By Jeff Friedrich
With more than 200,000 gallons of oil a day pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, New York City residents decided to bring the British Petroleum disaster to the streets of Midtown Manhattan May 12.
“What do you think of the oil spill?” asked schoolteacher Jeanette Caceres, 25, to many of the employees of JPMorgan Chase who were leaving work that day. The bank holds close to 30 percent of British Petroleum’s (BP) public stock, and activists such as Caceres feel it’s time to target the assets of the oil company.
Approximately 15 people participated in the demonstration outside JPMorgan Chase World Headquarters, 270 Park Avenue, as part of a national day of action in 20 cities. The demonstration were organized by the ANSWER Coalition, which is launching a campaign advocating for a seizure of BP assets. “The government of the United States must seize BP and freeze its assets, and place those funds in trust to begin providing immediate relief to the working people throughout the Gulf states whose jobs, communities, homes and businesses are being harmed or destroyed by the criminally negligent actions of the CEO, Board of Directors and senior management of BP,” said the group in a press release.
Demonstrators engaged with JPMorgan Chase employees and people walking on the sidewalk, handed out flyers and chanted slogans, including, “BP: The Ugly Face of Capitalism” and “BP gets rich, people lose their jobs,” while marking within metal barricade fencing that NYPD officers had set up before the demonstration.
“We don’t just want BP to pay for its crime, for the disaster it’s caused,” said New York City ANSWER spokesperson Ben Becker, 26. “We’re calling for BP assets to be seized entirely, that they shouldn’t have the right to continue on as a private company, challenging lawsuits from those seeking compensation.”
JPMorgan and Chase had no official comment about the demonstration and did not respond to later attempts for comment. More than 10 employees leaving the building were approached for comment about the oil spill and the protest; all eventually refused comment and many took a circuitous route around the protest area.
One man leaving the JPMorgan Chase building mocked the protesters, “What protest? For New York, that’s nothing,” he said. Another employee though, a younger man who would not give his name, admitted that the oil spill was “awful,” but declined to comment when asked about the connection the demonstrators were drawing to JP Morgan Chase.
The ANSWER coalition is well known for leading protests against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and for its anti-racism activism. Asked how the group got interested in the oil spill, Becker spoke of larger connections between the issues of racism, poverty and corporate exploitation.
“We want to get out on the streets and continue to talk to people,” Becker said. “A lot of New Yorkers might not feel attached to what’s going on, but we should understand that New York is the center of the corporate world, and that we have a responsibility to stand with the people on the gulf coast who might not have the opportunity to protest against JP Morgan.”
For more information about the campaign, visit answercoalition.org or call 212-694-8720.