From East Palestine to Palestine, People Need Help

Featuring Zsuzsa Gyenes, Chris Albright, and Ann Wright

by Kate Horgan
Published: Last Updated on
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From East Palestine to Palestine, People Need Help
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From East Palestine to Palestine, people need help. In the first half of the show, Eleanor sits down with East Palestine, OH residents Zsuzsa Gyenes and Chris Albright to discuss the ongoing fallout from the catastrophic train derailment in February of last year. Zsuzsa and Chris talk about a purgatory of waiting without help, without answers, without accountability, displaced and dealing with a range of illnesses while local, state, and federal authorities bow to corporate greed over public health and justice. Next up, retired army colonel Ann Wright joins the show to talk about the Freedom Flotilla: multiple vessels set to sail in mid April carrying tons of humanitarian aid bound for Gaza. Ann talks about the history of these actions, the need for citizens to take action, even dangerous actions such as this, in order to do what their governments refuse to do: help the Palestinian people.

 

Note for listeners ahead of the interview with East Palestine residents Zsuzsa Gyenes and Chris Albrigt from Eleanor Goldfield:

After recording this interview, I saw a breaking tweet by Joy Marie Mann regarding “an email from my contact at the Government Accountability Project, which they obtained per an EPA FOIA request, showing that over a year ago, the EPA could have invoked Section 1881A of the Social Security Act in East Palestine, OH to give residents lifelong healthcare,” but chose not to.

The screenshot of the email shows a Robert Kaplan emailing Jeff Kelly, both with EPA emails along with several other EPA employees cc’d. Robert writes: “Agree with you Jeff. The issue of declaring a public health emergency is a difficult one. We have the authority but have only used it once, in Libby, Montana. Best not to get into this. Bob.”

What Bob here is referencing is the ONLY time that the EPA has declared a site a public health emergency, in this case Libby, Montana in 2009 following evidence showing that the Libby vermiculite mine which had operated for more than 70 years was also home to an extremely toxic form of asbestos, gravely affecting the local population. Now based on what you’ve heard about East Palestine and what you’re about to hear from our guests, keep in mind that the EPA apparently does not feel that East Palestine warrants a public health emergency. it’s also worth considering the myriad other places in the US that are contaminated and polluted that apparently aren’t worth “getting into” with regards to providing necessary healthcare.

 

Video of the Interview with Zsuzsa Gyenes and Chris Albright

Video of the Interview with Ann Wright

Below is a Rough Transcript of the Interview with Zsuzsa Gyenes and Chris Albright

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Eleanor Goldfield: Thanks, everyone, for joining us at the Project Censored radio show. We’re very glad right now to be joined by Zsuzsa Gyenes and Chris Albright. Zsuzsa is a 32 year old mother and displaced resident of of East Palestine, Ohio. The recent hazardous derailment and burn launched her into a fight for her family’s future and advocation for those similarly affected.

Chris Albright is an East Palestine resident who has suffered severe heart failure and has been unable to work since April of last year.

Zsuzsa and Chris, thank you so much for joining us.

Chris Albright: Thanks for having us.

Eleanor Goldfield: So just for listeners, a short recap: on February 3rd, 2023, a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous materials derailed, almost 40 cars derailing in East Palestine, Ohio. The derailment included cars carrying vinyl chloride, which is used to make plastic products and can cause cancer at even lower levels of exposure. In an effort to avoid an explosion, the railroad decided to burn the chemical, what they called a “controlled burn,” which released a host of toxic compounds into the air, land and water.

And it’s been more than a year, and we’ll get into some of what’s been happening in the interim. But first off, I’d like to ask you, to the extent that y’all are comfortable with sharing, how are you?

Zsuzsa Gyenes: Go ahead, Chris.

Chris Albright: It has definitely, definitely been a struggle for me and my family. It’s been, you know, we’ve had a lot of tough times. I have been unable to work. My job was a decent one. I was a gas pipeliner before the derailment. That’s taken about $80,000+ depending on overtime out of our income per year.

So we have been struggling to get by, to pay bills, to do everything. Since I haven’t been working, I’ve lost my health care. I have prescriptions I have to take every single day now for my health, my heart problems that I can’t afford now. My family, we’ve all kind of been suffering through this, but we’re doing the best we can.

Zsuzsa Gyenes: Yeah. So, our family’s pretty much, mentally and financially, the most strained we’ve ever been in our lives. Everything has been completely upside down and backwards and not made right since this derailment happened. I’ve also had to cut back work hours to homeschool my son because I didn’t feel safe with the schools hearing what I heard, knowing what I knew.

My son and I both have chronic health conditions that put us at risk, and we’ve had symptoms of illnesses the night of the derailment and since, after that lingering. So my son’s been doing online school. It was supposed to be temporary. We’re still kind of in the same situation.

We’re still actually in a hotel from being displaced. We couldn’t stay in our house due to the chemical smells. It was like a sour Draino type smell. It was in everything that we owned. We had to throw it all away. And we’ve not really had any answers about what we can do moving forward, other than just pulling it out of our own pocket and that’s just, it’s all been very emotionally damaging and very traumatic and my son, he’s 10, he’s been struggling during the online school and I’ve been struggling with it and not having answers about any part of our lives has been challenging.

We still don’t have any answers regarding our medical care that we need, or answers about anything. So, yeah, it’s been hard to move forward without even having ground to stand on, if you will.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. And I appreciate y’all sharing that. I’m curious, what the status is in terms of any kind of cleanup and who’s been doing that?

Has the rail company taken any kind of accountability or who is leading the effort in terms of that cleanup?

Chris Albright: Nobody as far as I know. They’re down here, they worked on the tracks and they say they’re cleaning up the creeks and everything. But if you watch any video posted any time from the time of the derailment to now, you see people poking around in the creeks and you just see that, that sheen, that oily sheen coming up. It’s not clean.

