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An International Day of Protest Against ExxonMobil July 11 brought a stunning 130 actions in 19 countries, all calling on the giant oil company and U.S. President George Bush to change their act on climate change and corporate power.
The actions were called by the Seattle-based group Pressure Point because ExxonMobil continues to fund greenhouse skeptics, has spent millions on greenwash advertisements, was one of the top contributors to Bush’s election, has been active in lobbying the U.S. government to reject the Kyoto Protocol and invests virtually nothing in renewable energy. It is also one of the major proponents behind drilling in the Arctic Refuge in Alaska. It also has a terrible human rights and environmental record and is an unabashed supporter of free trade.
The day began in New Zealand, with protests at Mobil stations nationwide. Australia followed with roving actions at Mobil stations in Melbourne and Sydney and a rally at Mobil HQ in Melbourne. A few days earlier there had been a Mobil oil spill on the Yarra River in Melbourne, and the company had also recently been fined $11 million for negligence regarding a natural gas explosion.
In Jakarta, Indonesia, activists march to ExxonMobil headquarters to present a letter demanding the company address human rights atrocities surrounding its operations in the province of Aceh. Last month the company was sued in U.S. federal court for complicity in these atrocities. In Aceh itself, three people were arrested by the Indonesian military at a peaceful rally. In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a coalition of groups launched their official boycott of ExxonMobil. A masked man was seen carrying a placard bearing the words “Tiger (Exxon’s mascot): I’m quitting now. You can ask the rat or running dog to be your mascot.” The Sri Lankan Green Party formally announced itself as a political party by participating in the International Day of Action.
As the European actions got underway, ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond’s breakfast in Dallas was interrupted by company security reports of a large number of actions and protests taking place in Norway, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Germany. On a BBC news show that evening, international celebrity Bianca Jagger launched a new billboard showing George Bush with gas pump in his ear saying “I get tanked on Esso.”
At 9 a.m. Dallas time, Lee arrived at work to find a gigantic 40x60-foot banner outside the company headquarters, saying “ExxonMobil Stop Killing People and the Planet for Record Profit.” At the same time, faxes began to deluge ExxonMobil’s Board of Directors demanding the company clean up its very dirty act—eventually there were more than 4,500 of them, and board members called Lee to announce they were shutting down their company’s fax machines. The first of 60-plus U.S. actions began with large rallies and demonstrations in Washington DC, Seattle and Dallas. Protests in Canada focused on ExxonMobil’s enthusiasm for “free trade.”
And just when Raymond and ExxonMobil thought it was all over, the pressure continued. Activist groups around the world—including Pressure Pont—are calling for a worldwide boycott of ExxonMobil. For more information, contact Pressure Point at 5215 Ballard Ave. NW, #5, Seattle, WA 98107, (206)781-1102, www.PressurePoint.org.
More ExxonMobil Dirty Tricks
In a related story, a New York-based human-rights activist has called for congressional hearings on ExxonMobil’s practices in Indonesia, based on the company’s violations of U.S. law and its undermining of U.S. foreign policy objectives. ExxonMobil’s alleged complicity in human rights atrocities in Indonesia’s resource-rich province of Aceh was one of the issues uniting demonstrators across the globe during the July 11 International Day of Protest Against ExxonMobil.
Robert Jereski, former Executive Director of the International Forum for Aceh, revealed in a report issued in June how ExxonMobil’s continued business relationship with the Indonesian military involves the corporation in unlawful business practices and in human rights abuses. Specifically, the report detailed ExxonMobil’s financing of Indonesian military and police acts of human rights abuse and involvement in drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and extortion.
On June 20, the International Labor Rights Fund filed suit against ExxonMobil in federal court in Washington, D.C. The plaintiffs are 11 villagers living near ExxonMobil facilities in Lhokseumawe, Aceh, who lost family members and suffered rape and torture, allegedly at the hands of the military hired by the energy giant as security. According to the International Crisis Group and other sources, the Indonesian military raises as much as 75 percent of its operating budget from legal and illegal business ventures. Jereski’s report argues that drug running, arms trafficking and prostitution—including child prostitution—by the military contribute to regional instability and harm democratization efforts, as well as undermining the U.S. government’s war on drugs. ExxonMobil hands over $6 million dollars a year to the military, ostensibly for their security. The U.S. Congress has severely restricted military aid and training for the Indonesian military because of its widespread human rights abuses.
Indications of corruption, in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, surfaced with a 1999 PricewaterhouseCoopers “Special Audit” of Pertamina, ExxonMobil’s partner in natural gas operations in Aceh. The audit revealed widespread “inefficiencies” due to corruption, collusion and nepotism in Pertamina procurement transactions. According to the audit, there were $4.6 billion in losses. Since its formation in 1968 under the dictator Suharto, Pertamina has been a major source of funding for the military. ExxonMobil has neither disavowed their partner’s activities nor dissolved the partnership.
Jereski was a colleague of the murdered Acehnese human rights lawyer, Jafar Siddiq Hamzah. Hamzah was murdered in Indonesia in August 2000, while investigating ExxonMobil’s abuses in the resource-rich province of Aceh. The report, “The Conflict in Aceh and U.S. Interests in Promoting a Free Market, Stability and Human Rights in South East Asia—An Examination of the Context and Impacts of ExxonMobil’s Security Arrangements with the Indonesian Armed Forces,” is available on the website of the Harvard University Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Studies Program at http://preventconflict.org/portal/main/research/jereski.htm.
Fasters Arrested at U.N.
Ten people were arrested August 22 for bringing a meal of cooked lentils and rice to the steps of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. They were attempting to share a meal with staff of the mission and engage in dialogue about how the sanctions against Iraq affect civilians in that country. Several members of the group were on the 17day of a 40-day fast calling for an end to the sanctions. They have titled their fast, “Breaking Ranks.”
