Shrimper, Environmentalist: b. 1948
When she called a meeting in 1989 to discuss how a plastics manufacturing plant might affect the environment in her coastal Texas county, fourth-generation shrimper Diane Wilson had no idea how her life would change. She just wanted to have an honest discussion about things people who lived in Calhoun County would care about: the impact of a Formosa Plastics expansion on the health of the people who lived there and on the livelihood of those who fished the bay.
Wilson couldn’t know that her dog would be shot in her yard, she would become a pariah in her own community, and someone would attempt to sink her boat—with her on it. She couldn’t know that she, with just a high-school diploma and a dislike of chemistry, would become conversant in chemical compounds and their health risks, file her own legal briefs, and learn more about the corruption of public officials than anyone wants to believe. She couldn’t imagine that she was setting out on a new life path that would fortify her sense of purpose and draw international networks of support. Wilson wrote in her 2005 book, An Unreasonable Woman, “Risking one’s life can be strangely liberating.”
The expansion of the plastics plant got the green light despite Wilson’s campaign. After a lot more work and four hunger strikes, she persuaded Formosa Plastics to sign a zero-discharge agreement—and then neighboring Alcoa to sign one too. After visiting India, she came home and went after another neighbor, Dow Chemical, which had bought Union Carbide after its massively lethal, Bhopal chemical spill in 1984. Wilson pressed the company to make fair reparations to the affected families in Bhopal, India.
When Wilson told her story at the 2001 Bioneers Conference of environmental activists and scientists, she challenged listeners to become “unreasonable” in their defense of the Earth. A new group, Unreasonable Women for the Earth, immediately formed, and Wilson says members in eight countries supported her hunger strike against Dow. With Medea Benjamin, Wilson co-founded another network of women activists, Code Pink for Peace, in 2002.
In December 2005, Wilson began serving a four-month jail sentence for civil criminal trespass when she chained herself to a Dow Chemical tower in August 2002. The jail term opened a new chapter in her activism, as she advocated for better conditions for other women imprisoned in the Victoria County jail.