people, as the National Education Association holds its annual convention, and folks from across the country descend on the Crescent City for three days of partying and concerts featuring Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Janet Jackson and Earth, Wind & Fire, all headliners at the 16th annual Essence Music Festival.

But the residents in this rural town -- as well as others in Pointe a la Hache, the county seat of Plaquemines Parish -- too are concerned about the earth, wind and fire.

Yet their thoughts are not about the musical group, but instead, the devastation being wreaked on their way of life in the region as a result of the BP oil catastrophe, the worst environmental disaster in American history.

While local, state and federal officials throw as many resources as possible to prevent the millions of gallons leaked thus far from causing more damages to the beaches and coastline of the Gulf Coast, the residents here are under a heavy degree of stress.

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Some admittedly still facing down post-traumatic stress, a result of Hurricane Katrina five years ago, they now face the possibility of losing their livelihood as the oil makes its way to the east bank of the Mississippi River.

The water means everything to the people here. The local economy is based entirely on the money earned from the fishing industry, and since May, the boats have been idled because of the oil disaster.

I am here to shoot a special for my TV One Cable Network show, Washington Watch. This town is largely African American, and considering our network targets Blacks, it was an ideal place to focus our attention. But the heartache and strain I am hearing in Pointe a la Hache is the same in other towns, whether the faces are white, Hispanic, or Asian.

It really is hard to fathom what this disaster will do to the residents here, many of them third-generation fishermen. The water is all they know, and if they can't make a living doing this, there really is nothing else to do. The countryside of southern Louisiana is gorgeous -- though the heat is stifling and the mosquitoes plentiful --but this is very much a coastal community. There are no massive shopping centers, large manufacturing facilities or high tech parks.

The bottom line: No fishing; no money; no life.

On Thursday evening, a number of the town's residents filed into the Greater Mt. Sinai Baptist Church in Port Sulphur for a community rally with the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. Prior to the meeting, several of the fisherman vented their frustration to the Rev. Tyronne Edwards, who has been a leading voice on the oil disaster here, and to Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish.

Nungesser told the fishermen, many dressed in T-shirts, jeans and work boots, that he feels their pain, and is doing everything he can to fight through the bureaucracy and get resources to the fishermen, namely jobs converting their fishing boats into skimmers to pick up the oil.

"This week they [BP] are supposed to put a whole 'nother crew of boats out and rotate some of them off on a 30-, 60-, 90-day [schedule] to get some money for the people that ain't been" working, he said, who added that the outside contractors are being paid $3,000 a day for oil cleanup.

"What we are trying to do is get work for all of the fishermen full time."

Rev. Edwards, with a black and gold Bible in hand, said it's time for President Obama to come to small towns like Pointe a la Hache and hear firsthand from the men and women who are scraping by, angry with the bureaucracy that is preventing the resources from flowing.

He is still seething from a meeting last week with Kenneth Feinberg, the Washington, D.C. attorney President Obama appointed to oversee the $20 billion fund BP established to assist victims of the disaster.

"This guy sounds like BP all the way," said Edwards, who didn't like what he said was Feinberg's suggestion to fishermen that it's best they take $100,000 now instead of trying to sue.

"He's detached," Nungesser chimed in.

It's clear that frustration is running high, and whether it's BP, Gov. Bobby Jindal or President Obama, residents here are in unanimous agreement: they can do more, and it needs to be done now.

One fisherman said that Plaquemines Parish is their home and they want to see it thrive, but things are reaching a boiling point.

"What do we have to do? Wreak havoc down here to get people's attention because that's what it's coming to."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland S. Martin.