As far as residents, we’ve had absolutely nothing, nothing done for our houses. Nobody’s come around. The worst one I had was when we were doing what Zsuzsa said was we were getting rid of everything in our house pretty much. And I had a dumpster outside and we had people driving around monitoring the air.

And when that happened, one of the guys was working, who was testing the air, stopped right by my house and I just happened to walk outside ’cause I was taking stuff off to the dumpster. I asked him what was going on. He said, “I’m getting really high reading here” and then left. I don’t know what he’s getting high reading of. I don’t know how high it was and I don’t know whether we were safe or not. He just left. No answers. It’s ridiculous.

I had an article in the New York times back in August. The day after that article came out, my phone rang. I didn’t answer that. I didn’t know the number. It was the EPA calling. The next day, they’re at my house because they saw that article. Where were they anytime before that? Not just at my house, at anybody’s house. Why aren’t they checking on people? Why aren’t they doing anything?

It’s frustrating.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. And we lost Zsuzsa, but hopefully she’ll jump back on, but I’ll just continue with that question. So the person who was initially testing the air outside of your home, who did they work for?

Chris Albright: I’m not sure. I want to say it’s the EPA, but I don’t want to just accuse without having facts, but I believe it was the EPA that was going around testing the air.

I don’t know if they had independent contractors or not, but, yeah, they’d drive around and they had little handheld devices and he said he was getting a very high reading at my house. But never did anything.

Eleanor Goldfield: What a messed up thing to tell someone and then not tell them what to do. And then leave.

Chris Albright: Absolutely.

Eleanor Goldfield: I guess it’s, it’s difficult to really say, but how many folks have been affected by this and how many people have any kind of closure or any kind of ability to start their lives over again?

Chris Albright: None that I know of. I mean, there’s a lot of people that have been affected and affected in different ways.

It could be anything from headaches and rashes to my sister now, just developed, she found out two weeks ago, she has COPD. She’s never smoked a day in her life. This is all related. You know, one of the funny things that we hear all the time is, well, just leave, just move.

Chris Albright: How do you…that’d be great! That would be awesome. I can’t work. We can’t get a loan or do anything like that. How are you supposed to do that?

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, I hate that trope. It’s so often what people say about particularly like Louisiana where they continuously have these floods and these hurricanes, like just leave. Okay. Are you going to pay for them to leave? Money grows on trees where you are. I mean, it’s an absurd kind of neoliberal talking point.

And so I found y’all through some organizing that you’ve been doing with somebody who’s also been on the show, Nicole Fabricant, who also does organizing here in Baltimore.

So what kind of organizing have y’all been doing and what kind of demands are you putting out not just for government agencies, but also for the likes of Norfolk Southern?

Chris Albright: Organizing, there’s been a lot of different things. Anything from me doing shows like this, podcasts, radio shows, things like that.

I did a podcast on the Real News Network with Max Alvarez, where he introduced me to Jeff Kurtz, who was a former Iowa state representative and railroad worker. And I also did a show with Steve Zeltzer. He’s over in San Francisco. We’ve actually formed an organization. It’s a coalition. It’s the Justice for East Palestine Workers and Residents Coalition.

And we’re really trying to put pressure on. We’re bringing a bunch of union groups, a bunch of residents, scientists, environmentalists, media people, anything we can to really push the issue to get healthcare brought to East Palestine, for beginners. And then after that, hopefully spread it out to other sacrifice zones.

Eleanor Goldfield: Zsuzsa, the question that I was basically asking Chris was what kind of organizing y’all have been doing and what kind of demands that y’all have either for the government or for Norfolk Southern.

Zsuzsa Gyenes: Yeah, so I’m sorry I lost you there for a minute. My phone was overheating. But yeah, we’ve done a lot of community gatherings.

I was involved with a group called Unity Council, but I also, I’m willing to talk to anybody who will listen to me. Let’s see, we went to the State House to give a list of demands to Governor DeWine about what we needed, getting people out of the town that were sick, getting medical monitoring, getting testing inside of our homes, that sort of thing.

I also went down to D.C. a few times, met with some senators and congressmen down there, met with the EPA. And again, Governor DeWine’s office, talked to a lot of people down in DC and it really felt like the message from the ground wasn’t being translated to the top and it just seemed like everybody was fine, everything was good, you know.

We had a FEMA rep come in, and he never even met with anybody that we know of. I mean, I knew dozens of people who tried to reach out to him because he was supposed to evaluate whether FEMA needed to intervene, and it seemed like he just reached out to local and state officials, and they were like, oh, no, it’s taken care of, it’s good, and that was it.

But he wouldn’t return anybody’s calls personally or talk to any affected community members besides the few that are cherry picked and normally at some of those closed door meetings. But nobody had reached out to my family at all that I hadn’t reached out to first, if they responded at all.

When CDC went door to door, I was in a hotel, I wasn’t there. I never got contacted. And then they got sick in town and that’s being investigated by OSHA. And, the surveys that the CDC sent out came back showing people were sick and there’s still no updates on that. So, I mean, I’ve done a lot of personal phone calls to places like the CDC or Ohio, like ODNR, those sorts of things. And I know a lot of others have as well.

And that’s kind of how we ended up getting together and trying to do more of like an organized movement, or collaboration, just trying to get attention because not a lot of us had a lot of experience in organizing or advocacy work before, and we all kind of got thrown into it by necessity just to keep our families alive and protected.

I guess we’ve had some success. We’ve brought a lot of awareness to some of the issues that’s been staying in the media more or less. We’ve gotten the governor to declare that emergency, but he worded it in a way that was very odd, kind of neglected the fact that we still need help, that a lot of us are still not in a home anymore, whether we lost it or our home’s not safe or we’re still getting sick and we have no answers. We have no healthcare. We’re just basically forgotten.

