It's the great Chevron protest road show: Activists trail the oil giant to Houston

Steven Thomson
Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Typically held at the company's offices in San Ramon, California, the meeting was moved to Houston this year in response to the vigilant protests that have annually taken place in San Ramon for 10 years. Only Chevron's switch didn't quite work out the way the company hoped — for the protestors followed, taking their message on the road.

The protestors were sequestered to the sidewalk, barred from the property with metal gates as shareholders passed through security. Five activists were arrested for standing on private property outside the building, located on the 1500 block of Louisiana (29 people were arrested at a Chevron protest at San Ramon in December).

Organized by the Global Exchange's Chevron Program, the event peacefully fought against breaches in human rights, environmental, economic and climate injustice and corporate irresponsibility. The protest commented on all aspects of oil production, giving a voice to communities that live and work at the points of oil exploration, production, transport, refining, selling and disposal.

The Chevron Program brought community representatives from Angola, Australia, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Colombia, Ecuador, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Thailand and Turkmenistan. Equipped with valid proxies, the delegates aimed to address the shareholders meeting inside the tower. Many of those with valid permits were denied entry. "We are here to expose the environmental catastrophes and human rights abuses that happen every day at Chevron's facilities," shouted Antonia Juhasz, director of the Chevron Program and author of The Tyranny of Oil. "We need to hold the shareholders and executives accountable."

Juhasz was among the five arrested protesters. Just this week, Chevron asked Ecuador's courts to disregard an environmental expert who had said the company should pay $27 billion in damages for the pollution there. The lawsuit argues that the corporation is responsible for pollution in that nation's jungle and damage to the health of indigenous populations due to the dumping of billions of gallons of contaminated water over two decades, before leaving in the early 1990s. Last year, Chevron saw a 25 percent increase in revenue, making it the fifth largest global corporation.

A handful of the foreign representatives addressed the crowd. Elias, from Angola, described his community's plight: "Today, my country that used to be very rich in fish, suffers from such contaminated waters that we are beginning to import fish. I'm here from Angola to tell Chevron that their involvement with our oil is destroying our livelihood." "What is happening around the world due to Chevron is an ecological holocaust," declared a representative from northern Alberta, who goes by "Gitz." He explained the environmental impact of harvesting oil from Canada's tar sands: "I'm at ground zero, watching Chevron chop down trees, destroying the air we breathe. I want to question this crazy lust we have for oil."

Also speaking were Rev. Ken Davis and Jessica Tovar, community organizers from Richmond, Calif., where Chevron's largest West Coast refinery is located. "We are not against Chevron making money," Davis clarified, "But every morning I wake up, and the first thing I see from my bedroom window is the Chevron refinery. And everyday, the toxins from the refinery's flare ups are going into our lungs." During the protest, Chevron employees gathered on the enclosed mezzanine balcony to watch the sidewalk's activities. Davis turned his head toward the staffers and said, "Chevron, all I ask is that you please be a better neighbor." Davis was also among those arrested.

The refinery in Richmond is over a century old. "It's no surprise that there are so many people in Richmond that suffer from asthma, cancer, allergies, headaches," Tovar lamented. "People are constantly sick because of the emissions coming from Chevron. Now we're fighting Chevron attempting to expand its refinery to process dirtier, heavier oil from Canada's tar sands." Others spoke out against the corporation's support of the military regime in Nigeria and the usurping of aboriginal lands in Australia, as the crowd began to cry with increasing volume, "Shame on Chevron!"

On the agenda for today's shareholder meeting was the announcement of a new human rights policy, promising new "two-way engagement with communities." Details on the policy have yet to be released. Only a quarter of shareholders voted for a proposal to appoint a board director with environmental expertise, according to a preliminary count.

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