It’s been a long time since I’ve written to many of you about the peace and justice issues that I’ve been working on. Not for lack of issues to work on, quite the opposite. I started a full time job right before the invasion of Iraq, and it unfortunately kept me from being as involved as I’d like to be in the activism here in San Francisco. So I’ve been keeping a low profile protest-wise, feeling a bit overwhelmed with all that’s going on in world right now and figuring out how best to be an activist right now. I still haven’t figured that out, but I do want to share about an action I took part in yesterday because it brings together so many of the issues I’ve been trying to stay connected to. I’ll try to do it in three points: (1) What’s happening to the oil that’s supposed to belong to the people of Iraq, (2) how that oil is harming a community in the San Francisco Bay Area, and (3) what this has to do with a bunch of protesters in Cancun, Mexico.
In the days leading up to the invasion, we all heard the Bush administration repeat over and over that this was not a war for oil, that the oil of Iraq belongs to the people of Iraq. But right now we’re learning that’s not exactly the case. Iraqi oil is already being shipped out of Iraq by companies like ChevronTexaco, a company with close ties to the Bush administration, and the profits from the sale of that oil are not going to the Iraqi people. Supposedly the money from the sale of the oil goes to a “development fund” that will help rebuild Iraq and help the Iraqi people. But when we look who is in charge of this rebuilding, we see companies like Bechtel and Haliburtun, again companies with close ties to the Bush administration. They, not the Iraqi people, are the primary beneficiaries. [for more info on this, go to actagainstwar.org and sf.indymedia.org. Also, if you haven’t already, I really encourage you to check out the websites vitw.org or electroniciraq.net to find out what life is really like for the Iraqi people. Read especially the Iraq diaries written by Kathy Kelly and John Farrell, both of whom were just in Iraq and saw firsthand that even without Saddam Hussein in power, the Iraqi people are still suffering.]
Not only is the oil being shipped out of Iraq not benefiting the Iraqi people, it’s harming folks in Richmond, CA who live next to the ChevronTexaco refinery. The refinery has a long history of gas leaks, fires, and toxin emissions, the most recent on August 9, when at least 2 dozen people were hospitalized as a result of a chemical leak. The largely low income and minority community near the refinery has the highest rates of asthma in the entire bay area, and much higher than normal rates of cancer. So not only is ChevronTexaco harming the people of Iraq in their quest for profits, they are harming the people here in the U.S.
So what does this have to do with Cancun? This week the World Trade Organization meets in Cancun, Mexico, their first time back in the western hemisphere since the famous Seattle meetings in 1999. The WTO is comprised of non-elected trade representatives from over 135 countries, and their main purpose essentially is to find ways for corporations like ChevronTexaco to be able to make more money with less accountability as to how they make that money. For example, environmental regulations in California attempt to protect communities like Richmond from further toxic contamination. But because of the WTO, companies like ChevronTexaco have the power to literally sue governments for having these environmental laws in place, arguing that the regulations are a barrier to trade and will keep them from maximizing profits. In the worldview of the WTO, free trade and making money is valued above all else, and anything that keeps a company from making the most money possible is to be opposed. Democracy is not important, protecting the environment is not important, people’s lives are not important. Right now thousands of peasant farmers, environmentalists, students, and activists are meeting in Cancun as well, to voice their opposition to the WTO. They want to show that there are other values more important than free trade, that the environment, workers’ rights, democracy, and social justice are the values that should guide how we live and do business.
Last night I went to a protest at the ChevronTexaco refinery in Richmond, a solidarity action with the protests in Cancun. Hundreds of us marched to the refinery and some of us sat down to block the gate where trucks pass, to show that we oppose the trafficking of oil stolen from the Iraqi people that in turn harms the people of Richmond. It was a beautiful action. Despite a heavy police presence, we kept a peaceful tone and were able to claim our space without anyone getting arrested. We had music and poetry, the Brass Liberation Orchestra (BLO) was out in full force, Food Not Bombs made sure everyone had a hot meal, and the full moon made a special appearance. At the gates of a corporation responsible for so much destruction, we were able to bring life and creativity and visions of a better way to live in community. In the coming months, more tankers of Iraqi oil will be shipped here, and we will continue to voice our opposition and call on ChevronTexaco to stop harming both the people of Iraq and the people of Richmond.
I hope that all of you are well, and I hope your September 11 remembrances are opportunities to build community and reflect on how to bring about a better world.