I try to share a lot of stuff on social media because especially in the beginning, that was the only place where people could really get any information about what was going on because on a, local, state government, federal level, there’s no information for anybody else, but not even for us.

We didn’t know what to do, and we got so many mixed bits of information about, like, how to handle our belongings in our house, for example. We couldn’t get any kind of testing we really needed.

Yeah, I don’t know. It’s been evolving about, like, what to do, because there really is no good playbook for it, and I’ve never been in a situation that I needed to do something like this, so it’s kind of a lot of trial and error sort of things, and like I said, a shit ton of phone calls, a lot of unanswered emails, that sort of thing.

But recently getting more involved with some unions and some other environmental organizations, that’s been really eye-opening for me personally, just because it’s reinstilled my faith that we can do something about these kind of problems, but it’s also been very depressing at the same time because I’m like, oh, wow, like this isn’t just an isolated event at all. This is very much systemic of a lot of other problems and it’s, that’s another issue that makes it hard for me to move on, like, where do I go that’s safe? Where do I go where this isn’t gonna happen again? Who can I trust? You know, like, who do I reach out to? Like, what do I even do? Because the more you ask questions, the more we’re just left with more questions and no answers.

And it feels very like frustrating a lot of the time, but yeah, it’s been tricky to figure out the next step, every step of the way, and being held in this purgatory while still trying to just process what happened, at all. It’s been crazy, but I tend to rant about it, so I’ll let someone else talk for a minute.

Eleanor Goldfield: No, I invited you all on to rant or speak as much as you like.

And it’s interesting because the U. S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration reported an average of 1, 475 train derailments per year between 2005 and 2021. Now I’m not a mathematician, but that’s several per day.

And of course, not all of them are as disastrous as East Palestine, of course, but you’d think that the government would have some kind of standard operating procedure to deal with this. And yet what y’all are describing sounds like a corporate call center nightmare where it’s like, Oh no, I can’t help you, you need to talk to this person. But it just seems like y’all are getting bounced around and nobody has the authority, nobody has the answer to help you.

Chris Albright: You’re exactly correct with that. No matter which way we go, we keep getting misdirected to something else. We’ve been lied to. There’s definitely no trust and a lot of the government organizations, the EPA, the CDC, National Transport Safety, everything like that, the N.S.P.S. I mean, everything. Like I said earlier, it’s very frustrating for a lot of us here. We don’t know what to do. We don’t know how to do it, and just like Z just said, we’re not organizers. We’re your grassroots small town people. We don’t know. I actually, I told one of the organs or, uh, organizers yesterday I was on the phone with, I said, I’m in over my head with this stuff. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just doing what you guys are asking me to do and the best way I can, but I don’t know what I’m doing. I was working on putting gas lines in before this.

So, you know, it is very frustrating. It is very complicated, but we just got to keep keep pushing. We got to be heard.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, and so I was I was looking at East Palestine. I’ve never been there, but it seems like a small place and it seems like considering our healthcare, or as I call it, our sickcare system has been closing a lot of rural healthcare centers and clinics and things like that, I’m curious what y’all’s access to health care even looks like in this moment.

Are you able, even if people were giving you the funds to access it, where do you go and how do you access health care that you need right now?

Chris Albright: Well, for me, I lost my health benefits at the end of the year, but I have my primary care physician. He’s about 20 minutes away. And then my heart specialist is up in Pittsburgh and I don’t know what I’m going to do now. I can’t afford these things. I can’t afford my medications.

One of my medications alone for my heart now is over $2,700, for one. And I take eight. I take eight. I can’t afford this. Come next month, I’m going to be running out of my pills and I don’t know what I’m going to do.

So your answer to that is we can’t do anything and we can’t afford it. There are no places around here for us to go to take care of this stuff, especially and I’m not singling myself out, but like with my heart condition, I have to see specialist.

I can’t go down to the family clinic down the road. You know, they can’t do anything with that. So what do you do?

Zsuzsa Gyenes: Yeah, to jump in on that. So I agree. We’re already in a position if you have any kind of unique situation or different condition, we don’t have a lot of specialists in this area to begin with.

My son and I have genetic conditions that do require specialists and it is hard to find doctors that are just knowledgeable about a lot of things, especially certain specialists, including things like toxicology. And I don’t even know if we have any toxicologists in the area at all.

The only one I’ve even heard of remotely close was in Pittsburgh and it’s not really helpful to go to him, so I’ve heard. My doctor and my son’s doctor are both, they’re two different doctor’s offices. Mine’s actually in town, and my son’s was over in PA across the border. And neither one of them will refer us to toxicology or any kind of specialist whatsoever.

And they don’t know what to tell us. They can’t say if our symptoms that we’re having are a result of the exposure. They say we’re exposed, but they say they don’t know what to tell us about it. They don’t know what the testing means. They don’t know how to monitor it. They could, if we really wanted to, refer us to, like my son, for example, he sees an allergist and he’s got these other specialists, we can get a second opinion, even though they’re not really the specialists we need.

But then insurance won’t cover that second specialist and my insurance won’t cover my blood labs. I asked for basic blood labs, metabolic panels and that sort of thing. I had to ask for them at my regular doctor in town andhe gave those to me, but now my insurance doesn’t want to cover that and they don’t want to continue covering that.

So yeah, we don’t really have any options. Even the doctors we go to, they don’t know how to handle this.

Eleanor Goldfield: Oh no, you froze. I wonder if her phone overheated again. Well, I had another question for you too, Chris, which is, your healthcare insurance ran out. Do you have a sense of how many people are in that same boat where they are now unable to work? I mean, is East Palestine becoming a town of people that are unable to work because of their conditions?

