Protestors Accuse Chevron of Environmental Racism in Palestine and Richmond

Protestors painted a mural with the demands “Ceasefire now” and “stop fueling genocide” during a pro-Palestine rally Saturday outside Chevron Richmond. (Photo by Taylor Barton)

By Taylor Barton

Hundreds of protestors, including Mayor Eduardo Martinez, rallied outside Chevron’s Richmond refinery Saturday to call the corporation out for its work with Israel and demand a permanent cease-fire in Gaza.

Organizers expressed anger at the effects the local refinery has had on Richmond residents and said they felt solidarity with those in Gaza who they say are suffering at the hands of the same corporation.

The rally marks the beginning of a local call to boycott and divest from Chevron for its role in “fueling the ongoing occupation of Palestine,” said the Chevron Out of Palestine coalition in a press release. They point to Chevron’s work with the Tamar and Leviathan gas fields in disputed eastern Mediterranean waters.

“Environmental racism is a tactic of colonial oppression and economic warfare,” said an organizer from the Palestinian Feminist Collective onstage at the event who asked to remain unnamed. “It is equally environmental racism when Chevron pollutes the air in Richmond, harming thousands for profit.”

>>>Read: East Bay Organizers Demand Cease-Fire in Gaza

Dr. Jess Ghannam, an organizer from Health Care Workers for Palestine, agreed: “In addition to the genocide, there’s environmental terrorism going on in Gaza right now and throughout Palestine.”

He’s not the only one who thinks so. At COP28, the U.N.’s annual climate summit in November, activists and global leaders reportedly raised concerns that Gaza could become an “environmental catastrophe.”

“Air, water and land are being destroyed as we speak,” Ghannam said. “Now, does that sound familiar to anybody who lives in Richmond?”

Murmurs of “Yes” rolled through the crowd.

Air pollution is a regular concern for many Richmonders. According to the UCSF’s Respiratory Health Lab, “the prevalence of asthma in California is approximately 13%. In Richmond, CA, it approaches 25%. In addition, asthma attack rates are almost double the state rate.”

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District also lists Richmond as an overburdened community, which it defines as “especially vulnerable” to air pollution between location, sensitivity and socioeconomic factors linked to poor healthcare.

“Throughout the years, I have seen the Richmond Chevron refinery explode and send 15,000 residents to the hospitals, spill oil into our San Pablo Bay and flare constantly,” said Lily Saefong, a youth organizer with the Asian Pacific Environmental Network.

Chevron Out of Palestine is a self-described coalition of East Bay residents, environmental justice advocates, and over 40 local grassroots organizations. Saturday’s protestors were a diverse group, with grandparents alongside toddlers and activists from far-ranging causes. The rally included poetry, songs, prayers and the group painting of a street mural that read “Ceasefire Now. Chevron stop fueling genocide.” At one point, young kids from East Bay Families 4 Ceasefire took the mic to lead a squeaky but passionate call and response.

>>>Read: Youth Lead Pro-Palestine Vigil at Unity Park

“There is no Palestinian freedom without an end to systemic gender, sexual and colonial violence,” said the Palestinian Feminist Collective organizer. “And there is no liberation without confronting systemic racism against Black women and Palestinian women.”

According to Chevron’s website, the corporation began operations in the region after merging with Noble Energy, Inc., another U.S.-owned company, in 2020. The Tamar gas reservoir provides 70% of Israel’s electricity needs, the company says.

What does this have to do with Gaza? “The Chevron corporation supplies Israel’s genocide with light and power,” organizers said.

Some critics question the effectiveness of demonstrations like Saturday’s, citing the unlikeliness that a major corporation like Chevron would shut down costly operations because of a rally in California. The Leviathan oil field alone produced $2.5 billion in revenue last year, the New York Times reported.

But demonstrators say that’s not the point.

“I don’t think a single action is going to help them grow a conscience, but I think the public pressure like BDS is working,” said Sheela Ivlev, a local occupational therapist who shuttled participants back and forth to the BART station.

She’s referring to Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions, a national movement that aims to “end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law.”

“Just naming, shaming and providing people with education is significant,” she said. “So just your attention or people showing up or educating themselves, that exponentially grows.”

>>>Read: City of Richmond Officially Stands With People of Palestine

Mayor Martinez and others onstage emphasized the difference between Chevron’s workers and those in charge of the corporation.

“I know the workers are listening. And I know the workers would be out here with us if it didn’t impact their livelihood,” Martinez said in an interview after his speech.

According to a report it issued in 2021, Chevron’s Richmond location employs some 3,000 workers and contractors, and is the largest energy producer in the Bay Area.

When asked whether getting rid of Richmond’s refinery would harm jobs for Richmonders, Martinez immediately said, “That’s bull—.”

“Most of the people who work in Chevron don’t even live in Richmond,” he said. “There would be a lot of environmental work in cleaning up the mess that they’ve created. And if we do it wisely, we can have a transition in which jobs are created as jobs are being dismantled.”

Chevron did not return any calls or emails from the Contra Costa Pulse for this story.

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