March on Chevron lacks community involvement
Protest fails to gain local support, notoriety for cause.
Published: Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 12, 2012 15:09
Citizens of Richmond, El Cerrito and San Pablo were among those ordered to take shelter after the Aug. 6 explosion and fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond.
On Labor Day, Sept. 3, United Public Workers for Action, (UPWA) a committee whose mission is to unite California’s public workforce and take action against the state’s public education system and also its public services, organized a march to the gates of Richmond Chevron to nationalize the energy industry in the wake of the disaster.
Fewer than 100 people gathered at Washington Park in Point Richmond to walk through the streets to Chevron’s Gate 14 located on Castro Street. Police were present at the park and followed the group to Chevron’s gate.
UPWA Committee member Charles Rachlis said, “I’m here to expose Chevron and the entire energy and extraction industry because in the hands of the 1 percent, it does more destruction than it does help.”
“These industries have to be put under labor and community control. We have to expropriate them without compensating the big share holders and we need to turn the profit of these companies into something that supports the communities in which they operate,” he said.
Although organizers of the march were angry, the explosion did not directly affect most of them as many protestors came from Oakland, Vacaville and San Francisco, among other areas. San Francisco resident and UPWA member Steve Zeltzer said he has been following Chevron’s incidents for the past 10 years and that the company’s response to the recent incident was unacceptable.
While attendees were upset with the explosion that covered most of West County in a cloud of black smoke, others were surprised and disappointed at the lack of response from locals.
Despite being confined to a wheelchair, San Pablo resident and member of the environmental protection organization the Sierra Club Kathy Paige-Jones did show up.
“I’ve been fighting to protect the environment for years. The Sierra Club has lobbyists and we’ve done a lot of fundraising to stop the drilling in Alaska but it happened anyway,” she said as she began to cry.
“(Richmond residents) need to come out and support what’s important,” she said.
Sierra Club member and friend of Paige-Jones, Elizabeth Tate stood by to comfort her ally.
Tate said, “This is about their children and their children’s children. If we don’t stop it, it’s only going to get worse.”
The explosion released 9,100 pounds of sulfer-dioxide, 1,700 pounds of methane gas and 3,300 pounds of non-methane hydrocarbon, according to Chevron’s Sept. 5 report on its website.
Chevron offers reimbursement for those who paid out-of-pocket for medical or household expenses caused by the Aug. 6 fire. UPWA, however, believes Chevron is irresponsible, and has been negligent in the past on how it accommodates those affected by its mishaps.
“This has to change,” Rachlis said. “It’s only going to change by organizing the workers and the community into a fighting force that can take over these industries and stop running them in the interest of the 1 percent.”
Cindy Sheehan traveled from Vacaville to support the efforts of UPWA. Sheehan is an anti-war activist whose son Casey, a former member of the U.S. Army, was killed while fighting in the Iraq war in 2004.
“I’m here in solidarity with the call to prosecuting the people who run the refineries and the oil producing companies that rake in billions of profit dollars every year,” Sheehan said.
Sheehan believes that oil companies, including Chevron, are the underlying reason for the country’s conflicts overseas.
“I think part of the reason for these wars in the Middle East is to control their resources for the oil companies so they should be held responsible,” she said.
Charles Smith, who has lived in Richmond for 36 years, said he has endured many of Chevron’s mishaps and he is frustrated.
“I’ve gone through a lot of incidents with the refinery,” he said. “They always say, ‘we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that.’ It seems like there is a never ending, ‘we’re going to do this,’ and things don’t get done. This is a good example of what’s not being done.”