Chris Albright: I’m starting to see more and more of it. You know, as time’s going on, more and more people are experiencing weird things. I don’t know how many are losing their health care as of right now. I’ve been trying to reach out to people to find that out, to get a number on that, because again, like I said, one of the core beliefs we have with the coalition that I’m in now is bringing healthcare to people of East Palestine and surrounding areas.

So, I’m trying to reach out and find out. I do know a couple dozen, I would say at least that are in the situation sort of that I’m in where they don’t have healthcare now because of the train derailment. And to go up with something that Zsuzsa was saying was a lot of doctors aren’t saying that it is because of the train derailment.

But like, I even have my heart specialist from up in Pittsburgh who said, I can’t say for sure that it is, but I can’t say for sure that it’s not, but I would be very hard pressed to say that it isn’t. And he’s quoted in the New York times saying that. I have medical records from my PCP saying exactly the same thing, exposed to toxic chemicals and everything.

So you know, they can’t pinpoint it per se, but they pretty much know what it is.

Eleanor Goldfield: And Zsuzsa , did you want to finish your thought? We lost you.

Zsuzsa Gyenes: Yeah, I know my phone. It’s been weird. I don’t know. It keeps overheating. But essentially we have no answers.

I actually requested vinyl chloride testing from my doctor, and he sent it out in April of last year, and the results just went missing, and nobody has any explanation for it, but it turns out it’s owned by the same shareholders as some parts of Norfolk, which, that also was the case with this dioxin blood test that was available, hard to get, but available at the very beginning. And then they just pulled it off the shelves when we started asking about it for some reason.

So, yeah. And then my son’s been experiencing some rashes and things that are unexplained since this has happened and we’ve had more issues with, I don’t know if we’re familiar with like mast cell activation, but it’s basically like immune response and nobody can tell us what it’s from and they’re like, are you sure you didn’t get new laundry soap? But that’s how it’s always been.

The EPA is refusing the test inside of our houses now because they’re basically saying, Oh, it’s your paint on your wall, or they’re not going to test outside in the backyard for your soil for dioxins either, because that’s your backyard barbecue. That’s your fault. It’s all our fault.

And it has nothing to do with the giant explosions of millions of pounds of chemicals that were mixed together and you know no one’s in a lab throwing these together and then burning them to see what happens and they won’t do the bare minimum testing inside of our homes, inside of our bodies, they won’t help us. They won’t put us somewhere safe. It’s just like ignore, ignore, ignore, ignore, and at some point that chain of communication just gets broken and then everybody else just thinks we’re fine.

So, yeah.

Eleanor Goldfield: Are y’all or any other of the coalitions that you’re a part of doing any kind of legal action against Norfolk Southern or against the EPA or against any of the parties that are just not taking any accountability whatsoever?

Chris Albright: I do have an attorney I keep in touch with occasionally and everything, but they can’t do anything yet until this goes through federal courts and everything.

So like, my lawyer told me the other day, he’s like, this is probably gonna be five years or more before anything happens about it, five years. And that’s a guess. It might be even longer than that. So, you know, what do we do in the meantime?

Zsuzsa Gyenes: Yeah, that kind of feels like what everyone else just tells us to do, like, oh, just get a lawyer, but that’s gonna take years and years and years.

I mean, five just seems like, that would be even better than some of the guesses I’ve heard. But even so, like, talking to some of these other affected communities in similar situations, like, what, are you gonna get $20 grand max, like, after 10, 15 years? And God knows what happens to you and your family.

That just seems like not even a solution at this point. But I don’t even have a lawyer, because I feel like I don’t know who to trust still, and I feel like there’s nobody to actually know what to do in this situation. There’s no agency, there’s no lawyer team, there’s just really nothing to handle the severity of this and how to set a precedent.

I’ve heard a little bit about this government accountability project. It’s like a whistleblower agency. They’re pulling some FOIA requests. And I think they’re gonna do some kind of lawsuit. I’m not really entirely sure. I’m interested in hearing about it. But like I said, it just feels like not even much of a solution, unfortunately.

I did hear of a some kind of, it was like a patriot group of sorts. They were criminally charging the railroad and the government too, state, I think. I’m not sure where that lawsuit has gone. And then I I think it was the Department of Justice and Ohio state, or maybe I’m mixing some things up, I think maybe it was just civil, but I know there’s been rumors talking about potential criminal lawsuits .

But personally, I just feel like it’s just going nowhere fast, and I hope something can get done in regards to that, but I don’t know.

Eleanor Goldfield: And I mean, this is something that folks have done in other places, which is, I mean, disgusting that it needs to be done because y’all are already overburdened, obviously, with everything that you’re dealing with, but kind of citizen science where you get in touch with experts at maybe some kind of university who might have tests, the ability to test and do things that the EPA is unwilling to do.

Has there been any movement on that?

Chris Albright: Yeah,

Zsuzsa Gyenes: There’s been, go ahead, Chris.

Chris Albright: I know my wife was wearing a bracelet for an amount of time. And that was from the University of Kentucky. And then she had to turn the bracelet and I don’t know if she’s got the results back on that yet, but you wear it for like a week and then you send it back in and they test the bracelet for different things.

That’s about the only thing I know of.

Zsuzsa Gyenes: Yeah. So, there’s been a few universities that have come in, and gotten some testing done like that. Like Chris said, University of Kentucky, University of California with Dr. Galam, who has done some research with the burn pits in Iraq , which is interesting because there’s a lot of similarities with our exposure and our symptoms as well.

