Gulf Spill Galvanizes Activist Community

Published on
by
Inter Press Service

Gulf Spill Galvanizes Activist Community

by
Matthew Cardinale

NEW ORLEANS -
With the U.S .government and oil giant British Petroleum under fire for
their handling of the more than two-month-old Gulf Coast oil spill
disaster, environmental and community activists across the country are
taking matters into their own hands.

In New Orleans, a Gulf Emergency Summit was held to design a grassroots
response to the crisis on Jun. 19, resulting in the launch of the
"Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Catastrophe".

"We're
organising a broad resistance," Larry Everest, a spokesperson for the
committee from San Francisco, California, who traveled to the Gulf
after the disaster, told IPS.

"The goal of the summit flowed
from the call we put out, a recognition of the enormity of the
catastrophe... and recognising that the disaster is out of control and
spreading and BP and the government have shown they are unable and
unwilling to stop the disaster and protect the environment or even tell
the truth," Everest said.

Some 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil
are estimated to be leaking in the Gulf every day. BP says it is
collecting 23,000 to 25,000 barrels.

The Gulf Emergency Summit
included about 100 activists from around the country, particularly the
U.S. south, as well as many from New Orleans where the meeting was
held. Organisations represented included public housing advocacy
organisations like C3-Hands off Iberville, Survivors Village, World
Can't Wait, the Lower Algiers Environmental Committee, Pax Christi, and
Women United for Social Justice.

"We're calling for people
coming together and fighting and organising and demanding the truth and
that everything be done to stop this catastrophe. We're organising
mass independent actions that are not subservient to or within the
framework of the issue as defined by BP and the government," Everest
said.

"They [BP and the government] have been taking out ads,
holding meetings, they're on TV daily telling the population that
everything is being done that should be done, that everyone should
follow their lead. This is a lie. They're not informing people of the
full scope of this horror either," Everest said.

Two actions
have been held so far in New Orleans as a result of the Summit. First,
two days after the Summit, about 25 activists protested at the United
Command in New Orleans. The protesters presented a BP official with
their list of demands. The BP official wouldn't even identify himself
to the protesters, Everest said.

Two days after that, Emergency
Committee activists attended one of BP's Open Houses for the public,
again presented their demands, and demanded that BP answer questions.

In
the period shortly after the Apr. 20 explosion on the Deepwater
Horizon oil rig, BP representatives would answer questions from
citizens at their forums, Everest said. However, BP changed the format
after they were "crucified by members of the public" and now company
spokespersons give short prepared statements and allow members of the
public to visit informational tables.

The Emergency Committee
demanded that BP answer questions publicly, not one-on-one, and BP gave
in, answering questions at least at that forum for about 40 minutes,
Everest said.

"They're trying to prevent collective mass
consciousness and actions. It's major PR [public relations] and damage
control... These open house meetings are propaganda and disinformation
sessions, that 'everything is being done' and 'we're so sorry'.
They're cover-ups," Everest said.

In addition, activists have
been holding protests across the country in cities not directly
impacted by the oil spill.

One day of national protests, referred
to as "Crude Awakening", was called on Jun. 19 by Code Pink and the
Sierra Club.

In Atlanta, a dozen protesters gathered at a midtown
BP gas station. Many of the protesters were young people unaffiliated
with any organisation. Others were members of the Revolutionary
Communist Party, which also sent many representatives to the Summit.

"We're
here to protest BP and the crimes they continue to be perpetrating
against all living things in the Gulf Coast region and the U.S.," said
Carol Coney, an organiser of the local protest. "It's an assault on our
country - environmental and economic terrorism."

People in the
U.S. "who have any kind of heart for working people and creatures that
live in the ocean, all of us are heartbroken by what has happened and
what is still happening", Coney said.

"I think BP has done a
great disservice to humanity. This is a f**king disaster and I think BP
needs to be held solely responsible for the cleanup effort," said
Oliver Howington, a protester and transgender activist.

"This is
an excellent example of how corporations and government work together
to make environmental disasters like this possible," Howington said.
"The government let them have all this deregulation and [won't] impose
limits or caps."

Activists held signs that said "Save Our Sea
Critters" and "We Demand Alternative Energy Now".

An estimated
100,000 activists around the world also held a "Hands Across the Sand"
action on Jun. 26, in which people held hands along beaches in
opposition to offshore oil drilling, from 12:00 to 12:15 in their local
time zone.

"Originally intended as a local event, Hands Across
the Sand went international with events held in: Australia,
Bangladesh, Brazil, Belize, Canada, Costa Rica, Germany, Denmark,
Dominican Republic, Spain, France, United Kingdom, Greenland, Croatia,
Ireland, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Lebanon, Mexico, Malaysia,
Nicaragua, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Panama, Peru, Poland,
Sweden, Tanzania, and South Africa," according to the Surfrider
Foundation.

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