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Protestors, which included both national and local officers from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, joined forces with environmentalists and even some shareholders, lambasting oil giant ExxonMobil, along with other major oil companies, and demanding action that would help to reverse the skyrocketing gas prices crippling many Americans.
Bearing picket signs, the national SCLC led a protest outside ExxonMobil’s annual shareholders meeting, held May 28 at the Morton Meyerson Symphony Center. The organization came to Dallas to launch a direct action campaign and announce their rolling boycott of the top five oil companies started in May.
“It’s not about the profit anymore—it’s the people,” said Derrick Bowman, president of the SCLC Dallas chapter. “We’re [expecting] that by the end of the year, there’s a 25 percent price decrease. We’re here to join forces with the environmentalist groups to let ExxonMobil know, from an organization standpoint, that enough is enough.”
SCLC national president Charles Steele considers the gas crisis a definite civil rights issue and said his organization is exercising a moral responsibility to call for the boycott.
Rev. Charles Stovall, pastor of Munger Place United Methodist Church and former SCLC state director, cited incidents where facilities ran by ExxonMobil and other oil companies are, in neglect, emitting toxic chemicals that have caused serious diseases among citizens in mostly minority and low-income neighborhoods where the plants are closely located. It’s a matter of those major companies truly practicing Christian values and social principles, he said.
“I’m here because I’m a Christian, a concerned citizen and a man of conscience,” Stovall said. “The corporations are not just responsible to its shareholders; they’re responsible to the other stakeholders. That includes people in the communities where they have facilities. That includes the environment and the world community.”
ExxonMobil is the first station under SCLC’s boycott, to end June 12. The boycott will then “roll” on the 12th of each month to Shell, British Petroleum, Chevron and Phillips 66.
“It is simply immoral that everyday Americans face a gas crisis that is literally destroying homes while a company like ExxonMobil makes nearly $10 billion in profits during the first quarter alone,” Steele said. “The only way that gas prices are going to be brought down is if Americans take a stand and break the stifling silence of acceptance.
“Enough is enough!”
With oil prices exceeding an all-time record high $130 a barrel, the average price of gas has risen 21 cents in just the past two weeks. Since October of 2005, average prices have risen 53 percent, from $2.49 to $3.80. With some cities seeing regular unleaded gasoline surpass $4 a gallon, it has caused many independent trucking companies to go under, as the average cost to fill an 18-wheeler tank has exceeded $1,200. Other companies are implementing four 10-hour workweek schedules, as opposed to the standard five 8-hour days, so that their employees can commute less to their jobs.
A recent poll by Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 44 percent of the American population now cites the price of gasoline as a “serious problem,” while 63 percent of families with incomes of less than $30,000 see soaring gas prices as a serious concern. More demand for oil from developing foreign nations as well as the United States, has been tagged as the main reason. According to the Energy Information Administra-tion, the price of oil in 2002, before the United States entered the War in Iraq, was $22 a barrel.
“People don’t have to put up with it,” Stovall encouraged. “The shareholders should get in touch with their humanity and their human heart and think about what it means for a parent to be by the bedside of a child dying of cancer or asthma.”
Some shareholders have. Resolutions introduced at the annual meeting included recommendations such as ExxonMobil formally establishing greenhouse gas emissions goals, strengthening the policy on renewable energy products and conducting energy technology studies on how the company can be more energy conscious and independent.
“Do this in a way that’s going to move this nation toward energy independence,” said Michael Crosby during a press conference of consciously minded shareholders the day before the annual meeting. He proposed the Energy Technology Report resolution. “Right now ExxonMobil is totally locked into sourcing from more and more volatile nations, whether it’s things going on politically or a pipeline problems. They’re locked into a model that is getting more and more apparent that it’s no longer going to be viable. Things have changed so rapidly in the past year.”
Civil rights activist Peter Johnson also called for oil companies to end “overt environmental racism.”
“I’m with the voices against exploitation of American citizens with the price of oil and gas and also against our sacred earth,” Johnson said.
Via a press release, Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil chairman and CEO, said his company is consciously aware of all the issues plaguing the community.
“Energy security, economic growth and environmental impacts are increasingly on the minds of people today,” Tillerson said. “We’re focused on safely and reliably meeting the growing energy demand while working to reduce our impact on the environment.”
Steele added that the SCLC’s direct action campaign will include demonstrations at various oil companies, working with politicians to hold congressional hearings and other strategies.