The sun hadn’t risen yet. After circling once under the cover of darkness, our van and truck pulled up to Chevron’s world headquarters. Our affinity group (Bay Rising Affinity Group aka BRAG!), burst out of the van and deployed our barrels, lock boxes, and bodies. The cops were waiting for us, but for some reason when we hopped out of the van, they ran the opposite direction. We locked our arms into place.
Our barricade and occupation of Chevron’s entrance was in place in less than 60 seconds. We completely shut down the main entrance to Chevron’s International HQ. Initially we were worried that we wouldn’t have enough bodies to cross the whole 6 lanes of the entrance – but lucky for us, even though we didn’t reach the other side (at first!), the cops completely shut down the rest of it for us!
Police accumulated and we were told that a call had been made to the special unit that had the saws to cut us out of the barrels. As we wondered how long we would be able to hold the space, people started arriving.
First it was our friends with bright banners and puppet heads. Then it was the Tug-of-Oil-War affinity group, complete with costumes for subsequent street theater. Then people from local communities that have been devastated by Chevron’s refineries in Richmond. Soon we had over 100+ people with bright signs and loud voices. Groups representin’ included Bay Rising affinity group, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Movement for a Democratic Society (MDS), Communities for a Better Environment, AmazonWatch, US Labor Against the War, Bay Area Labor Comittee for Peace & Justice, Oil Change International, Global Exchange, West County Toxics Coalition, Tug of Oil War, Failure to Disperse, and Rainforest Action Network (RAN).
We chose Chevron for a lot of reasons. We wanted to step it up with nonviolent direct action and begin to target war profiteering corporations, as they are a strategic pillar along with recruitment centers and other direct military targets. We wanted to help draw the link for the public between CLIMATE CHANGE and WAR, with OIL at the center. We also wanted to highlight (one of the) the real reasons we are at war: the Iraqi Oil Law is being rammed through Iraq’s parliament as I write this. It’s a law that was drafted by the Bush administration in English, and it would literally give the oil underneath Iraq to American corporations. Companies like Chevron would outright OWN 2/3 of the oil underneath Iraq for the next generation if this goes through. The Federation of Iraqi Trade Unions and a coalition of Iraqi Parliamentarians have asked for international solidarity and support. They want us to resist these companies and this law in our own countries, where we have the most power to do so. So we’re leveraging our own power and privilege as American citizens to jam up the gears of the War Machine to give Iraqis a little bit more breathing space to organize.
We were working with local affected communities and organizers who have been campaigning against Chevron for a long time now. Leila Salazar-Lopez, a new RAN campaigner, longtime Bay Area activist, and former organizer with AmazonWatch, said that after years of going after Chevron she knew their PR guy pretty well. Usually at demonstrations he is calm, collected, and professional. At this action, he was going bonkers. Dude was pacing back and forth, getting all bent out of shape and freaking out; Chevron knew we had clear and concise messaging, and roughly a gazillion (maybe even two gazillion) TV cameras on us. See the bottom of this post for media links.
So they decided that it would make them look WAY worse if they let the cops arrest us. So to all our surprise, we held the entire space and shut down their entrance for the whole time. And at the end of the day we walked away without going to jail.
A SWAT team cop told Matt “you know, you guys are really well organized. You run a tight ship. I can respect that!”
It was fun: a bunch of kids who had gotten trained in nonviolent direct action (NVDA) at the demonstration the day prior came and locked down with us, extending our barricade all the way to the second entrance. A group of folks held a funeral procession for “the last ice cube on earth”, and Larry the clown hammed it up as a fabulous preacher. There was a tug-of-oil-war with “the people” dressed in Robbin Hood costumes, and “Chevron Execs” dressed as…Chevron Execs (guess who won). The Ronald Reagan Home for the Criminally Insane folks came, and danced dressed as the Bush admin. People sang beautiful songs. Amazing local folks spoke passionately about the Environmental destruction happening right next to us. Amazing women from the Philippines spoke about Chevron destroying their communities. I got force-fed chocolate by Jodie. I also got to wear a diaper. It was a good day.
(tug of oil war)
(Jessica Tovar, organizer with Communities for a Better Environment)
We got tons of media and feedback. This is my favorite message we got:
Dear peace organization,
We have analyzed your group’s activity and deeply respect the bravely rendered dramatizations regarding criminal and exploitative business practices, but it may not be in the best interest and full effectivity of your communications to make corporate executives and Chevron employees look so sexy. We may have available some mechanical slimy toads in our production studio warehouses, should you need to represent Chevron employees in the future, please feel free to contact us.
This action is part of the trajectory of people stepping it up with NVDA and civil disobedience against the war. SDS alone has had dozens of coordinated actions across the country in the last week, resulting in arrests, media, and base building for a rejuvenated anti-imperialist anti-war movement. Over 5,000 students across the country participated in actions over the last 4 days. Across the country we’re connecting this war to the other imperial wars for Empire that our country is engaging in – including the wars inside our own borders against women, people of color, poor people, and queer folks. We’re connecting the mad drive for oil with the impending climate chaos that is looming over our heads across the planet. We’re seeing that people dying as the result of Hurricane Katrina are directly connected to the same system that is murdering children in Iraq.
Here are some more photos of the action:
The best TV and print coverage isn’t available online, but here is a smattering of the media coverage we got:
The Contra-Costa Times made a slideshow with audio!
(the actual print version is totally different and much more extensive. Not sure why the e-version is like this… )
Inside Bay Area
It’s Getting Hot in Here
The Argus / MediaNews
Aid and Abet blog
(Beautiful live recording includes interviews with Jessica Tovar of Communities for a Better Environment, Michael Eisenscher of US Labor Against the War. It starts about 16 minutes into the news)
(Live interviews with Sam, Antonia and an in depth in-studio interview with Leila Salazar. It comes about 2/3 of the way through the show, so you can forward to it).
(labor against the war)
(extending the barricade)
(leila doing media)
(david solnit rocks the mic)
For more info on the Iraqi Oil Theft Law, Labor, and Environmental Justice check these links:
Iraqi journalists union demands apology for raid on headquarters in Baghdad; U.S. military denies involvement
The Associated Press, February 24, 2007