Protesters March on Richmond Oil Chevron Refinery

A handful of protesters quickly grew to hundreds Saturday as activists marched on the third anniversary of Citizens United, a Supreme Court ruling giving corporate entities the ability to donate unlimited amounts of money as free speech.

Organized by “Money Out, Voters In” as part of a national day of action, activists young and old marched to the pomp and circumstance of the Brass Liberation Orchestra.

Their trek took them almost three miles through the city center of Richmond. Starting at the Richmond BART station, they crossed the historically poor, working-class Iron Triangle to the wealthy Point Richmond, ending at the gates of the Richmond Chevron Oil Refinery.

Police cars with their sirens on pulled ahead of the growing band of protesters, blocking the opposing lane as they safely made their way across the city. Bystanders looked on curiously as the raucous troupe of activists marched ceremoniously through the neighborhood. Some raised their fist in approval; many simply stood in their yards and stared.

Common Cause and Rootstrikers, two non-profits focused on accountability in politics, had the largest presence in the march. They were accompanied by dozens of other local environmental and political action groups.

Common Cause interns William Sink and Shoshana Wechsler were responsible for organizing the event, which Sink says was fully planned in six weeks. The Richmond Progressive Alliance provided the organizations a place to meet and organize, he said.

“What a lot of people here have in common is that they are all angry about how Chevron pollutes our democracy and the environment,” Sink said. He claimed that Chevron last year invested $1.2 million in the Richmond City Council race, through the Moving Forward PAC.

“They effectively bought two new candidates,” he said, by funding their campaigns and launching smear attacks against their opponents. “You can bet the city won’t be able to put as much money to progressive laws as in the past.”

Sink, who was leading the march, left the standard bearers alone at the front of the line as they continued to march along the Richmond Greenway Trail. The regiment ground to a halt when the trail came to an end: they had the choice to go either right or left.

A police officer pulled up to the side of the road, stepped out of his car, and calmly pointed the group of protester in the right direction. The protesters waved thanks, and continued down the road.

At Gate 14 of the Richmond Chevron Refinery, a large group awaited the arrival of the marching band. Having finally united, the full group of activists stood in the outside lane of the four lane road listening to the Brass Liberation Orchestra play one last time before Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin spoke to the crowd of now roughly 300 people. An elderly Black brother and sister danced to the music, outfitted with matching pink gas masks. Police officers stood coolly in the distance.

McLaughlin spoke defiantly against Chevron and acknowledged the role their donations had in influencing the Richmond City Council race. “They keep coming back at us, so we keep coming back at them,” McLaughlin said, noting the economic and environmental impact the Richmond Chevron Refinery has on the city. “They have rained pollution over Richmond and the surrounding neighborhoods for decades,” she said. After the accident at the refinery last August, 15,000 people were hospitalized for respiratory problems.

Jose Rivera, who is part of the Occupy movement and is a member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, said he was a victim of Chevron’s actions in the community. He was affected by the accident.

“The day of the explosion – I live right down the street – I seen the mushroom cloud over my house,” Rivera said. “I got sick from it, and I’m still having respiratory problems to this day over it.”

Members from dozens of other organizations, including and the Richmond Progressive Alliance, gave speeches and provided their own ideas for how to make their voices heard by politicians.

The Local Teamsters Union voiced their support and said that they will do “anything they can do” to help fight against Chevron and corporate money in politics. Several environmental groups condemned Chevron for dumping toxic chemicals in other countries, like Ecuador. They praised the successful prosecution of Chevron last October for their alleged contamination of villages in the oil-rich Amazon from 1964 to 1992.

Denny Larson, Executive Director of the Global Community Monitor, related a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that he claimed made a case for the environmental movement. King said, “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.” It is important that people take care of the environment and hold Chevron accountable, Larson said.

Chevron could not be reached for comment.