PROTEST: The Operation People For Peace delegation included (from left to right) Jeffrey Thomas, Dr Art Rocker, Dr E Faye Williams, civil rights activist and former comic Dick Gregory and Jimmie Gardner, chief of Pritchard police outside BP’s offices
US CAMPAIGNERS brought their battle with BP to UK soil this week to demand compensation for voiceless black citizens whose lives have been ruined by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Operation People for Peace wants the British-owned company to pay out $488 million to the small businesses, churches, hoteliers and the ethnic minorities it represents.
It has submitted more than 10,000 claims and says there are many others affected and suffering in silence who have lost their jobs, income and customers.
To press home their point, five high-profile campaign officials flew from the US and set up a protest outside BP’s headquarters in central London, on Wednesday, August 3.
Campaign chairman Dr Art Rocker said: “Almost 90 per cent of our claimants are single parents with an average of two children. Their earnings are below the poverty line. They live in geographic locations and are engaged in occupations that were impacted most by the spill.”
The oil spill, also known as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill started in April 2010 and released approximately 4.9million barrels of crude oil and gas into the ocean, killing 11 and injuring 17 others.
It caused extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats devastating the Gulf’s fishing and tourism industries.
After the US Government found the British firm was responsible for the spillage, BP set up a $20bn compensation fund.
But the campaigners say it is the most vulnerable and disenfranchised claimants who are being overlooked in favour of those with political connections who have been compensated handsomely.
“BP is giving more money in some areas and less in others. We had to come all the way to the UK because they have refused to do anything. They have met with us 14 times and have promised us they would pay in two weeks then in 72 hours. But we have received nothing.”
In a bid to take their campaign to another level, the group is calling for a mass boycott of BP.
Well-known civil rights activist and one of America’s leading satirists Dick Gregory said: “Kenneth Feinberg, a representative of BP who has been allotted $20 billion to settle the claims for damage caused by the BP oil spill, has done nothing to ease the pain of the poor and under-served. He has done nothing but make false promises of payment. I have come to the conclusion that his job is simply to block payments to poor people, not to settle them. “
The Gulf oil spill has been dubbed one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in American history.
Even though the coast is clear a year after the mighty explosion happened 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana, its beaches are still feeling the fallout. Louisiana is home to the second biggest African American population after Mississippi.
A BP spokesperson told The Voice: “Representatives from BP have already met Dr Rocker several times in our office in New Orleans, where we manage our Gulf Coast restoration efforts. We understand Dr Rocker’s concerns are with the payment of claims for compensation. As agreed with the US Government last summer, claims from individuals and businesses for compensation related to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill are handled by the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF), which has so far paid out around $5 billion. The GCCF's claim administrators exercise their own judgment with respect to the evaluation and payment of claims. We have encouraged Dr Rocker to reach out directly to the GCCF to resolve any outstanding issues.”
He added that even though the group had made no appointment, they had spent up to 45 minutes speaking with a senior representative of the company who dealt with shareholders concerns.
Faye Williams, head of the National Congress of black women and a BP shareholder, said: “I’m particularly interested in women and children. A lot of women who worked alongside the Gulf have lost their livelihoods and have not been paid. I’m concerned not just about what has happened to women and children now, but what happens to them in the future, with the environment being heavily damaged by British Petroleum. I know that mothers will have to worry about their children getting more cases of asthma and problems with their immune systems which means children will be sicker than usual.”
She added: “BP referred us to people who do not have the authority to help address our concerns, despite the fact that they knew we were coming to the UK. I think it was the highest form of disrespect.”