BP tried to deny me and others affected by the spill access to their
shareholder meeting, but we would not be silenced.
April 17, 2011 |
Editor's note: Antonia Juhasz will appear on Democracy Now! today to discuss her experience at the BP shareholder meeting.
“There’s no way BP will deny us access. They’d be insane to do so.
For one thing, they’d be breaking the law. For another, it would be the
public relations equivelant of Tony Hayward’s ‘I want my life back’
debacle in response to the oil spill. Shutting Gulf Coast residents out
of the first shareholder meeting since the Gulf oil disaster?
I don’t know how many times I said those words and to how many
reporters in the week leading up to BP’s annual shareholder meeting in
London on April 14. I also could not have been more wrong. Five Gulf
Coast residents made the long trek to London to attend the meeting, and
five Gulf Coast residents were denied entry.
I traveled to London for BP’s first annual meeting since the
explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig off the coast of
Louisiana on April 20, 2010 and the subsequent 210 million gallon oil
I joined Gulf Coast residents directly harmed by the disaster and
leaders of the communities within which they live and work: Tracy
Kuhns, Mike Roberts, Byron Encalade, Diane Wilson, and Bryan Parras. I
came because I had written a book about the disaster in which all five
played a part. We came to ensure that BP’s disaster in the Gulf would
not be forgotten and to hold BP to account for its devastating and
ongoing failures that led to, perpetuated, and compounded the tragedy.
A BP shareholder had given each a proxy, granting them the legal right to take that shareholders place in the meeting.
We had no illusion that BP was unaware of who we were or why we were
there. We wanted them to know. In countless interviews that week, the
Gulf Coast residents made their concerns well known to BP and the
public: the oysters are not back, the shrimp are not back, their people
are sick from oil and dispersant, they have no idea when life will get
back to normal, and neither BP nor the federal government’s Kenneth
Fienberg have paid the necessary cliams on which the Gulf Coast
community is supposed to live. In fact, of the hundreds of thousands of
claims filed by Gulf residents who have lost income as a result of the
disaster, less than 40% have even been processed, much less paid out.
"We came to deliver the message that BP needs to take responsibility
for the drilling disaster,” said Tracy Kuhns, a fisherwoman from
Barataria, Louisiana and Director of Louisiana Bayoukeeper. “The oil is
not gone. Dead wildlife are washing up on our shores by the hundreds.
Entire livelihoods are in peril.”
At a teach-in organized by the UK Tar Sands Network on April 12,
Tracy’s husband, shrimper Mike Roberts, brought audience members to
tears when he shared the story of the first time he encountered BP’s
oil. Within miles of heading out from a boat from his backyard, Roberts
and his son found themselves encircled in oil and unable to find a path
out. Roberts heart broke as he realized the extent of the damage to his
beloved Bayou and as he feared for the health and future of his son.
Byron Encalade is the President of the Louisiana Oystermen
Association and a leader of African-American and minority oyster
fishermen. “I came to London to represent the poor fishers of my
community,” Encalade told a BBC radio audience. “I have twelve families
that directly depend on my own business. They, and the rest of our
community, have not worked nor received claims on which to live since
BP’s disaster struck.” Diane Wilson, a fourth-generation shrimper from
the Texas Gulf Coast and a founding member of Code Pink Women for Peace
came to London to present the 2010 Black Planet award to BP’s new CEO,
Bob Dudley, in person. Bryan Parras, a Gulf Coast Fund Advisor with the
Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, (t.e.j.a.s.), came to
tell of the impacts of oil operations on his Houston community and to
support the rest of the group.
We began April 14 with a press conference on the steps of the
conference center. It was opened with presentations by First Nation
representatives opposed to BP’s operations in the Canadian tar sands.
Afterwards, I got held up speaking with reporters as the rest of the
group went in. They did not get far. When the Gulf Coast residents
tried to enter the meeting, they were pulled aside, brought to a
separate entrance, and told they could not come in.
I did not know any of this was happening when I tried to enter. My
organization, Global Exchange, had purchased shares in BP. I presented
my papers and was promptly told by a rather nervous BP represntative
that my paper work was not in order. I could enter the meeting, but as
a guest, without voting rights and without the right to speak.
Once inside I learned what had happened to the Gulf Coast
delegation. I was furious and was going to leave in protest until I
looked into my note book and saw the statement I had been given by
Keith Jones to read on his behalf. Jones’s son, Gordon, had died aboard
the Deepwater Horizon. I had to stay to read it. Moreover, the meeting
had begun with Director Carl Svenberg and CEO Robert Dudly emphasizing
that they would be expanding BP’s operations further into the world’s
deep waters. All the evidence I had collected in my year-long research
and writing, pointed to one clear fact: BP had done nothing to
demonstrate that it had learned the lessons of the Gulf Coast disaster
and that there was any reason whatsover to believe that another
disaster like this one would not happen again, without more loss of
life, ecosystems, and livelihoods.
I also knew that I had to stay to speak out on behalf of the Gulf,
and to ensure that all those in attendance knew that while Svenberg and
Dudley touted all the good they had done and were doing there, those
who could tell the truth about what was really happening in the Gulf
were denied access.
Although some shareholders booed and tried to get me to move away
from the microphone before I could read a paragraph of Keith’s
statement, I was told by many, shareholders, reporters, and activists,
that my ten minutes at the mike were the most dramatic of the meeting –
forcing all to listen and ensuring that the message of the Gulf was
heard inside the meeting. There is YouTube footage of me giving my
statement inside the meeting here, filmed by You & I Films.
I persisted, and finally read this paragraph from his statement:
“This was no act of God. This was not a blowout that was inevitable.
No, BP, Transocean and Halliburton could have prevented this blowout.
They could have prevented the blowout and still harvested the riches
that lay below. They could have carefully and safely completed this
well. But to complete the well safely would have taken a little more
time and a little more money, and you were just too greedy to wait. You
had to make more money faster--- more money faster--- and if that put
those who were on the rig as risk, well, sometimes one has to take a
few chances, right? After all, none of you were on that rig. You
weren’t rolling the dice with the lives of your sons and daughters,
(Read Keith’s whole statement here and those of other Gulf Coast residents impacted by the spill who could not come to London).
Though denied access, the Gulf Coast residents were not silenced.
Diane stood in the lobby and pulled out her award for Dudley: a globe,
which she then doused in black “oil.” She was surrounded by
photographers, TV cameras, and police who detained her until the meeting was concluded.
Tracy, Mike, Byron, and Bryan, meanwhile, were swarmed with press.
When BP offered to let one of them in, they said “all or none.” When BP
said it would arrange a separate meeting with them, outside of the
meeting hall, they said, “make it public or no deal.” And BP said no.
We went to London to address BP’s shareholders, executives, and
board members directly. We awent to speak to the British and global
public so that all would know that BP’s annual report, statements, and
advertisements to the contrary, the oil disaster in the Gulf persists,
BP has not yet lived up to its legal, financial, or moral obligations
to the Gulf and its residents, and that we will continue to apply
pressure on the company until the Gulf and its people are restored. We
achieved our mission.
Antonia Juhasz is the author of BLACK TIDE: the Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill (Wiley 2011). She is the director of the Energy Program at Global Exchange.
She is also the author of The Tyranny of Oil: the World's Most Powerful
Industry--And What We Must Do To Stop It (HarperCollins 2008) and The
Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time (HarperCollins
2006). Twitter.com/AntoniaJuhasz. Follow on FACEBOOK.