Why I will engage in non-violent direct action against Big Oil

(Published on Ecolocalizer)

It will not be business-as-usual at the the offices of BP, Chevron, and the Environmental Protection Agency Monday morning in San Francico’s financial district.  A rally, march, and acts of non-violent direct actions are planned by a coalition of a local organizations.

I’m participating and one of many willing to be arrested.

Sometimes I wonder what acts of non-violent direct action for a clean energy future or civil disobedience to protest a permanent war economy must look like from a different angle. For example, what does it look like to all those aunts and grandmothers in the Midwest? What does it look like through the eyes of the millions of regular families just trying to make a living, raise healthy children, and get the kids to school after a summer of BBQs and pool-splashing?

I’d venture to guess that to many Americans it looks quite bizarre, something quite out of the normal range of acceptable political action. For some it might look not just strange, but dangerous, even immoral.  But I also venture that millions of Americans also realize  that our current way of doing things is unsustainable, unfair, and unhealthy–but it’s not always clear what can be done about it.  They might not know about the situation in Ecuador or Nigeria or Richmond, CA as the result of the policy of Big Oil.  And probably not 1 in 100,000 are aware of the True Cost of Chevron as documented in the Alternative Shareholder report from the perspective of impacted communities.  They might not be much moved by the abstract prospect of forced re-locations because of rising sea-levels or the impacts on growing food because of climate change the world over.

But everybody knows about the BP oil spill–they see a devastated fishing economy, the pumes of oil, the impacted beaches, the sick animals, and the sly PR campaign.  They realize that Big Oil has inordinate power.  And they also sense that when you pump oil into the environment and its by-products into the air and water and food, there are serious implications for our health, our environment, and communities.

Let’s be real–there is no outside when it comes to our energy use, our economy, our environment. We are in all in this together.

So let me briefly explain why I’m willing to be arrested Monday.

I’m willing because the handful of corporations that comprise the oil industry have not just contaminated the coastlines and communities from New Orleans to Nigeria, but have contaminated our political system with their infusion of extraordinary amounts of cash from outrageous profits.  I’m willing because the status-quo is stalling our prospects to be competitive in a clean energy economy. I’m willing because it breaks my heart to see another kid with deformities or cancer or asthma because she had the misfortune of being born in a community whose land was coveted by multinational corporations. I’m willing because the more fossil-fuels we burn means more carbon poisoning our environment (you know, the one we need for survival and resilience) and our health. I’m willing because every day we delay our chances of mitigating the impact of this poisoning are reduced. I’m willing because our permanent war economy and our fossil-fuel economy are two sides to the same coin.  I’m willing because Big Oil is trying to derail a clean energy future in California with Proposition 23.  I’m willing because phone calls to compromised Senators is not enough. I’m willing because it is a local action that has global implications.

Finally, I’m willing to engage in non-violent direct action because actions speak louder than words.

But we have not been educated in the tools of non-violent direct action. We may have absorbed a fairly narrow view of citizenship and democracy through years of mis-education.  And we have allowed the normalization of various species of apathy and disempowerment.  Yet more and more people are finding ways to live democracy in ways that go beyond the voting booth a couple times a decade.

I’m under no illusion that we can become oil-free any time soon.  Our economy is based on oil and that includes most everyday things we use require it. This will likely be the case for decades to come. Yet rather than being a cause for inaction, it is every reason to get started on something that we should have begun addressing systematically four decades ago.  Because of the externalized costs to our communities, environment, and health that are catching up with us, it is all the more reason why we need to begin investing in all the positive alternatives and demanding that oil companies that have reaped the largest profits ever in the history of the world to pay their fair share.

Tomorrow’s actions will be a powerful call for Big Oil to accept responsibility for the damages it causes. These include demands to end the use of dispersants, to grant full access to journalists, to pay their debt to impacted communities, to stop funding fake astro-turf rallies, and to stop lobbying against clean energy, green jobs, and climate change solutions.

As Antonia Juhasz reminds us, this is not simply about BP or about the latest oil spill–this is about the oil industry’s lack of accountability and oversight and it’s about pushing hard for a clean energy future.


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