Intern Sam Devine reports from Monday morning's Chevron protest
At approximately 6:30 a.m. on March 19, 2007, the fourth anniversary of the Iraq War, nine activists locked themselves in a human chain across the main entrance to Chevron-Texaco’s corporate headquarters. They tied ropes and carabineers to their wrists. The carabineers where then attached to metal rods concealed inside empty oil drums and large red pipes, both covered with slogans. By 8:30, five more people had willingly joined the chain. They were all ready to get busted.
This was the third protest at Chevron’s San Ramon since talk of Iraq began a little over 4 years ago. The demonstration, which forced employees to use a side entrance and fouled up traffic on Bollinger Canyon Road, was organized to protest of the new Iraqi Oil Law.
“Under the new Iraqi Oil Law, Chevron is standing to directly benefit from a law that comes from Bush,” said Sam Edmondson of Oakland, a member of Bay Rising and a participant in the human chain. “Two–thirds of [Iraq] oil will be owned by foreign companies. The fear is that US troops will be used to secure that oil.”
At 9 a.m. they held a rally lead by Levana Saxon, of Bay Rising. At the height of the rally there were around 100 people present, including 20 cops. After a brief introduction, Saxon held a megaphone mic near one of the members of the human chain.
“Thank you for being here, opposing Chevron’s war for oil and helping stop the Iraqi Oil Theft Law.” Said Antonia Jushasz, while locked between two oil drums. “This law is the brainchild of Bush. This law is the brainchild of Chevron…. This law changes the system from one were Chevron has no access to Iraq’s Oil to one were Chevron owns Iraq’s oil.”
Jushasz is an analyst for Oil Change International, author of “The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time”, and her op-ed article “Whose Oil Is It, Anyway?” was published in the New York Times on March 13, 2007. She’s also a teacher at the New College’s Activism and Social Change master’s program. Five of her students were in attendance. “This is part of their assignment,” Jushasz said later.
“This law was not written in Iraq,” Said the next speaker, Michael Eisenscher, National Coordinator for US Labor Against War (a group of almost 160 labor unions). “It was written in Houston by big oil. They produced a 353 page report that became the basis for the law the Iraqis are about to adopt.”
Eisenscher also quoted Hassan Juma’a, president of the Federation of Iraqi Oil Workers, saying, “‘History will not forgive those who play recklessly with the wealth and destiny of a people and that the curse of heaven and the fury of Iraqis will not leave them.’”
Dr. Sureya Sayadi, a Kurdish Iraqi from Kirkuk spoke regarding the injustices she saw before being exiled: “They organized a company without a name and are taking the oil out in trucks. They want to further legalize it by building a pipeline. They want all the people of Iraq to be their slaves. We need to stop this. We expose them![sic] We need all the oil in Kirkuk to belong to the people of that area.”
A group of activist artist, including the Extra Action Marching Band performed a mock funeral for the last ice on earth led by Larry Bogard, an Oakland resident and theater teacher at U.C. Davis.
“Do people really work to destroy the earth?” Bogard asked the crowd while dressed in a black robe of a preist.
“People do!” Shouted the crowd.
“This is a good congregation,” said Bogard.
Members of multiple organizations were present; Education, not Incarceration; Amazon Watch; Students for a Democratic Society, which has direct actions going on all day all over the country; Tug of Oil War; and Failure to Disperse. Frank Chu was also in attendance.
As the rally wound down, the megaphone was passed around for open comment. To finish, Saxon led a few activists in singing a parody of “Beat It” by Michael Jackson.
“Clean it / Clean it / Know that in your heart you need it / We know that you got it / We know that it’s right / Solar, wind power will win the fight / so Clean it (clean it, clean it)”
Later, Jushasz explained some of the history between the war and big oil, including the Cheney Energy Task Force, a group comprised of the big oil companies including Chevron.
“Ten days into the Bush administration, they mapped out Iraqi oil and the companies with contracts.” Said Jushasz, “Iraq was under sanctions, so Sadam dangled lucrative oil contracts in front of China, Russia, and France to get them to drop the sanctions. The Cheney Energy Task force realized that if the sanctions were dropped and Sadam remained in power, then the US would be locked out from Iraqi Oil.”
A few years later we went to war – just after three planes crashed into US buildings. The absurdity of the situation and the cast of players involved is oddly reminiscent of the botched Iran Contra mission during which two highly trained Air Force fighter pilots somehow managed to collide in mid-air. But then, George H. W. Bush was head of the CIA then.
“Now they have a nationalized system closed to US companies,” she said, moving on to the new Iraqi Oil Law. “This would change it to an almost completely private system open to US companies. Russia, China and France’s pre-existing contracts, the way they’re talking, may be cancelled. It gives Iraq control of just one third (1/3) of its own oil. It opens the rest up to foreign companies and Chevron-Texaco, Exxon and other US companies may have a disproportionate advantage due to the US presence in Iraq.”
At 11 a.m. they unlocked and the demonstrators dispersed.
Since the demonstrators were breaking the law by blocking the entrance, the fact that none were arrested raises the question: “Did Chevron Public Relations tell the San Ramon cops not to drop the hammer?”
Jimmy Lee, spokesperson for Contra Costa county’s Sheriff’s Department said that they were respecting the new generation’s right to free speech. However, physically blocking private property is NOT protected by the First Amendment.
“The best thing happened,” said Lee. “They came, they protested and now they’re leaving on their own.”
“We got our message out,” said Aliza Wasserman. “And that’s what I care about.”