That’s also where Joe Biden’s son contracted, well, they believe he had the exposure from his brain cancer, which ultimately killed him. But yeah, Dr. Glom with University of California, Dr. Aaron Haynes from University of Kentucky. We’ve had Dr. Andrew Welton from Purdue University come in and do a lot of environmental samples.

We haven’t had results back from that. I heard it’s regarding a paper that he’s publishing or maybe something with a lawsuit is the reason why we haven’t gotten those results, but I’ve gotten some of my medical testing back from Dr. Ghalam and Aaron Haynes. I don’t think I’ve gotten the bracelet information back because I also did that.

But I’ve gotten some blood work, but nobody can explain what it means to me. But I mean, it’s good to have, because that’s definitely something nobody else is doing. My doctor won’t even do it. They’re doing some mitochondrial testing and some of those, which is interesting.

But yeah, I mean, we’ve gotten a little bit of information and they just got six grants from the federal government, just recently when Biden came into town. He announced that, I think University of Pittsburgh’s included in that. They’ve done a little bit of air badges inside some homes because that’s one of the main things that we were asking for in regards to our property is an indoor air test, because they haven’t really given us appropriate air testing yet.

So, I mean, there is some progress there, but it’s mostly, let’s see what we have here, like, let’s see how toxic your home is, but then, what do you do with that information? Because they, obviously, they’re just a university or what have you, but also they’re just waiting to see who gets sick and how long it takes, which is sort of bittersweet, but I mean, it’s better than nothing.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, it seems like it’s a hurry up and wait on all fronts, which as you all have made clear, you don’t have the luxury of time that people like Biden and Norfolk Southern do.

And this is also part of the problem with how corporate media works. It moves on from a story after like 24 to 48 hours. And so there’s no talk anymore, really, of East Palestine or we don’t get updates from Flint anymore. Their water still poisoned. Hawaii, people are still living in tents. Or really any other climate crises or corporate sacrifice zones in the nation.

So, as we wrap up here, I want to make sure that the last few minutes here are just what y’all demand and what y’all need.

And then also how people could help support what y’all need and demand.

Zsuzsa Gyenes: Basically I think what we need is to get people out of the danger zone. We need to get them to somewhere safe. We need to get them taken care of. We need to actually hold Norfolk accountable for doing so. And if Norfolk’s not going to do that, the government absolutely should have stepped up months ago.

I think what we need to do now is just organize locally in communities, you know, talk to your neighbor, share it on Facebook, call your senator, write a letter to your governor, write a letter to the Congress, because if it’s not gonna happen to us again, which it might because nothing’s changed to stop it, it’s gonna happen somewhere else. And at the end of the day, like we’re all the same to Norfolk.

I mean, there’s so much divisivenss in town. I don’t know if you guys mentioned that much today, but about the people who aren’t really experiencing any immediate health symptoms or are part of God knows what kind of payout from Norfolk Southern who want to just pretend like everything’s fine and just ignore half of the population who are sick and afraid.

But so I guess, yeah, just talk about it. Understand we have more in common with each other and we’re all here in the same boat. It’s us against these corporations who have entirely too much power. And when they start having power over our government, that’s when we should be concerned.

And, the fact that they can uphinge everything and take out entire communities, we all need to stand up together and say, Hey, there’s something wrong here and our government should be held accountable because they are in that position to help serve us. They’re public servants. That’s what they wake up every morning and are supposed to be concerned about.

So if we can just talk to each other, and like I said, reach out to senators and congressmen, that would be a great first step. Get involved with your local community, get involved with your local government and talk about these issues and prevent things like this from happening again. So yeah, go ahead.

Chris Albright: I definitely agree with everything that she just said. You know, keeping the pressure on the government, on the railroads, on your senators, on your governors, on anybody that you can, making sure that we’re still out there, we’re still heard, that people don’t forget about what happened here because like she said, this can happen anywhere.

These trains are still miles long doing 50, 60 miles an hour through our town. Nothing’s being done. And until something gets done, we have to keep the pressure up. We have to keep writing letters, making the phone calls, getting everybody involved, staying relevant in the media, doing everything we possibly can to keep this relevant because, like you said, you know, media moves away from something at 24, 48 hours afterwards. I understand that.

But we have to keep going. We have to keep pushing for it because this is going to happen again. I know it’s two different things, but it’s the same thing. The Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, there was an article how it echoes East Palestine because of the overlook on safety and the things they did wrong and how that could have been prevented.

Same thing with East Palestine. It could have been prevented, but it wasn’t.

Zsuzsa Gyenes: So what’s interesting about, sorry to interrupt you, but I just wanted to like, with that Baltimore Bridge, what’s interesting too is the NTSB chair made a comment about it, how it is dangerous, yet they are not calling it hazardous.

They were not saying it is a hazardous wreck. There were cargo that was spilled that was hazardous. And there’s a sheen on the water that we see similar to in East Palestine, that’s in Baltimore. And they’re not even talking about that. They just talk about the bridge falling down, but there’s hazmat floating in that water right now.

And we’re just completely ignoring it for the same reasons we’re ignoring it in East Palestine. And that’s concerning.

Eleanor Goldfield: Absolutely. There’s far more that connects us than divides us.

Chris and Zsuzsa, thank you so much for taking the time. If there’s any last thoughts that you’d like to share, please do so. Please also let folks know if there’s anywhere that they can follow updates or connect with y’all.

Chris Albright: Oh, first of all, thanks for having us on there. Me personally, I’m an open book. You can find me on pretty much any social media that you want. I’m on Facebook. I’m on Instagram. I’m on Twitter. I’m on Snapchat. Anything. Twitter handle is Coach C. Albright. Everything else. You look at my name. You should be able to find me.

