Gulf Coast Fisherwoman ‘Breaches the Peace’ at BP Shareholder Meeting

By Renee Feltz
Democracy Now

Security officers at BP’s shareholder meeting [on April 14] in London blocked the entrance of a delegation of four fishermen and women from the Louisiana and Texas Gulf Coast area heavily damaged by last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Among them was Diane Wilson, a fourth-generation fisherwoman from the Texas Gulf Coast. She was there to present BP executives with the Ethecon Black Planet award for companies who represent a danger to the planet.

Wilson is a past recipient of the the group’s Blue Planet Award and author of Diary of an Eco-Outlaw An Unreasonable Woman Breaks the Law for Mother Earth. She confronted BP’s former CEO Tony Hayward when he testified before Congress last June. She told Democracy Now! what happened when she tried to enter the BP meeting.

Click to listen

RENÉE FELTZ: Can you describe what happened? Did you go up to the BP shareholder meeting with the fishermen? And what was their response when you tried to enter?

DIANE WILSON: Well, all five of us were staying together, and we all had proxies. And a proxy is when someone owns stock, a BP share, but they are not going, so they’ll allow, you know, another person to attend the general meeting and speak out. And it’s a very legitimate way of speaking, and all of us were legally allowed within. And when I walked in—you know, I was separate from the group—the head of security just got right in front of me, and two cops came along, and they said I could not go in. And I said, “I have a proxy,” and I showed it to him. And he said, “I don’t care. You’re not going in.” I said, “For what reason?” And he said, “I don’t have to have a reason. You’re just not going in.”

And I refused to leave. I said I was going to go in. And then they pulled in more police, and was blocking every avenue for me even to get inside. And then there was a large—large group of media that happened to catch the cops blocking the way. And so, they were on one side pushing, and the cops were on the other side pushing. And actually, a couple times I got caught in between and nearly fell down.

And believe it or not, I had the Black Planet Award, which is a very cheap little globe, and it’s been—it’s been painted by the children of Berlin, actually. And I had that with me. When I saw they absolutely were going to do everything they could to block me out, I had a baggy of molasses I had stuck in my bra, believe it or not, and I ripped it out, and I put it on my face, and I put it on my hands. And I said, “This is why they do not want us in here. They want us to go away. They want us to be quiet. They do not want any attention brought on this oil.” And so, I probably stood there for, oh, 20 or 30 minutes, and eventually they arrested me. They hauled me off and arrested me.

I was charged with disrupting the peace. And I kept laughing about that, and I said, “Disrupting the peace for BP?” That was pretty outrageous. You know, they had disrupted our lives down there. But just appearing at the door of a BP general assembly, and we’re disrupting the peace. And they took me down to the Forest Gate Metropolitan Police. And I must say, the police in London are extremely, extremely nice. They kept wanting to get me coffee. They kept wanting to—they asked if I was feeling all right. They were very, very kind. And I was stuck in a holding cell for—I’d say about 11:30 to about almost 6:00. Then they released me. They said I wasn’t charged with a criminal offense and that they had arrested me because—I guess this is something they do to keep you from causing more trouble. So—and they kept me until the entire general assembly meeting was over with and everyone had left. And then, that’s when they let me go.

RENÉE FELTZ: And how are you feeling now? What’s your state of mind about everything and with BP, and with not being able to get inside to confront them?

DIANE WILSON: Well, I am floored. I cannot believe BP did this. I mean, this is poor public relations. I cannot imagine, on the—almost the anniversary of the—of that, the nation’s worst oil spill, that BP, on the anniversary, would treat a delegation from the Gulf Coast this way. I cannot believe it. I cannot even imagine who thought of something like that. And I do know the delegation is extremely angry. It really made quite a number of shareholders and a lot of the groups that were protesting for their own various causes, it made them all very, very angry. I’m still amazed they did that. I really am. I’m kind of shocked.

####

The following excerpt from Diary of an Eco-Outlaw: An Unreasonable Woman Breaks the Law for Mother Earth 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.

####

Read the first 15 pages of Diary of an Eco-Outlaw here. Watch a TV news report here.

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