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Columbia County Observer

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Book Review

An Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas

by Diane Wilson

Diane Wilson is a hero, shrimper, mother, mystic, fish house operator, mender of nets, environmental activist, and when reasonable fails to get the job done – an unreasonable woman. She went from being just a regular person who never liked to talk much to a strong outspoken woman railing against injustice. Along the way she says “she found her path.”

The path led to Formosa Plastics, a giant petrochemical company that was violating almost every environmental regulation in the book and killing the south Texas bay she loved and on which she made her living. It all started when she discovered that her little Texas county was ranked number one in the nation for toxic waste and she decided to start asking questions.

But change didn’t happen overnight. Things opened up to her gradually: by nervous Formosa workers; by prophetic dreams; by digging into files and records, often with a child in tow; by just putting one foot in front of the other.

Whoever says a hunger strike don’t make you nutty, don’t know nothing. It was the middle of the night and nobody was around, yet I was talking to myself out loud and asking questions. Is it simply life or life with meaning that matters? Which one? A fisherman drowning didn’t have time to ask that kind of question and when he wasn’t drowning he was so busy scratching for dollar bills he still didn’t have time. Then a man working at a chemical plant was too tired or too sick to ask. And a woman with a dozen kids never had time, and when she did some baby comes along needing a diaper change or another one needing a bottle. Something came along."

So I considered myself real lucky to be where I was; smack dab by myself in the nuttiest thing I had ever done, and so got to ask the question nobody had the time or energy for: Was it more important to search for meaning and when you found it, be willing to die and bleed, or was it just better to breathe?”

In her war against Formosa she butted heads with shortsighted townspeople blinded by the blazing green light of economic development. She confronted corrupt officials and took a trip to Taiwan, Formosa’s home base, where she saw firsthand the horrors of rampant pollution. She went on a hunger strike and chained herself to a water tower. “Unreasonable” things to do because “words weren’t heard, petitions went into trash cans, lawsuits gathered dust in judges’ offices, and briefs discussing the nation’s rivers and oceans were as cheap as the paper they were faxed in on.”

With the help of a feisty girlfriend, a Houston pro-bono lawyer, and a gung-ho environmental activist, the path finally led her to a showdown with Formosa and the Coast Guard one stormy night on the bay she was trying to save.

That’s when Formosa fell. The stormy battle, with the local shrimpers forming a blockade between Wilson and the Coast Guard, made Formosa the “laughingstock of the petrochemical world,” and the tide of public opinion changed. The time was right and fate was on her side at last. She got Formosa to finally agree to zero discharge wastewater, using new but proven technology. Not long after, Alcoa, just to the south, followed suit.

With colorful down home-characters wearing names like Froggie, Crazy Ed, Howdy Doody and Deputy Dawg, Wilson crafts her story with an authentic flavor alive with the quirkiness and color of the small town she lives in. You can smell the shrimp, the bleached fish house floor, the stench of Formosa’s toxic releases. You will love some of the players and hate others, but you can always see them, hear them – warts and all.

Wilson’s story is a page burner that’s both down to earth and poetic. She is straight up and understandable without scientific and political mumbo jumbo, but also breaks into mesmerizing imagery that takes you inside the heart of a mystic. Her story is at once an adventure, a love story, a poem, a trauma, a transformation, a courageous fight to the finish.  Except that—and she’d be the first to say so—the fight is never finished. 

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