Zsuzsa Gyenes: Yeah, I’m on some of those platforms as well. Mostly just Facebook and Twitter. But there there’s a lot of information on some of the Facebook groups too, from locals like Unity Council for East Palestine train derailment, or there’s Off The Rails, which is run by a local chiropractor who’s been heavily involved with investigating the creek situation.

I think there’s a few people maybe on TikTok related to East Palestine, locals that have some stuff with the creeks as well.

Yeah, I appreciate you guys talking about it today, and that’s the first step of addressing a problem is to start the conversation, so really appreciate you bringing light to this.

Eleanor Goldfield: Well, absolutely. I feel like it’s the least that we can do. So, thank you all again.

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Below is a Rough Transcript of the Interview with Ann Wright

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Eleanor Goldfield: Thanks, y’all, for joining us at the Project Censored show. We’re very glad to be joined by Ann Wright, who served 29 years in the U. S. Army, Army Reserves, and retired as a colonel. She was a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and resigned from the U.S. government 21 years ago in opposition to Bush’s war in Iraq. She has been on five flotillas to Gaza and she is the co author of Dissent: Voices of Conscience.

Ann, thanks so much for coming back on the show.

Ann Wright: It’s a pleasure, Eleanor. Thank you so much for the invitation.

Eleanor Goldfield: Absolutely. So, as was put out on freedomflotilla.org in a press release, the International Freedom Flotilla Coalition will sail in mid April with multiple vessels carrying 5,500 tons of humanitarian aid and hundreds of international human rights observers to challenge the ongoing illegal Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, end quote.

Now, and to ask the obvious question that folks might be wondering, aid has been blocked both by land and sea for months now. How do you intend to get around this blockade?

Ann Wright: Well, we shall go to the exclusion zone that the Israeli military has set up that can extend out to 100 nautical miles. We’ve been there before. As you mentioned, I’ve been on several flotillas before. We’ve been stopped. We’ve been boarded. Tragically, people have been killed by the Israelis on these flotillas.

In 2010, they executed point blank range 10 people that were on the Marvi Marma and wounded 50 of them.

So we certainly know what the danger is. And this particular flotilla is going during a time that the Israelis are committing a genocide in Gaza, where they have killed hundreds of aid workers. And the seven that were killed with the World’s Central Kitchen were just the last numbers of them. Of course, being internationals and not Palestinians, it got a lot of press because our press is racist. Our policies are racist and what is being done to the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank is a racist genocide that’s going on.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. And so I understand you will have human rights observers on board. Do you have any kind of government backing or any kind of more official backing that might dissuade some of that direct violence that you were talking about?

Ann Wright: Well, we do not have government approval of any of this.

In fact, I am sure that within days the United States government will issue a travel advisory and specifically do not get on a flotilla because of the danger. Yeah, the danger from America’s strongest ally, Israel, is going to go kill again, internationals that are just trying to say to the world this illegal blockade that Israel has had on Gaza, this illegal naval blockade that’s been going on for decades, really, it needs to end. And my government supports it. They support every criminal illegal act that Israel has done.

And so we expect the U.S. government to say, you shouldn’t go and the U.S. naval vessels that are out there that have helped Israel in this naval blockade, now with a UK ship that’s coming in, we certainly do anticipate that we will have confrontations with governments that are doing nothing to stop the genocide. And as human rights observers, knowing full well the danger of this, we say when the governments won’t act, then citizens must take some action.

And we’re also frustrated with what is going on. I mean, frustrated is the mild word. We’re horrified that six months, the Israelis have been able to kill as many Palestinians as they want to. And, while the international court of justice has issued an opinion of plausible genocide, I think when they relook at now with other things, that it will be, it is a genocide.

It is a genocide in Gaza. And we just will not stand by any longer. I mean, people all over the world are taking action. It’s not to minimize at all what we all have been doing for six months, but it hasn’t worked. It hasn’t worked. And so this is one more step in trying to somehow generate enough international governmental action.

And there are actions these governments can take. They don’t have to just sit there with their thumbs up their butts, doing nothing. They can sever diplomatic ties with Israel, for God’s sakes. They can put an economic blockade on Israel. There’s a lot of stuff that governments could do if they just had the will to do it, but these politicians are a bunch of chickens.

That’s why we want a lot of U.S. Citizens on this flotilla that say to our own government, you know, you all ought, all of you and the Biden administration ought to be hauled before the International Criminal Court as war criminals because you are enabling the genocide of Gaza.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. And Ann, you mentioned U.S. citizens on the boat. Can you talk about a little bit about the blend of people? Is it predominantly U.S. citizens? Is it predominantly people that work as peace activists or in that world? Could you talk a little bit about that?

Ann Wright: Sure. We think we will have 35 countries or more that are going to be represented on this. It is an international flotilla. And we have people from the United States, from Canada, from all over Europe, we have them from Southeast Asia, Malaysia will have a very large contingent, we’ll have doctors, nurses, we’ll have activists, we’ll have a wide range of people who are all just so perplexed about why the governments of the world are letting this go on. So it’ll be a very important mission.

The country of Turkey will have a large number of people on, because that’s where we are organizing at and out of, and we are so proud of every single person that has made an application. Some of the applicants have had to withdraw their applications because, rightfully and expectedly, family pressures come to play.

I mean, when people apply, they usually don’t tell their families what they’re doing. And then when they go back to the families to say, well, I’m going to be on this flotilla, well, let me just tell you, as you can imagine, there are husbands, wives, daughters, sons, that are going, Oh, come on, you just can’t do this. You can’t because the potential for danger is so great. And so some of them have had to withdraw their applications, which we certainly understand, and there’s no harm done. Nobody thinks less of them for having to do this because it is a dangerous proposition. And we want to make sure that everyone that finally goes on these boats are well committed, knows fully the dangers and are comfortable with taking the risks that this mission will require.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely, and I’m curious too, you mentioned doctors and nurses, so is the hope that you will get to the shore and then also be able to not just deliver aid in the form of physical things, but also expertise?

