Seize BP protest draws small crowd with big demands
Honking at the corner of Cahuenga and Sunset is not unusual. As one of the busiest intersections in Los Angeles, traffic congestion fills the area with idling cars commuting home.
On June 17, the ANSWER Coalition, along with other activists, urged the public to honk against British Petroleum. The activist organization chose that corner to protest against inaction over BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A group of about 20 protesters formed at 5 p.m. in front of the CNN building. After one hour, the group quietly dispersed.
“We don’t stand with BP like the government does,” said ANSWER Coalition organizer and anti-war activist, Michael Prysner. “We’re going to demand change here on the street.”
The Seize BP campaign is a grass-roots effort demanding the seizure of BP’s assets in order to adequately cover reparations for victims of the oil spill.
A flurry of signs was directed toward the public urging drivers to honk and join the cause. One sign took issue with BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg’s reference to the “small people” of the affected areas. A large banner with contact information and the slogan “Seize BP” was held in plain view, saying “freeze its assets now.”
A brief press conference was held at 5:30 p.m. Members of the group felt the emotional disconnect perceived during the Katrina disaster of 2005 is comparable to that of the recent oil spill and collateral damage surrounding it.
“It felt like we weren’t Americans for a while there, and it kind of feels that way again,” said Danielle Norwood, member of ANSWER.
Norwood recently joined ANSWER in response to the BP oil spill. She was raised near Choctaw County, Alabama and has family living near the coast. Their community depends on off-shore jobs, which creates an uneasy relationship.
“Some of them are mad at me for protesting because it’s their only money,” said Norwood. “They don’t trust the government and they don’t believe things can change. They’re willing to risk another disaster rather than face the prospect of risking change.”
Dan Buonsanto, who subscribes to ANSWER’s e-mail blasts, observed the protest with conflicting feelings. “I’m not sure if seizure is really the answer,” he said.
However, Buonsanto believed that something not dissimilar to a coup d’état needs to happen in the United States.
“We’re run by banks and corporations, not by the people.” he said. “We need a revolution, a bloody revolution.”
Buonsanto also attended a rally held in Long Beach. He said he was glad to see a larger amount of people at the Los Angeles event.
Prysner used the victims of the Exon Valdez spill in 1989 as an example of what he didn’t want to happen again. It took 20 years for compensation to reach the victims of that event. When asked what could make a difference this time around, Prysner felt the BP escrow was a good indication of the people’s voices being heard.
“Even though the escrow fund is completely inadequate, they would have got off with much less,” said Prysner. “That only happened as a reaction to the growing demonstrations and growing anger of the American people. That right there is an example of the gains we have made.”
BP agreed to an escrow account totaling $20 billion. However, the funds will not be provided in one sum but over the course of years. $5 billion will be made available by December of 2010, with $1.25 billion contributed to the account each fiscal quarter. It will take three years to accumulate the full total.
Prysner was clear that their fight was not over. He said the congressional hearing of BP’s CEO Tony Hayward made it clear how much further they needed to press this issue.
“It was really just a show… a public relations thing,” he said. “It was a wag of the finger from the government. We don’t need rhetoric, we need action. And the growing outrage is the only thing that will convince them of that.”