A woman with her face swollen three times its usual size and with bruising across her chest says she has been prescribed four different antibiotics and enough prednisone to kill a horse. There is a look of helplessness in her eyes. She says she doesn’t know where the swelling and bruises came from. It sounds hard for her to breathe, and she appears desperate for a correct diagnosis. Another woman with purple, open welts and green bruising down her leg says her doctor diagnosed her condition as a staph infection. One fisherman reclines back as he receives an IV drip, while another in a hospital bed explains he has been sick for nine months. We learn that none of these people ever received correct treatment to cure or relieve their pain. They were all exposed to the oil dispersant Corexit, which is heavily applied to clean up oil spills. A Concerned Citizen explores the far-reaching consequences of oil spills, ranging from ecological catastrophe to devastating health consequences. Some of the sick worked on teams designated to clean up oil spills. They testify that the wages they earned on the job now funnel directly to treating the health conditions they developed from their exposure to the chemicals they used during the clean up. Their anger, desperation and sense of injustice is palpable.
“The federal government has declared that there is an acceptable human health risk tradeoff with using dispersants in future oil response”, says Riki Ott, PhD, the marine toxicologist and activist that is interviewed throughout this documentary. Ott is initially introduced as someone who was present during the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, during which eleven million gallons of oil leaked into Alaskan waters. Footage from the spill shows oil-drenched pelicans struggling to move, while planes spray huge amounts of oil dispersants over the oil-rich waters. Eighteen years later, footage of Riki Ott digging on the Alaskan coastline to find oil still present in the groundwater proves that this spill was never properly cleaned up.
A Concerned Citizen Explores the Power of Democracy
To viewers like this writer, the footage of the oil spills and wildlife struggling to survive as they drown in oil is familiar, as oil spills like the Exxon Valdez spill and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 were heavily broadcasted across news networks. What may be unfamiliar is the corporate corruption behind the oil spills and their clean up. Ott is trying to change that. As an activist, we see her raising awareness to these issues across a range of age groups. She travels to public schools. However, her curriculum may vary from that of a typical public school class on United States History. Standing before students, she sifts through flashcards that list many of the well known triumphs of the United States government, such as the emancipation proclamation and the 19th amendment that allowed women to vote. However, these flashcards also list instances where the United States court system failed to act in the best interest of the people. Wide eyed, eager minded students soak in the lesson that Ott preaches, which is that the ideal model of governance is a far cry from the real model, and that it’s up to the people to use democratic power to change that.
Schools aren’t the only place we see the younger generation present in A Concerned Citizen. At a protest for the youth of America, ten-year old Levi Draheim pleads for the government to do its duty, saying “If we don’t stop climate change, then I might not have a home when I’m older”. Like this viewer, you too may find the image of a child as young as ten burdened with the need to plead for their right to a home as heart wrenching.
A Concerned Citizen also introduces us to the concept of corporate personhood, which Ott explains as the idea that corporations hold legal rights outlined in the constitution that were intended to only be enjoyed by individual people. She further explains that corporate personhood has protected corporations from legal action taken against them for environmental blunders. She is shown at various conferences promoting the Move to Amend, a movement to ratify the constitution to ensure only people, not corporations, are protected by constitutional rights. Also present at these conferences is Daniel Lee, the Co-Chair of Move to Amend, who explains the influence that Big Oil has on the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the government. Ott has high praise for Lee, saying that he is a good example of a citizen who decides to take initiative after seeing too many politicians fail to keep their campaign promises once getting into office. We see that he is not alone in his quest to advocate for a fairer system of governance. In the classrooms, protests, and conferences, this documentary makes it clear that people across the United States feel it is their civic duty to fight for a government that operates to protect the safety and wellbeing of the people it governs.
A Concerned Citizen will likely especially resonate with those interested in environmental activism and/or those who wish to broaden their understanding of civic duty and environmental justice.
Director: Bo Boudart
Producer: Bo Boudart Productions
Editor: Susan Utell
Writers: Susan Utell, Bo Boudart
About the Author: Claire Prenevost
A native to Ann Arbor, Michigan, Claire grew up a ballet dancer, violinist and musical theater nut. During the pandemic, she found solace in writing songs and teaching herself guitar. In addition to her love of the arts, she is passionate about environmental sustainability. Hiking in the Swiss alps, farming in the United Kingdom, and camping on white sand beaches in Northern Michigan every summer has developed within her a deep admiration for the natural world. One day soon, Claire dreams of founding an intentional community with friends and family, where she intends to live in a hobbit house. At 5'11", slight adjustments may be needed to ensure her lanky frame can fit, but to tailor a home that is in the earth rather than on it will make any struggle well worth it.