One week earlier, New York City police arrested 12 people who had approached the mission steps on the same errand of mercy. Charged with obstruction and criminal trespass, those 12 face trial on September 20. The Fasters, all members of the Chicago-based anti-sanctions group Voices in the Wilderness, returned on the 22nd, some of them having recently traveled to Iraq in direct violation of U.S. law and the 11-year embargo. Among them was Kathy Kelly of the Chicago, nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Kelly said, “We are trying to encourage the member states of the U.N. to ‘break ranks’ with the U.S. in its insistence on endless sanctions for Iraq. We also ask for the U.S. to seek reconciliation with the peoples of Iraq, to stop the continued bombing and terror, and to embrace peaceful means to solve any conflict between the two nations.”
In an August 20 letter of invitation to the staff of the U.S. Mission, the group wrote, “We are again inviting you to partake with us in a simple meal of cooked lentils, rice, and bread, along with unpurified water, (we don’t want to drink it and neither do Iraqi people). The meal symbolizes our concern because many Iraqis have subsisted on this food for 11 years. It also represents our earnest interest in breaking bread with you.
“We’d like to discuss the perspective of Mr. Hubert Vedrine, the French Foreign Minister, who stated: ‘Economic sanctions on Iraq are cruel, ineffective and dangerous: They are cruel because they punish exclusively Iraqi people and the weakest among them. They are ineffective because they don’t touch the regime, which is not encouraged to cooperate, and they are dangerous because they … accentuate the disintegration of Iraqi society.’ Several of us have seen and heard, first hand, evidence of the disintegration Mr. Vedrine deplores. We mean you no harm or inconvenience in wanting to talk with you. And of course 1we are easily available as we vigil outside your building each day.”
Those arrested are Ceylon Mooney of Memphis, TN; Kathy Kelly, MikiLu Peters and Nate Peters, all of Chicago; Rev. Jerry Zawada of Hammond, IN; Peter De Mott of Ithaca, NY; Athir Shayota of Harlem, NY; Ed Lewinson of New Jersey; Felton Davis of New York City; and Cynthia Banas of Vernon, NY. For more information, call contact the Chicago office of voices in the Wilderness, 773-784-8065, www.nonviolence.org/vitw.
—Voices in the Wilderness
Activist-folksinger Mimi Fariña died July 18 at her home in Mill Valley, CA, from complications of neuroendocrine cancer. She was 56. Fariña, sister of folk star Joan Baez, was the founder of Bread & Roses, a California nonprofit that produces concerts and other performances for the imprisoned, the sick and the homeless.
“We have lost a unique person in the world of arts and social service, a woman whose talent, imagination, focus and deep caring led her to bring the joy of live entertainment to [more than] 250,000 people isolated from society, “ said Cassandra Flipper, Executive Director of Bread & Roses. And Fariña’s sister Joan Baez recalled, “Mimi filled empty souls with hope and song. She held the aged and forgotten in her light. She reminded prisoners that they were human beings with names and not just numbers. The devastation I feel at losing her is unbearable. But knowing that her life’s work will remain with us and flourish helps bring solace.”
Born Margarita Mimi Baez in Palo Alto, California in 1945 to a British mother and Mexican father, Fariña was raised a Quaker, which encouraged her strong social conscience and her steadfast belief in nonviolence. She played piano and violin as a child and later learned guitar along with her sister Joan during the folk revival of the late 1950s and early ’60s. In Paris, she met Richard Fariña, whom she married in 1963. Their songs were recorded on two albums for Vanguard Records. Tragically, Richard died in a motorcycle accident in 1966.
Later, Mimi joined the San Francisco Committee, an improvisational troupe of socio-political satirists. She eventually returned to songwriting and singing and recorded albums in 1971 and 1986. In 1974, she conceived the idea for Bread & Roses in 1974. Her vision then was that the warmth and human contact of live performance would be healing to audiences shut away from the outside world, and at the same time life-enhancing for the performers. Over the years, the organization has been supported by performing artists including Pete Seeger, Bonnie Raitt, Paul Winter, Odetta, Lily Tomlin, Taj Mahal, Joni Mitchell, B.B. King, Robin Williams, Huey Lewis, Boz Scaggs, Maria Muldaur, Carlos Santana and Judy Collins.
In March of last year, Bread & Roses celebrated its 25th anniversary with a sold-out gala concert in San Francisco. The organization now presents more than 500 shows annually to 100-plus institutions in the San Francisco Bay Area: hospitals, convalescent homes, homeless shelters, detention facilities for adults and youth, centers for the developmentally disabled, drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities for adults and youth and special schools for children and teens. Offshoots around the country do the same work elsewhere.
Fariña noted in an interview last year, “You know at the end of a Bread & Roses show that you’ve reached people on a level of art and spirit.” And as acoustic guitarist and singer/songwriter Keb’ Mo’ said recently during a performance with Bonnie Raitt at San Quentin State Prison, “It’s a soul-to-soul experience.”
Fariña is survived by her parents Albert Baez, Ph.D., of Greenbrae, CA, and Joan Baez Sr., of Woodside, CA, her sisters Joan Baez and Pauline Bryan of Carmel Valley, CA, and Mimi’s partner Paul Liberatore of Mill Valley, CA. A public celebration of her life was held August 7 in San Francisco. For more information about Fariña’s life and legacy, contact Bread & Roses, 233 Tamalpais Drive, Suite 100, Corte Madera, CA 94925, 415-945-7120; www.breadandroses.org.
—Bread & Roses Job
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