Ann Wright: Well, it’s great to have all these doctors and nurses and medical people that will be on this boat, but the primary mission is not to deliver them to Gaza to continue long term work there. They know the process for signing on to international medical teams that have been going in, but they wanted to be on this boat to do a short trip to be there to actually assist us should there be violence that results in injuries for people on the boats.

If we get in there, of course they will go ashore, but they will not be staying for any length of time. It’s more to observe what’s going on and get a picture of this moment and then they can decide whether they want to go through the established routine to make sure that you’re on a delegation that has the right equipment, has all the necessary things to actually really help someone, or lots of people in Gaza.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. And for those who are unaware of the dynamics by land and by sea, could you also talk about why a flotilla, why come by the Mediterranean Sea as opposed to trying to come via land?

Ann Wright: Well, a good question, but the answer is that that’s been tried for six months. And the Israelis control the entry of all of the trucks, big trucks, hundreds of trucks that have been lined up in Egypt and in Jordan.

And they’re at the mercy of whether the Israeli criminal government, the genocide government, will let one or two or three trucks in a day when they normally need 500 trucks, loads of food and medical supplies to keep the population of 2.3 million people alive.

So we see that the land convoys of trucks are at the mercy of the Israelis and we decided that we would try it by sea and without the permission of the Israeli government. We are not asking for their permission.

It should not be the permission of, of the genocidal criminal Israeli military that determines how fast, essentially, the starvation goes in Gaza. So we are not asking permission to do this. And we shouldn’t have to as citizens of the world and as a place called Gaza that should have not been occupied for the past 40 years, and particularly a terrible occupation over the last 20 years.

We are challenging the occupation, and the Israeli government and all of those enablers including the U.S. government that have put such a horrific future for Gaza now.

Eleanor Goldfield: Absolutely. And I’m curious if you know of any kind of legal precedent, whether that be with the U.N. World Court or anything like that, with regards to delivering aid during a genocide or during any kind of instance of war crimes.

Do you have any kind of legal backing? Like, if the Israeli forces board your boat, what is the plan? Do you hand them some kind of information? Like, this is what we’re doing. We have articles so and so says that we’re allowed to do this.

Ann Wright: Well, the International Court of Justice just issued an opinion last week that said every government, every person should do what they could to stop the genocide, to stop the starving of people.

So there you have it. It’s telling us as citizens of the world that we have the right to do what we can to try to stop this. Of course, it doesn’t really matter what we do because the Israeli government does what it wants to, and with impunity.

I mean, nobody ever holds the state of Israel accountable for all of its actions, so we’re not relying really on any sort of legal mechanism that will suddenly open the doors to be able to go into Gaza.

We anticipate that we will be stopped, but it’s going to be interesting this time, whether it will be stopped by the Israeli commandos or whether they will enlist the aid of their great ally, the United States that has ships there, and the British. Tell the British or the U.S. you go stop this flotilla, because we’ve got our hands full killing Palestinians in Gaza.

Eleanor Goldfield: Wow. Well, if that were to happen, would you pull rank?

Ann Wright: Yeah. Hell yeah. I’ll get right up there in the bow of the ship. I’m an army colonel, and you guys get away from us. And then I’m going to duck when the bullets start flying at me.

No, we’ll be broadcasting from the ships. We will be trying to enlist the aid of countries that are not going along with this genocide, like South Africa filing the case in the International Court of Justice. And the many, many countries that have voted for ceasefires in Gaza at the UN Security Council. There are a lot of countries that I think are just, for whatever reason, they’re holding back and, you know, they could break relations with them, with Israel. They could say, we’re not going to allow any goods that are produced in our country to go to Israel because they’re conducting this genocide.

So maybe this idea of this unarmed civilian group of ships that are going because their countries won’t go or our country, the United States will put all of these military vessels out there and then not even bring in a hospital ship to help the help those that have been severely wounded and they’re gonna take 60 to 90 days to get five ships from the East Coast of the United States to take these little pontoon bridge docks over to Gaza. You know, it’s just the most ludicrous thing.

And plus, dropping by parachute into the ocean, all of these, you know, pretty crappy food. I’ll just tell you that, because it’s meals, ready to eat that the military eats and it’s not good stuff. But, they’re dropping them in the ocean and then the Palestinians swim out and many of them have drowned. When the parachute system of the United States is so accurate that they can put a beacon…

The normal way that you do it, if you want pallets to land in a certain place, you then you put a beacon, which is a guided rocket really coming out of the plane, you guide that rocket down to the place that you want the landing zone of all the pallets to go into. And that way you, and the pallets have a device on them that they can kind of hone in on this system. So these things don’t have to go in the ocean. They can go into a vacant area on the beach of Gaza.

But no, have they spent the money to put this little device that can go down at where you want the stuff to land so people will be away from it, but it won’t be in the ocean? No, the U.S. government hasn’t done that. It’s so ludicrous what they’re trying to do and saying, Oh, look, we’re airlifting.

Well, for God’s sakes, I mean, what a great ally you have when you can’t even get the ally to allow food in and you’re having to air drop coordinate with them to have your airplanes not get shot out of the air by your greatest ally. And these planes fly around and then drop this stuff and it goes into the ocean. I mean, it’s one of the stupidest things in the world.

And when after action reports are done by the U S military, they’re really good about doing after action reports, but then nobody reads them. But this one is going to be quite an after action report on the successes and failures of the United States, everything from the political will to or lack of it to stop the genocide, to tell the Israelis, we will not give you one more bullet, not one more bomb. This has got to stop and to break relations with them.

