Activists prepare for demonstration to “make big oil pay”
on August 30, 2010
With speeches, signs reading “Make Big Oil Pay,” and lessons on useful protest tactics, Frank H. Ogawa Plaza was converted into a training ground Sunday afternoon for 50 environmental activists and organizers.
The public teach-in, hosted by the group Mobilization for Climate Justice West, was part of a two-day event that includes a march scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Monday in San Francisco. The “Make Big Oil Pay” protest is set to start at Justin Herman Plaza, at the Embarcardero end of Market Street. Participants, including many who were at Sunday’s teach-in, are then expected walk to the offices of British Petroleum and the U.S Environmental Protection Agency.
Ellen Choy, an organizer with Mobilization for Climate Justice West, said Sunday’s activity — with speeches and a hip-hop performance in addition to the teaching groups — is part of a larger effort for the group. “We decided this year that we would be targeting big oil,” she said.
Mobilization for Climate Justice West, an umbrella group of about a dozen Bay Area environmental organizations, focuses on coordinating demonstrations and offering the organizations’ view of public education concerning climate change. The local group received national attention Dec. 7, 2009, when about 30 people were arrested during a protest in front of Chevron’s headquarters in San Ramon.
Monday’s demonstration takes place during the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s assault on the Gulf of Mexico region. The storm, which hit Aug. 29, 2005, displaced 800,000 people, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The severity of the Category 5 storm has been said by some scientists to be a byproduct of global warming.
The gulf is now suffering the environmental impact of the fire and explosion on a British Petroleum oil rig last April, which spilled oil at a rate of 210,000 gallons a day over a course of 3 months. “Those oil companies, we would say, are our obstacle toward clean energy and renewable energy,” said Mobilization organizer David Solnit. The decision to schedule the two-day demonstration during the anniversary of the hurricane and five months after the spill was to “show solidarity with the communities of the Gulf Coast,” he said.
Solnit helped lead a teach-in civil disobedience workshop in which participants were taught such as strategies how to link arms and keep their fingers protected when the police arrive to disperse them. They were also told that once handcuffed, they can still shout their message if media is present. “I think direct action and protest, along with education, are the most effective things we can do,” Solnit said.
Carla Perez, program coordinator with an ecologically focused organization called Movement Generation, said she has found that concentrating on local immediate concerns is a good way to interest people in governmental decisions and policies. “It really starts with calling attention to the things that are the most concerning to people,” she said. “The first issue is their health.” Respiratory problems, cancer and immune deficiencies may be related to environmental health, she said.
Perez led a workshop on building community strength and resiliency during the aftermath of natural disaster. Participants sat beneath the trees on the north end of the plaza, trading ideas about how to store water–filling bathtubs, for example, or tapping into full water — as well as how to store non-perishable foods.
During Solnit’s workshop, organizers also suggested options on managing possible confrontations with police as well as with local workers who might be frustrated with obstructing demonstrators. Participants were instructed to remain calm, keep stressing the nonviolent nature of their demonstration, and tell workers, “The police have been called. They’re on their way.”
The intent of the demonstration is to “hold the oil industry’s feet to the fire, so that they pay for the damage and the impact to the community,” Solnit said.
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