“It is 91,000 damn degrees.” That’s how the monologue on Youtube starts by a woman who’s complaining about a heat wave she’s suffering through. She goes on like that for for two and a half minutes, complaining about a heat wave. She, and 82% of other Americans believe they have experienced unusual weather events. She’s really angry, but up to now she’s only angry at the situation in general; her anger isn’t focused on those who are causing her suffering. But this video shows the potential.
I was at yesterday’s protest against climate change – the march in Richmond, CA to the Chevron refinery. I felt I had to do something, that I had to add my voice to others to protest what the Chevron’s of the world are doing.
Since that march, I’ve seen lots of self-congratulatory comments. But let’s get real.
There were hundreds of arrests for “civil disobedience. But what did that civil disobedience really consist of? Here’s what the organizers sent around:
“I’m writing to ask if you, or someone on your staff or membership, would be willing to participate in the arrest-able component of Saturday’s action?….We will be trespassing onto Chevron’s property to plant sunflowers starts…. Small affinity groups will walk onto Chevron property, sit down, and begin planting sunflowers in a powerful, symbolic action to reclaim and detoxify our communities and neighborhoods that Chevron has polluted for decades…. This will be a very organized, peaceful action. We expect police to cite and release people on site. From experience over the last decade of civil disobedience at Chevron, we expect charges to be dropped and participants not to need to appear in court….”
In other words, the civil disobedience was strictly symbolic. It was more or less another photo op.
A Good Photo Op
Speaking of photo-ops… As my friends and I marched along, we noticed a small contingent from Chevroff.org. They were all young, fit and attractive. They had a flashy, professionally-made banner and all wore brand new flashy “chevroff” t-shirts. Every once in awhile, their photographer, with an expensive video camera, would film them, and when he did, they would start chanting “make Chevron pay! Make Chevron pay!” and thrusting their fists in the air.
Curious, I went over to talk with them. The guy started on his whole rap… They were there to protest Chevron’s despoiling of the jungles in Ecuador. “I only learned about this issue yesterday,” the guy told me. Then it all came out: Their group was from Los Angeles (Hollywood) and they were all professional models recruited to come up here and participate in this march. (I kid you not!) Clearly, for this NGO this was a photo op to justify the grant money they received.
Then I went over to the most visible union contingent on the march – the contingent from Unite/HERE. Their contingent was almost entirely composed of staffers. As is almost always the case, they had done nothing to really mobilize their own members, because who knows, if their members really turned out for this, they might see their own potential power and who knows where that might lead? And then there’s the other fact – these officials might denounce Chevron or denounce some particularly egregious act of racism at some other event. But then they continue to support the exact same Democrats who are responsible for these policies!
The rally itself — Henry Clark from the West County Toxics Coalition gave a fiery speech, and credit must be given to him. He’s been fighting this issue for a long, long time. Long before it was trendy. But others talked about appealing to Chevron’s conscience and that sort of thing.
What I learned
On the personal level, I did get two things out of this march:
One was getting into a conversation with a guy who said that in the past he’d been involved in running different campaigns for different Democrats. He explained how the system works. When you run, the Democratic national office sends advisors to ensure that you run your campaign according to their wishes. If you refuse, then you get no money and no help. If you get elected, they “help” you pick your staff. If you don’t play ball, then you are isolated, assigned to irrelevant committees, etc. He explained that the very fact of running for nomination as a Democrat is, in effect, the first step towards tying into their party structure.
And then I had the pleasure of getting in the las word to a Chevron security guard. I’d gone up into the trees by their chain link fence to relieve a certain pressure I was feeling. Their security guard rolled up to check out what I was doing. When he saw, he asked me, “How would you like it if I came and pissed in your front yard?” I asked him if this was his property. “It belongs to Chevron,” he said. “Well,” I told him, “Chevron IS pissing in my front yard!”He called the Richmond cops, but I was finished before they came.
The main point is this: We had a contingent from the Ecosocialists. I helped hand out the flyer. But being a real socialist doesn’t mean saving socialism for holiday speechifying or for our own private meetings. It has to translate to our everyday activity, including seeing how the liberals handle matters.