Woman hits the road to raise oil-spill awareness

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 4, 2011

By Cynthia Hooper
For the Salisbury Post
SALISBURY — Just before sunset Sunday evening, Cherri Foytlin and the rest of the Road to Washington crew arrived in Salisbury, almost the halfway point in their walk from Louisiana to Washington, D.C.
Foytlin, the mother of six children ages 3 to 14, is heading 1,250 miles to Washington because she believes the situation surrounding last April’s oil rig explosion and spill in the gulf needs more attention. By walking between 26 and 40 miles per day, she is hoping to raise more awareness of the impact the disaster had.
“It is a rescue mission to me,” Foytlin said. “I love the people and I love the Gulf Coast, and I’ll do whatever it takes to get help for them.”
Foytlin writes for the Scott Connection, her local newspaper, and had the opportunity with the Louisiana Press Association to tour the oil spill, just as it hit. They went on a tour with the governor and she felt as though they were shown only what the guides wanted them to see, missing a connection with the people affected.
She went back to the area a week later and was able to go out on a boat with a local fisherman and his young son to tour areas that she had not seen previously.
During that time, they came across a pelican in the water that had been heavily oiled and was suffering. They decided to take it to a bird-cleaning area and along the way realized they would not make it in time. They idled the boat and all sat there looking at the bird, crying as it died. The little boy cried because all he wanted to do was be a fisherman, and it was like their whole life was gone.
Foytlin said something changed in her heart at that moment.
“I felt like the truth was not being told. I was watching TV and the president said 75 percent of the oil was gone, but I was sitting on a boat in the middle of the marsh with oil all around us and I was like, what are you talking about?” she said. “I think that is the first time I realized that what you hear and see on TV is not true. That made me wonder about all the other things that I heard and saw.”
Foytlin’s husband lost his oil rig job following a moratorium on offshore drilling, and many other people have lost their livelihoods and are suffering health issues following the spill, she said. The impact on the environment is also an issue that Foytlin hopes to find help with. To her, the walk is as much about activism as saving her family.
Foytlin, who walked out of Salisbury on Monday morning, left New Orleans two weeks ago and will visit 33 cities along her journey, compiling information to take with her to Washington.
She has high hopes for her time in there. “Hopefully meet with members of Congress, hopefully the President himself, to get them to understand our problems,” she said.
Foytlin is traveling with a group that includes musician Drew Landry, who worked for a commercial craw-fisherman in southwest Louisiana and was also affected by the oil spill. The group also includes a documentary film crew.
Landry says the oil companies are trying to divide the oil workers and the fishermen when they are really one and the same.
“Say you are a craw-fisherman and you don’t get enough water in the basin. If the water is too low, then you can crab, but if you can’t do either, then you go work in the oil field. I think they try to divide us, but we’re really all the same person because we hunt and fish on oil leases. They thought they could play the environmentalists against those who work in the oil field, but the oil field workers want to be able to hunt and fish and they care about the next generation. They’re just normal people.”
Andre and Tonia Smith, from Columbia, S.C., joined the walk on part of its route through the Carolinas. Tonia Smith began following Foytlin on Facebook after being moved by a television interview with her.
“I am walking in support of the people in the Gulf, because we are not that far from the Gulf and what affects one eventually affects all of us. We are all on the same planet.” Smith said. The Smiths spent their day off Sunday walking with the group and hope to join up with them on another Sunday as well.
Salisbury resident, C.J. Peters and his wife Robbie invited Foytlin and her group to stay at their house Sunday night.
The couple, both musicians, were drawn to the group and the musical side if the journey. Several local musicians joined Landry in recording one of his own songs in the Peters’ home studio.
Peters says he invited the group to stay at his home to help raise awareness of the situation in Louisiana.
“The oil company has let us down, “ Peters said. “People are out of work, losing everything. People are sick. People cleaned up this stuff and now nobody cares, nobody is paying attention. Everybody’s talking about Libya. What about right here, what about the Gulf?”
Foytlin and the group can be followed at http://theroadtowashington.com/.