Week of direct actions highlights environmental problems
|April 30, 2012||Posted by Jason Woltjen under Featured, News, Print Issues, Volume 2, Issue 3 (May/June 2012)|
In the Occupy DC Earth Week demonstrations, every day had a theme. The first four days of actions were dedicated to the elements: air, fire, water, and earth, while Friday morning brought a march against BP on the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The rest of the weekend, co-organized by the Anarchist Alliance DC, was dedicated to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group, since it coincided with their biannual conference.
“We did Earth Week because environmental issues are extremely important,” said Drew Veysey, of Occupy DC’s Earth Week working group. “Scientific indicators have been telling us for decades that we are destroying the atmosphere, the oceans, most global ecosystems, and finite natural resources. Ignoring this doesn’t make it go away.” He linked economic issues to the health of the planet: “it doesn’t matter how big of a slice you have if there is no pie.”
Monday’s “Air” theme targeted the American Petroleum Institute (API), the main lobby and trade association for the oil industry. The brief march from McPherson Square to a rally outside the API’s offices to a rally outside the API’s offices on L Street NW decried the API’s campaigns to discredit science that shows man-made climate change is occurring.
“The API acts as a launderer of millions of dollars from corporations,” said Veysey. “[These corporations pay money to the API] so the API can fund the quacks who deny climate change while pretending to be scientists.” Veysey also spoke of their advertising campaigns, conducted under names like Energy Tomorrow, which uses the tagline “The People of America’s Oil and Natural Gas Industry,” Energy Citizens, and Vote 4 Energy. According to the Washington Post, API has spent at least $4.3 million on broadcast advertising so far this year, just part of a huge ad spreeby the oil industry as a whole.
Other complaints Occupiers had included the API’s support of the Keystone XL pipeline project, their lobbying against tighter safety and environmental standards at oil drilling sites, and their role in perpetuating petroleum dependency.
The pipeline, and the Alberta Oil Sands (also known as the Alberta Tar Sands) that would supply its cargo, were the subject of Tuesday’s “Fire” demonstration. The XL pipeline is actually an extension to the already existing Keystone pipe system, owned by TransCanada Corporation, which currently runs Canadian oil from Hardisty, Alberta as far south as the oil hub city of Cushing, Oklahoma. The proposed XL extension actually consists of two phases. The first, known as “Cushing MarketLink,” would connect the Cushing hub down to refineries on the Gulf coast of Texas and allow for easy export of Alberta oil. This section has already been approved by the Obama administration. The second phase would begin in Alberta, reach down to Montana to pick up American oil, and hook back into the main Keystone system in Nebraska. Environmental concerns with this section chiefly relate to its passing over the Ogallala Aquifer, a massive aquifer which provides 30% of irrigation water in the United States and drinking water to approximately 1. 9 million people.
The demonstrators marched to the offices of Bryan Cave LLP, TransCanada’s main American outside lobbying firm, and rallied outside against the Keystone pipeline system and the proposed extensions. TransCanada paid $380,000 to Bryan Cave LLP for its services in 2011, and TransCanada reported $1,730,000 total spent on lobbying in 2011, most of it through its TransCanada Pipelines subsidiary. The Obama Administration has been criticized for close ties to these lobbyists- Paul Elliot, TransCanada’s chief internal lobbyist, was a Deputy Director for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2008, and the State Department’s approval is needed for the XL extension to proceed. In addition, Broderick Johnson, a Bryan Cave partner who lobbied for Keystone XL, has since been hired as an advisor by the 2012 Obama campaign.
After the rally outside Bryan Cave, demonstrators broke off into small groups to flash mob to the next target, known only to one person in each group to delay police response. The target was the Canadian Embassy, and after assembling, protestors rushed the doors, holding them open and mic-checking through the doors.
However, some feel that the pipeline is only part of the larger problem of burning “dirty” fossil fuels. “The Keystone Pipeline isn’t the problem, the Alberta Tar Sands are the problem!” said Brian Eister, another member of the Earth Week working group. He elaborated that “the problem with the pipeline is that it will cause us to exploit more of the tar sands. The tar sands are the most destructive form of oil mining. The exploitation of these tar sands is even more destructive than the normal, because of the amount of earth that will have to be moved. Full exploitation of the tar sands, according to NASA climate scientists, would drive climate change so far over the tipping point that a future in which humanity is supported by the Earth would be impossible. This is why it was so important to appeal to the humanity of the Canadian government.”
