Diary of An Eco-Outlaw: Taking on the Corporate Polluters, Jail Be Damned
Renegade activist and Texas shrimper Diane Wilson was arrested in London two weeks ago while protesting outside BP's annual meeting. Wilson, who has successfully fought Formosa to keep them from dumping toxins in the bay near her home and chained herself to an oxide tower to protest Dow Chemical's refusal to take responsibility for Bophal, was attempting to enter the meeting and present BP directors with a Black Planet Award when she was taken into custody.
Wilson is the author of An Unreasonable Woman and Holy Roller. Her latest book, Diary of an Eco-Outlaw: An Unreasonable Woman Breaks the Law for Mother Earth, is available now from Chelsea Green.
The following excerpt from Diary of an Eco-Outlaw recounts the story of another direct action against BP-during an Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hearing at the Capitol last May with fellow Code Pink Co-founder Medea Benjamin.
I could feel the buzz growing about Hayward. Security was tightened. Bags were being checked. Absolutely no protests or demonstrations were being tolerated. Anything that looked like a protest sign was being confiscated. Everything at the Capitol was leading up to Tony Hayward's appearance in the energy hearing the following day. The room was gonna be packed.
Medea said, "We gotta get there early. Those chair-sitters, holding seats for those lawyers, will be there at midnight waiting to get in." So five of us went down to the Capital at ten o'clock that night and we were the first ones there.
There are rules for chair-sitters. No leaning, no sleeping. And it's best to number yourself so there won't be any confusion on who's first in line. I was wearing jeans, T-shirt, and rain boots. I was looking as close to a shrimper as I could. Ann had on her BP worker outfit and Medea was still trying to get in with her bird costume. At seven o'clock the next morning the line of sitters outside was led in through a back door and paraded straight to the Senate energy door. A line grew rapidly behind us. By eight o'clock there were a hundred people standing in line and every one of them kept gawking at the front of the line to see if maybe they misunderstood and they weren't actually so far back. Then the cops showed up. No, Medea's costume would not go. Take it off, Medea. This is our hall, the cops said. Our hall. I was okay in what I was wearing because I could be anybody. Ann's outfit was kinda all right. Maybe maybe, they said.
Medea had a pink bag full of everything in the sun: complete change of clothes, paint, pens, pink construction paper, and tape. Medea slipped me a little tube of black paint and I stuck it in my side pocket. Would they check me again?
Nope. I went straight into room 2123 of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee in the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill with paint in my pocket.
The room was huge, with ordinary wood paneling, but it looked smaller as it filled up. I got as close as I could on an inside aisle. It would be harder for a cop to grab me there. He'd have to tromp all over those other people to grab me. Then I did the same thing I did in Lisa Murkowski's hearing. I waited. This time I waited for Tony Hayward to come in with all his experts and sit behind a giant oak table.
When Tony Hayward arrived at the hearing the room fell silent except for the constant clicking of camera shutters. He talked quietly in a huddle with his BP delegation. There were about ten of them. What could they possibly be discussing that they didn't talk about earlier? I know they stood for at least ten minutes, never sitting, moving like a field of grass in the wind. Someone joked, "Why won't they sit down? They don't want to be sitting ducks?" Tony Hayward took a slow turn around the room and bumped into my face. I was standing in the back with Ann and Medea and we had pulled signs out of our coats and shirts. I think my sign was a fish with the words printed: Help! I had coated one hand in black paint and I held it up for Tony to see.
When he finally sat down, at least twenty photographers with long lenses crouched on the floor in front of him and watched his every blink and gesture. Any movement he made set off a flurry of camera shots.
At ten o'clock the hearing began with Tony Hayward the sole witness.
Seventy-five minutes later and still not a peep out of Tony Hayward. Lawmaker after lawmaker made a speech. Some gave similar complaints about BP safety record, some defended the oil companies and attacked the Obama administration-among them Joe Barton, the ranking Republican on the full energy committee and a repre¬sentative from Texas, who said he wanted to apologize to BP. He was ashamed of what happened in the White House. "I think it is a trag¬edy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I could characterize as a shakedown, in this case a $20 billion shakedown."
I was muttering to myself, Oh Joe, shame shame on you. I think if I'd had a shoe instead of rubber boots, I'd have thrown one at him. He was talking, of course, about the government's desire to make BP agree to set aside twenty billion dollars for cleanup, to make good on its promise that they'd just take care of everything (or everything that anyone could prove, particularly after they controlled most of the evidence stream). But twenty billion, it turns out, looks to be a drop in the bucket of the real cost to fix what can be fixed in the ecosys¬tem, pay restitution for lost livelihoods in fishing areas, and deal with the ongoing environmental and health problems caused by the spill. Thank you, Joe.
Next was Hayward. He was the only one left to speak. I got the tube of paint out of my pocket and held it between my two hands and shoved. Paint oozed out. Then nonchalantly, as though, I was brushing a fly off my nose, I brushed my hand against my face. Then I took my other hand and scratched my forehead, smearing more black paint. I inched forward on my chair. I glanced to the door. A guard was watch¬ing me. I turned my head and waited for Tony.
Tony's first words and I was up. I stood with both blackened hands in the air and I screamed as loud as I could. "This is what the Gulf looks like, Tony! This is what the fish look like! Do you see what you've done to the Gulf? You need to be arrested, Tony! You need to be arrested! Tony, you need to be arrested!"
By that third and fourth sentence, there was pandemonium behind me; people were trying to drag me down and grab my arms, but I kept yanking away and yelling. "YOU NEED TO BE ARRESTED, TONY!"
I don't remember how long I stood up, but it felt like a long time. I don't know who was pulling on me or what anyone in the room was doing. I had one pinpoint of sight and it was fixed on Tony Hayward-actually, the back of Tony Hayward's head. He never fully turned around, only slightly. It was though someone next to him had whispered, Don't do it. Don't do it.
I was finally dragged to the floor with chairs knocked everywhere. It felt like dozens of people were on top of me, holding me down, grab¬bing my arms. But then as I was jerked back up, I lunged toward Tony again and hollered, "YOU NEED TO BE ARRESTED, TONY!"
For that I got two charges: resisting arrest and unlawful conduct. That made three charges and for that I got sent to Central Block. The farther I got from the Capitol and the closer to Central Block the meaner it got. Nobody in Central Block gave a dang that you were fighting for the Gulf. It was just better to shut your mouth in Central Block. I had lots of company in Central Block, mostly young black women, and everyone was mad about something.
I spent one day and one night in Central Block and then was spewed into a courtroom in the District Court of Columbia where a judge told me to show up for court in one month. If I failed to show I'd have a warrant issued for my arrest and be given 180 days in jail. And that was just for starters.