At least four protesters were arrested this morning at a demonstration outside a Chevron shareholders' meeting downtown. The protesters moved past temporary police barricades and sat on the ground after they were refused entrance into the building at 1400 Smith.
Several dozen protesters -- a few dressed as the sea turtles Chevron is allegedly exterminating -- waved placards declaring "People Over Profits" and listened while several international speakers took turns on a microphone, telling the crowd what brought them here today. The demonstration was sponsored by a coalition of environmental advocacy and human rights groups who issued a "an alternative annual report" called "The True Cost of Chevron," detailing the oil giant's alleged destructive operations around the world.
Some protesters said they had shareholder proxies that should have allowed them into the meeting, but they were blocked by security officers at the building's entrance. While protesters shared a mutual contempt of what they considered Chevron's unethical business practices, they came for a variety of reasons.
Omeyele Sowore, a Nigerian activist, showed Hair Balls his shareholder proxy from the San Francisco-based advocacy group As You Sow; Sowore said security told him the document did not look official. Reached by phone, As You Sow President Larry Fahn told us, "This company's actions toward its own shareholders is nothing short of shameful."
Sowore said he had come to Houston to protest the reappointment of Chevron board member George Kirkland, who also served as managing director of Chevron Nigeria Ltd. Sowore said he has testified in federal court as part of a lawsuit filed in 1999 by Niger Delta villagers against Chevron in a California federal court. The suit accused Chevron of acting in concert with Nigerian military police to shoot villagers who protested Chevron's Niger Delta operations. Sowore said one of his friends was killed by Chevron-backed soldiers.
Unlike Sowore, Oxfam International's Ian Gary made it inside the meeting. The human rights organization recently filed a resolution urging Chevron to disclose its payments to governments in the countries where it operates. Gary came to the meeting with advocates from Cambodia, who believed such transparency would hold governments accountable for education and health care funding.
From Alberta came Ryan Derange, a Dene Indian also known as Gitz Crazyboy, who said his shareholder proxy credentials were also refused.
"They said 'improper documentation,'" he told Hair Balls. He had wanted to discuss what he called Chevron's "ecological holocaust" in the Alberta oil sands region that was wiping out his tribe's way of life.
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"What are acceptable losses in order to efficiently produce oil?" Derange said he wanted to ask the shareholders. "Is it a cancer cluster?"
For Josh Coates, the issue is humpback whales. Specifically, the preservation of one of the largest humpback whale nurseries in the world, off Australia's Kimberley Coast. Traveling from West Perth on behalf of The Wilderness Society, Coates said Chevron's plans to build a liquified natural gas plant on the coast would threaten the humpback population, as well as a variety of other species. He said his organization is urging Chevron to consider what he said are already-identified viable alternatives.
No Chevron representatives appeared to be present at the protest; Hair Balls asked a security guard if Chevron had made a spokesperson available to the media on the scene, but we were told no one was available. (We put a call into Chevron's San Mateo, California headquarters and are waiting for a response).
Shareholders managed to slip quietly and quickly away without being hounded by the roving reporters; Hair Balls was only able to flag down one shareholder, who did not want to give his name and only wanted to say that the protest was "counterproductive." He would not elaborate.