Dick Gregory protests BP's treatment of oil spill victims
Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil | 9/7/2011, 11:55 a.m.
Washington, D.C. — Veteran comedian and activist Dick Gregory was arrested last Friday for blocking the entrance way in a protest against British Petroleum for its handling of a $20 billion victims’ compensation fund.
The demonstration targeted Ken Feinberg, the government-appointed administrator of the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon Disaster Victim Compensation Fund, for his alleged failure to fairly compensate the minority victims of last year’s oil spill in the Gulf Coast.
According to Gregory, while big companies and casinos have successfully won compensation, “ordinary people . . . who have no clout” have largely been ignored in the settlements. “It can’t be all minority people who didn’t have the right claims,” Gregory said. “I would like to look at the claims that the casinos put in.”
“The casinos in Mississippi have to be licensed by the state, so immediately they [BP] went in and paid the casinos for all the damage,” Gregory told the Banner over the phone. “And why? Because the government has the clout.”
Also attending the protest was Art Rocker, chairman of Operation People for Peace. Rocker’s Florida-based organization helps low-income and minority workers seeking compensation for lost livelihoods resulting from the oil spill, and so far, it represents more than 10,000 clients.
“There’s probably 10,000 more,” Gregory commented.
According to Rocker, Feinberg agreed to a series of meetings in the past year to discuss settlements for the poor, but negotiations have fizzled and Feinberg has yet to pay out any money to these claimants.
Last week’s protest began outside Feinberg’s office building on Pennsylvania Avenue, just down the street from the White House. The protesters were arrested, however, when they moved inside the building to go to Feinberg’s office. The charges were later dropped.
For Gregory, the goal of the protest was to raise awareness of the issue, particularly to BP stockholders. After the oil spill and the plunge BP’s stock values subsequently took, he explained, stockholders are not looking for any more negative publicity.
“What we’re doing now will have an effect on the stockholders more than anybody because the bad publicity makes the stock go down,” Gregory said. “So that’s what we’re trying to do now, is trying to get them to pay off the folks like they’ve paid off billions of dollars to other folks — the companies.”
“I’ve never understood nothing about shrimp, except the way it tastes,” Gregory continued. “I never put a face on the shrimp, but there’s people that work there. There’s maids that work in hotels that when the hotel goes — and the whole tourist season got wiped out — those maids don’t get paid. And these are the people we’re talking about — these are the ones we’re representing.”
The timing of the demonstration was also strategic, designed to highlight the connection between the labor struggles decades ago with the struggles of the poor today.
“The reason we picked Labor Day weekend is because the same thing is happening to the poor folks, particularly minorities and women, that happened to labor before they had representation,” Gregory explained.
The group will try protesting in front of Feinberg’s office again, but the next step in their campaign will be to approach the U.S. Department of Justice to request a thorough investigation of discrimination in the claims.
In addition, the group will be formally calling for a boycott of BP this Thanksgiving. Like the protest this weekend, the boycott will be strategically timed — but this time, for the 2012 Olympics in London.
According to Gregory, BP is “trying to be a big player in that,” so stockholders will be more sensitive to any negative publicity.
In the end, however, the simple principle of equality is Gregory’s bottom line — to “make them treat everybody the same as they treat the major companies that lost, the people with power who lost.”