View of Lake Conway.
This column typically focuses on local history and living community traditions, paying particular attention to the ways in which people relate, directly or indirectly, to the physical landscape of the region. As cleanup continues, people in central Arkansas are trying to make sense of the Mayflower oil spill (which wasn’t actually oil but rather highly toxic dilbit or tar sands) and what it means for the health and safety of the waterways, workers, and wildlife. With initial restrictions placed on journalists trying to cover the spill and the lack of detailed information coming from Exxon officials, many people are seeking a greater depth of information than is typically found in a nightly newscast.
Social media sites are fraught with problems, but when used creatively and thoughtfully they can become interactive clearinghouses of information, bringing people and ideas together in ways that lead to organized action in the real world. For those of us seeking out information about what’s happening in Mayflower, the Mayflower Oil Spill Facebook page is a valuable community resource. Created by five citizens who live in or near Mayflower, the site works to compile not only local and national journalistic reports about the oil spill, but also the first hand stories and questions coming from those living near the spill.
I recently wrote the administrators of the site to learn more about who they are and the kind of information they’re gathering from, and sharing with, the public. The page was created about 45 hours after the spill in an effort to bring information together and share resources. “We share all of the phone numbers…we answer questions about when the next meeting will be. The questions that we share are usually health related or pet related,” wrote Betty, the founder of the information network. Since those early days the page has grown to become a place where interested readers share news stories, connect with local and national resources, and support one another. “Everyone needs to stay aware of what’s going on in town, and keep Exxon accountable,” wrote Betty. “I don’t want people to forget about Mayflower now that one week has passed . . .It’s not just the 22 homes that were affected. People outside of that neighborhood are also impacted by the fumes. All of the people will continue to be affected for a long time and the will need our support.”
Wildlife cleanup. Image by Lady with a Camera photography. More here.
The spill isn’t just a local concern. It’s directly connected to larger safety issues regarding numerous other aging oil and tar sands pipelines that crisscross the nation, the role massive corporations should play in paying for cleanup, and the public’s growing desire for safer sources of energy. “We’ve gotten so many messages of support and advice from people who lived through the BP oil spill in the gulf, and their lives have never been the same,” wrote Betty. “I would suggest that they do a little research on the way that spill was handled, and talk to people who are still dealing with the fallout.”
Visit the Mayflower Oil Spill Facebook page.
Below are a handful or related resources about the spill produced by local and national news sources and everyday citizens. Tell us what you think about what’s happening in Mayflower. We’d love to hear from you.
The entire email interview with the admistrators of the Mayflower Oil Spill resource site are available at the bottom of the page.
Full Email Interview with Betty from Mayflower Oil Spill Resource Page:
1. Who operates the page?
There are actually FIVE Admin who operate this page. I am just the person who created this page. Due to my own safety and the safety of my children, I haven’t made it widely known that I’m the creator of this page, but I do comment as myself quite often. I briefly considered listing my profile in the About section as a page administrator, but after speaking to the other four Admin the majority of us decided that it is much safer to remain anonymous. We certainly don’t need Exxon to come after us for any reason, and we definitely don’t want any of the hateful commenter’s (sp?) to know who we are or where we live.
2. What motivated you to create a FB page as a clearinghouse for information?
I am not an environmentalist or activist. I’m not an “Occupy” type. I’m just a parent and I work full time. I am a news person. I watch the news. I read the news. I follow stories that interest me, and search out information when it’s not adding up. I was at work when I heard about the oil spill on Friday, 3/29/13. I got an alert about it on my cell phone from a local news station. On Saturday I saw the oily yard and street photos appearing in my Facebook feed from other people sharing photos. I noticed that there was hardly any coverage of the spill on the news, and it was not found on any national news sites. Sunday, I started to see photos of oily wildlife being shared on Facebook. I wanted to see more and know more about the cleanup efforts, so I searched for a Facebook page dedicated to the Mayflower Oil Spill. I found nothing. That is why on 3/31/13, (approximately 45 hours after the spill,) I decided to create one. Although I personally have never lived in Mayflower, I have spent many a day at grandma’s house. Growing up in Central Arkansas, I spent my childhood fishing in Lake Conway and still enjoy fishing in the lake with my kids. I have friends in Mayflower. I have family in Mayflower. I live 15 miles from Mayflower. I’ve lived in Central Arkansas all of my 40 years. Three of the Admin do live in Mayflower and one Admin lived in Mayflower as a child and now lives in Little Rock.
3. If people are trying to make sense of all the information out there, how would you recommend they get started?
We have gotten so many messages of support and advice from people who lived through the BP spill in the gulf, and their lives have never been the same. I would suggest that they do a little research on the way that spill was handled, and talk to people who are still dealing with the fall out.
4. What kind of response have you gotten from the public?
Most of the response we have gotten has been positive. We get hundreds of messages of support on a daily basis. Most people thank us for spreading the word and being a place to share their concerns and fears. Some of the questions that we post end up being covered and answered by the news stations. We have also had a bit of negativity. There are people who accuse us of not even living here and we have been accused of having an agenda. (What’s amusing is that some of us know those people in day to day life, or we have a number of mutual friends.) Our only agenda was to spread the word about this disaster, share photos, news articles, along with comments and concerns, and to get the city of Mayflower some help through social media.
5. I see that you all have been posting questions from Mayflower residents. What kind of questions are you getting?
People always want to know who to contact. We share all of the phone numbers quite often. I actually have it saved as a note on my phone so I can copy and paste. We answer questions about when the next meetings will be. The questions that we share are usually health related or pet related. People want to know what symptoms they should look for and who to contact if those symptoms manifest.
6. If people want to support citizens of Mayflower in spreading the word about what’s happening how do you suggest they do this?
Everyone needs to stay aware of what is going on in town, and keep Exxon accountable. I don’t want people to forget about Mayflower now that one week has passed. They can share our page, and continue to send questions and concerns to the news stations and the state. It’s not just the 22 homes that were affected. People outside of that neighborhood are also impacted by the fumes. All of the people will continue to be affected for a long time and they will need our support.
7. What are your thoughts on the larger questions and implications of this tar sands spill, such as the proposed Keystone line?
Honestly, this is the very first time I have paid any attention to the proposed Keystone Line. I have mixed feelings because I can see the argument from both sides. I know that we depend on oil and fuel for almost everything we do, but I really wish our country would make more of an effort to go green. As an individual, I have decided that the next car I buy will be a hybrid.
It boggles my mind how this has spread. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine this little page dedicated to the small city of Mayflower to go viral. It will be one week old tomorrow. As of right now, we have 3,135 likes and the page has been seen by a total of 125,555 people. It’s very interesting to view the demographics that compose the people who like the page. 67.2% are female, and 31.9% are male. 18.2% are females between the ages of 25-34. 17.2% are females between the ages of 35-44. The other age groups and have smaller percentages. (Sorry, I analyze data for a living!)
In closing, we just want everyone to know that we support the City and the people of Mayflower.
The Seed and the Story is a partnership with theCourier and Post Dispatch newspapers in Pope and Yell County, Arkansas. This weekly column explores folklife, oral history, and community in central Arkansas, particularly the Yell County area where the column originates. Columns are often written in partnership with the McElroy House: Organization for Folklife, Oral History, and Community Action and humbly attempt to bridge intergenerational themes in the region.