Wednesday’s “water” action was against the American Natural Gas Alliance for their support of hydraulic fracturing (colloquially known as “fracking”). Fracking is a technique used to increase the flow of wells, primarily deep shale natural gas wells, that involves pumping hundreds of thousands to millions of gallons of special fluids into the rock at high pressure to fracture it. These fluids are mostly water, but also contain toxic chemicals, such as benzene, that can then seep into drinking water, as can sand containing radioactive tracers used to map the fractures.
Occupiers attempted to enter the ANGA’s offices on the eighth floor of an office building on H Street NW, but finding the doors locked, they returned to the lobby and mic checked their opposition there.
“The industry will have us believe that fracking is perfectly safe and that there is no danger. But anyone that has even a cursory understanding of the process knows that yes, it is dangerous. It is poisoning our drinking water. You cannot tell anybody that dumping millions of gallons of a toxic chemical cocktail into the ground, past our aquifers, will not have a negative effect,” said Barry Knight, a protester. “And once the natural gas is burned, we’re poisoning our atmosphere and climate. Burning fossil fuel releases carbon dioxide,” the main greenhouse gas.
Thursday, “Earth,” Occupiers marched against “corporate agribusiness,” specifically the offices of Monsanto and Cargill, both located on the next block from McPherson Square on I Street NW and 15th Street NW, respectively. Monsanto’s primary business is genetically modified seed, while Cargill’s are food processing, logistics, and commodities trading. Cargill is the largest privately-held corporation in the United States.
“Monsanto’s monoculture farm practices, with crops designed for heavy pesticide use, are destroying the fungal and baterial ecosystem that makes soil productive. Continued for decades, these practices will turn vast tracts of arable farmland into wasteland,” said Eister.
While inside the lobby of Cargill’s office building, Eister and Marshall Scott, another Occupier, announced a campaign specifically targeting Cargill, “Call out Cargill.” “They have the global food system in a choke hold.” said Scott. He also referenced a 2005 lawsuit that alleged they knowingly sourced cocoa beans from a company that kidnapped children from Mali and used them as slaves on the Ivory Coast. Call out Cargill’s main tactic has been an extension of the Sleepful Protest, sleeping outside their 15th Street NW office.
The Friday activity, marking the two-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, brought the first arrest of the week. Occupy DC marched from Freedom Plaza to the New York Avenue offices of BP where Ray Voide, an artist, built an oil rig statue and surreptitiously dumped “oil,” actually non-toxic, water based black ink mixed with flour, out the bottom onto the sidewalk outside BP’s offices. Police detained him on noticing the oil, and Barry Knight finished the performance by dumping “Corexit,” actually water, onto the sidewalk to clean it off. “I’m only sorry it wasn’t a bigger mess I made,” Voide said. “My job as an artist, especially one that gives a shit about what’s going on in the world, is to make sure that people say, ‘what’s going on here?’”
That afternoon, demonstratiors marched against the IMF and World Bank’s complex in Foggy Bottom. After a failed attempt to get inside “InfoShop,” a World Bank run bookstore that had the only door without extra security, the march circled the complex before returning to McPherson Square, stopping in most intersections before the police threatened arrest.
A repeat march on Saturday caught delegates on their way into the conference. “Loan shark, loan shark, what do you say – how many kids did you kill today?” they chanted. Later in the morning, two people were arrested protesting the conference; one was hospitalized from injuries sustained during the arrest. The other, Nancy M., of the Anarchist Alliance DC, said “No matter what, we will continue raising our voices against the IMF and the World Bank, and about what they do, to call out these corrupt capitalist organizations to the public.”
That night brought the largest demonstration of the week, when about 80 people turned out at McPherson Square for another march against the IMF-World Bank. The march first approached as close as it could to an evening event under party tents outside the complex, and then proceeded to hotels with rooms booked for conference attendees: first the One Washington Circle hotel, which occupiers sucessfully entered, although police evicted them after a few minutes, the Mayflower hotel, and the Capital Hilton. Police were able to hold back Occupiers from the latter two hotels.
Sunday brought one final, brief march from McPherson Square down K Street to the complex. Occupiers rallied outside for approximately thirty minutes before returning down Pennsylvania Avenue.