June 11th, 2010
12:00 PM ET

Save Yourself!

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/US/06/10/alabama.oil.spill/smlvid.oilbeach.gi.jpg caption="Foreman: Desperate folks suggest they are effectively being forced to dock their boats, make lemonade, and just wait to see what happens" width=300 height=169]

If there is one clear message that has emerged from disasters of the past decade, such as 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina, it is that we’re pretty much on our own, at least in the early days of such cataclysms. Normal Americans are not to sit around waiting for the National Guard, police, or local school board to come rescue them. “Buy duct tape! Hoard canned goods! Light a signal fire or knit a sock monkey! Do something for crying out loud, because we just can’t save you all!”

That has been the subtext of the federal government’s instructions to the panicking populace time and again. And I have found many folks willing to accept it. Let the locusts, wildfires, or tumbleweeds come; they will rally around their neighbors, roll out the tractors, and stand their ground. Granted some problems are just too big for a small community to take on alone, like the return of Kate Plus Eight, for example. But there’s no harm in trying while the Big Boys from DC are still saddling up, is there?

Well, apparently there is.

As I spent this week on the Gulf I heard of many complaints from communities where people say they are trying to help fight the oil spill, but are being told they can’t. No, you can’t build a sand berm. No, you can’t just rescue pelicans. No, you can’t install your own oil booms. Desperate folks suggest they are effectively being forced to dock their boats, make lemonade, and just wait to see what happens.

Sure, some are being hired to do a few things by the powers that be. But when communities, fed up with the slow or absent government response, devise their own plans to stop the oil, the higher powers are often making it clear that they don’t approve. Hard to say why. Many locals say they are told that it is too dangerous, as if watching their livelihoods, hometowns, and futures drown in a tide of oil is all sweet tea and peach pie. Others are informed that they lack the expertise; they’ll only make things worse.

But as surely as some parts of the coast smell of oil, this has the scent of lawyers, overly officious bureaucrats, and political positioning.

Now, talk about something oily that could stand a cleanup.

Filed under: Gulf Oil Spill • Opinion • Tom Foreman
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