Dressed in T-shirt, shorts and tennis shoes with long brown hair pulled up in a clip, Arnesen steadfastly delivered a grassroots message to dozens of concerned Acadiana citizens at the Gulf Coast Benefit event in Scott. Her message was clear: People of the Gulf coast states must unite, city by city, state by state, to fix this environmental and economic disaster.
According to Arnesen, the lone female on the event’s five-person panel, waiting passively on the sidelines is not an option. Why? This is a shared problem, she says. Government agencies and BP are not getting the job done fast enough and everyone needs to pitch in to help.
“We need all hands on deck. We need to sandbag times 20 from the rate it’s going now. Our Gulf may be lost for decades, not just years,” Arnesen said.
Her call-to-action was spoken from the heart in passionate “tell it like it is” language.
“Thanks for having it in your hearts to give a s---,” was her unapologetic closing comment to the attentive audience. Nobody flinched at her “French,” not even co-panelist Warren Perrin, a practicing attorney who serves as president of the Council for Development of French in Louisiana. The other panelists included a state legislator, a UL-Lafayette biologist, and staff from the Governor’s Office of Disaster Preparedness. Their agreement with Arnesen’s candid summary was unanimous.
Born and raised into the family fishing business in Plaquemines parish, Arnesen is the mother of two children and works as a shrimper on her husband’s boat. Before the oil spill, she had no intention of becoming an activist or missionary for a social cause. As it turns out, that’s precisely what makes her presence and message so powerful and refreshing, reminiscent of Erin Brockovich, the crusading paralegal played by Julia Roberts in the movie.
Since gathering the courage to speak up at a town hall meeting near her home in Plaquemines Parish two months ago, Arnesen has clocked more than 350 public speaking engagements. She travels in a white pickup truck loaded with boxes full of paper, note pads and a suitcase. Along the way, she has dropped 22 pounds from her already trim and muscular body frame, a result of long days and stress. The barbecue sandwich dinner provided after her presentation at The Shed in Scott was one she welcomed, talking with concerned citizens between bites.
The road trip started in the air, after Arnesen received a phone call from a U.S. Coast Guard official just days after the original town hall meeting in her home town. After meting incident commander, Capt. Roger Laferriere, she was invited to fly over the Gulf to view the oil spill and learn more about the challenges of controlling it to minimize damages. The fly-over fueled her passion for finding solutions, and she has been gathering facts and spreading the word ever since.
Arnesen also worked part-time as a bartender in recent years. With her seemingly inherent quick wit, she reflected about how that experience prepared her for handling the array of comments and questions she receives on the road.
“Looking back, dealing with drunken fishermen was great training for public speaking,” she joked between bites of her sandwich.
Her 5-year old son and 8-year old daughter are cared for by family and friends inland who support her mission. Pictures of the children are stored on her flip phone. They keep her inspired about spreading the message to anyone who will listen. With fervent but sad emotion, she explains that they’ll be permanently leaving their home in Plaquemines parish in the near future to escape what she knows is an increasingly toxic environment. (Teche News)