Saturday, January 16, 2010

"…Higher ups at Chevron are freaking out."

It didn’t take much for Chevron to get mad and show some muscle at the Houston Marathon. Runners, representing the Rainforest Action Network, bought a booth in the Expo Center, where participants picked up their packets, to display materials about their organization, as well as Chevron’s bad practices in Ecuador. Trouble with that is Chevron is a sponsor of the marathon. When Chevron found out about the booth, they called Marathon Managing Director Steven Karpas. Karpas then told the RAN runners they had to leave because “the higher ups at Chevron are freaking out.” Karpas called the police who escorted them out.

I find it impossible to understand Chevron’s reasoning. Haven’t anyone there thought for a second that denying somebody’s right to free speech and going as low as this will bring more damage to Chevron’s already shattered image than do any good?!

I guess the good news is that Chevron drew more attention to the RAN runners and their message. Now, everyone in the Houston press is talking about it!

You can read more about the incident and RAN’s press release here:

Below is a story that ran in the Houston Press.

By Paul Knight in Spaced City
Fri., Jan. 15 2010

A group of marathon runners were kicked out and banned from the ChevronMarathon Expo for displaying material that was critical of the oil company,but one of the runners tells Hair Balls that the group is continuing asplanned.

"We are still going to, at least try to, run the race on Sunday. We arecompletely undeterred," says Briana Cotter, a member of the RainforestAction Network. "Chevron puts on the marathon so they can pretend like theycare about the community, but the reality is that communities all over theworld are suffering, and even dying, because of Chevron's behaviors."

The runners from Rainforest Action Network -- the main office is in SanFrancisco -- are participating in the marathon on behalf of EmergildoCrillo, an Ecuadorean man who they believe is dying, along with his family,from the billions of gallons of toxic sludge that has been allegedly dumpedin the rainforest during the last three decades. Chevron is involved in acourt battle in Ecuador because of the sludge.

Steven Karpas, the managing director of the Chevron marathon, wasn'timmediately available for comment.

The problems started for the Rainforest group earlier today, when it wassetting up a booth for the marathon's expo, an event that runs today andtomorrow. "There's a million causes that have tables that are trying toraise money through the marathon, and we thought we were just one of them,"Cotter says.

According to Cotter, Karpas came over to the booth and said that "Chevronhigher-ups were freaking out," and he told the group it had to leave immediately or be arrested.

"We were very nicely escorted out by police, and all of our things were taken away," Cotter says. (Here's an electronic version of a pamphlet the group planned to handout.)

When the group races on Sunday -- if they are allowed -- Cotter says therunners plan on wearing t-shirts that say, "I'm running for Emergildo. AskChevron why." The group also has about 2,000 stickers, Cotter says, thatdisplay a similar message."

Before we got kicked out, we had talked to a group of high school studentsand they were really excited, saying, 'We want to wear those human rightsstickers. We care about human rights,'" Cotter says. "So they'll be runningwith the stickers on Sunday."

The Rainforest Action Network also plans to have supporters -- Houstonlocals trying to change Chevron, Cotter says -- planted at different pointsalong the marathon route, and they'll be holding 20-foot banners that saythings like "Energy shouldn't cost lives."

"So we'll be there, and if [Chevron] continue to suppress our right to freespeech, we'll have visible signs to get out our message," Cotter says.The whole thing could make for an interesting Sunday. Let's just hope itdoesn't include tear gas and riot gear.

If Karpas gets back with Hair Balls, we'll be sure to update the story.

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