I was at the protest against Chevron on Saturday in Richmond, CA, at the Richmond BART station and at the Chevron refinery. Among the various charges made on that day against Chevron:
- Chevron has been damaging the health of Richmond residents for decades, causing major problems like asthma.
- Chevron has been tasked by the city of Richmond with cleaning up the emissions from their refinery. Instead, they are also retrofitting their plant to be able to process dirtier crude.
- Use of fossil fuel is a huge part of the global warming problem. As one of the most profitable corporations in the world (~$24 billion last year), Chevron is a critical piece of this.
- Chevron has a hand in the death and exploitation of workers in oil-producing nations around the world, such as Burma
- Chevron is an active war profiteer, processing Iraqi oil that has been stolen from the people of Iraq
This long list of charges motivated many groups to coalesce against Chevron on Saturday.
The events of Saturday were disorganized and largely ineffectual. The day started off with a music, food, booths, etc, at the Richmond BART station parking lot. There was much singing, dancing, and overall merriment. Yes, a good time, but I don’t agree with the several people who said that we were celebrating our resistance. Guess what? Protests of this kind happen very infrequently, and when they do happen, they don’t last long, and everyone goes home afterward. That’s nothing to celebrate.
I was at the protest with the Direct Action to Stop the War (DASW) “contingent,” which was basically nonexistent. From DASW, there was myself and two other people. Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) was also there, and I spent my time hanging out and marching with them.
We marched the 2.5 miles to the Chevron refinery where there were more speakers. Towards the end of the speakers, some commotion broke out. Thirteen courageous individuals took it upon themselves to rush around the side of the police line and into the Chevron parking lot with cleaning supplies. The cleaning supplies were to add a message of “we’re going to clean up Chevron” to their action. They then played dead in the Chevron parking lot, surrounded by cops. At this point, the mass of people moved over towards that side of the parking lot and people lined up behind the police tape. The tape eventually fell down and people inched forward a little bit. I was right up at the front, feeling more angry than scared. The cops were remarkably frightening. They were all armed with billy clubs that they had out and ready. Some had large tear gas guns. Most of the cops were absolutely huge men. There were probably about one hundred police officers in full riot gear, guarding the Chevron facilities.
A short while later, a reverend with the West County Toxics Coalition (the local folks who have been fighting Chevron for years) stepped forward closer to the police, and unable to provoke them by his advance, negotiated his arrest. At that point, Dr. Henry Clark, the leader of the West County Toxics Coalition, grabbed the bullhorn and told the crowd that we had accomplished what we had come for. This completely diffused the anger of the crowd, and the crowd slowly dispersed.
While this protest had some positive elements to it, I think it and most other protests misses the point. The point is that this isn’t a game. We shouldn’t be out just to feel good about ourselves, eat, drink, listen to music, and then go home. These issues are vitally important.
The anti-war movement and the environmental justice movement need to step up their games. These protests need to have increased seriousness and frequency. I am currently reaching out to like-minded individuals to get serious about accomplishing our goals. We are at a critical moment for our society, for us as individuals, for our communities, our country, and for the world. Let’s not mess around.
This post has not been revised since publication.