But of course, between the AIPAC money that flows into the Congress and into the executive department, I mean, every one of the presidents we’ve ever had elected has taken money from AIPAC so that they will be beholden to Israel when they get elected.

We’ve seen it in spades where the Biden administration, you know, just Biden for the first time uttered the word ceasefire after seven internationals, not 33,000 Palestinians were killed. So it’s a, pitiful, pitiful chapter in the history of the United States.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. And as we’ve talked about on the show before, I mean, the ceasefire is really like the least at this point. It’s not enough. You need liberation of Palestine basically.

So, I’m curious, the press release says you’re leaving in mid April and you mentioned from Turkey. About when do you think that you will get to that barrier you mentioned roughly 100 nautical miles, when do you think you’ll reach that?

Ann Wright: Well, we’re not giving out a real specifics. As you can imagine, trying to have security on this thing and with the Israelis all over us, I mean, we’ve had ships that have been sabotaged before.

The Israeli government has paid off countries not to let us sail from their countries. Like Greece and Cyprus will not let us go from their countries. We had 10 ships in 2011 that were leaving from Greece until the Greek government got a big payoff from Israel, and they refused to let our boats go, coming up with all sorts of crazy, oh, your boat’s not, it doesn’t have this on it, it doesn’t have that on it.

So finally in 2011, we got so fed up with it that we got all of our passengers, I think we had like 55 U.S. citizens on the U.S. boat to Gaza, which we named the Audacity of Hope because Barack Obama was the president. So we said the Audacity of Hope of trying to bring aid.

So the Greek commandos got their boats and we took off and, you know, the Israelis had people that were watching our boats all the time. So they notified the Greek Navy and about four miles outside of Piraeus, the main port of Athens, here came this Navy boat with commandos on it and pulled right in front of our ship, forcing it to stop, and the commandos with their weapons pointed at us: you have to stop, you have to return to the dock, you’re under arrest. And so we got out our bullhorns and started talking to them.

We have every right to leave this port. You can’t stop us, etc etc etc. Well, to the credit of the captain of that boat, he listened, he did not have the commandos shoot. They did not board the boat. We sat there in a bit of a standoff for, oh, it was a good two and a half, three hours, and every person on our boat got on the bullhorn and told him who they were, why they were on the boat, why it was important for our boat to go to Gaza. So we have a recording of all of that. And, you know, we put it up on what social media we had back in those days. In 2011, it wasn’t like it is now where you can just instantly let the world know what’s going on.

But we did have a New York Times reporter on board. We had Democracy Now on board. We ended up getting, after this happened, a pretty good record of it.

Bottom line was, at the end of two and a half hours, the captain of the Greek boat, who I think was a little bit sympathetic with us, said, has everyone had a chance to speak? I want to make sure that everyone has a chance to speak and now I must speak to your captain. Captain, we need for you, this is a direct order. You must return your boat to so and so pier. We’ll have one boat that goes in front of you and one in behind you so that you’ll know which dock you’re supposed to dock in.

So at that point, we, as organizers, when faced with weapons, we did not want to have anybody injured. And so we agreed with the captain because he was the captain of the boat. And he’s the one that makes the ultimate decision. He said, it is time for us to turn around and go to where they are telling us, which we did.

And then once we got there, we took out all of our banners, our signs. So everybody in the port knew what had happened. The captain actually got arrested for two days and was in jail. John was a very good captain. He took it with great grace. But, you know, those are the things that happened that, the 10 boats were stopped by Greece.

So there are a few ports that we can actually sail from because of the extreme leverage that Israel puts on other countries with the paying off national debts. I mean, they can come up with a lot of money to pay to Cyprus and this was back during the big financial crisis in 2011. So the Greeks were trying to get money from anyone.

So that’s a little history of what we’ve been dealing with.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m glad that you brought up the history because it also just once again proves that nothing started on October 7th.

And I’m curious with the flotillas that have happened in the past, have any of them made it past the Israeli blockade?

Ann Wright: Well, the very first boats, and this all started back in 2008 when a group called the Free Gaza Movement got several small little boats in Greece. and filled them with like 25, 30 folks from pretty well all over the world and set sail to Gaza, never really thinking they would actually make it.

And for some reason they did. The Israeli Navy did not stop them, and they ended up making five trips into Gaza. The first time in 40 years that international boats had gone in to Gaza city. But then at the end of 2008, the Israelis started what was called Operation Cast Lead, which was a 27 day attack on Gaza that left 1,400 Palestinians dead.

And as that military operation started, then they did not allow any more boats in. In fact, they rammed several boats, one of them almost sinking and had to limp into Lebanon. And that had a CNN reporter on it and also a Nobel peace laureate, Marie Maguire and former US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney.

So there’s a big record of that one. But since 2008, the Israeli Navy has forcefully stopped every flotilla and boat that has tried to break the blockade.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah. And obviously, the operation that you mentioned is, is very small compared to what’s going on now, their Operation Genocide.

So it is clearly a dangerous mission that you all embark upon. And of course, we wish you all the luck and hope that we can hear back from you safely once you’ve successfully completed it.

And where can folks follow this mission as it happens?

Ann Wright: Well, there are two websites. One that we have is our national U.S. campaign called usboatstogaza.org

And then the overall international website is freedomflotilla.org.

Eleanor Goldfield: All right. Well, Ann, thank you again. And, now I leave you to do another mission, which is going into Congress and screaming at the faces of those perpetuating genocide. So best of luck with that too. And thank you for coming on the show.

Ann Wright: Thank you very much, Eleanor. And keep Palestine and Gaza in everybody’s hearts and minds. Thank you.

Eleanor Goldfield: Absolutely. And in our actions as well. Thank you, Ann.

Ann Wright: Indeed. Thanks. Mm hmm.

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