“The Wall Street tsunami has hit the West Coast!”
Thus declared Ellis Goldberg, a Danville resident who came out today as part of the Tri-Valley MoveOn/Rebuild the American Dream demonstration in front of Chevron headquarters.
“The protest isn’t just in New York and Washington D.C. - it’s here,” said Goldberg, media coordinator for the organization and president of the Tri-Valley Democratic Club. “It’s all about jobs. Obama asked for $44 billion for jobs, and this is about funding the jobs. That’s what we’re here for.”
About two dozen demonstrators turned out for the peaceful protest, holding signs that read: “End Oil Subsidies,” “Democracy Isn’t For Sale,” “Support Occupy Wall Street,” “End Corporate Greed, Rebuild America,” “Heal America, Tax Wall Street,” and “Chevron Give Up Your Subsidies For The American People.”
“We need jobs, not corporate welfare,” explained Karen Beck, event organizer and MoveOn Tri-Valley coordinator. “The middle class is being asked to give, but we don’t see what’s being asked of corporations – there’s no shared sacrifice there. We don’t have their money, but we have voices and we have votes, and that’s why we’re out here today.”
Dan Johnson, a San Ramon resident, explained: "We are here to protest the oil subsidies that have been given to Chevron, to protest corporate greed, and to promote social responsibility."
Mary Schneider of Pleasanton came dressed as a dancing barrel of oil.
“We’re not against [Chevron employees] having their jobs,” Schneider said. “It’s the corporate willingness to take tax subsidies on top of their huge profits that we’re protesting.”
“We have a government of, by and for the rich,” said Walnut Creek resident Gordon Miller. “They’ve run the country into the ground and we want to change that.”
Miller said the government needs to come up with a serious job package and put an end to warfare. “But campaign finance reform needs to happen before anything else,” he added.
“This is not just a demonstration; we are building a national movement,” said Sheilah Fish, coordinator for MoveOn in Central Contra Costa. “We want to have a more balanced distribution of money in America. Teachers and police officers are losing their jobs. Chevron is here in our back yard… we’re making a point about how much money is going to big oil subsidies.”
Chevron spokesman Sean Comey said there's a lot of misinformation out there.
“It’s very understandable that people are frustrated with the current economic climate,” Comey said. “Unfortunately, what I’ve heard is inaccurate or misleading.”
He explained that subsidies are in fact deductions used by most businesses.
“Our industry pays its fair share in taxes," he said. "Our effective tax rate in the U.S. last year was nearly 32 percent, which is about 5 percent higher than what most industrial companies pay in this country.”
But Comey realizes that people don’t believe it.
“It’s a matter of public record,” he explained. “You’re certainly entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.”
For some of the protesters, the problem goes beyond oil subsidies.
“I’m here because I want to see economic reform and I want to see economic reform that works,” said Amy Pacholuk, a Dublin resident. “I’m very motivated to see people come out to events like this to express their discontent with the government.”
Pacholuk said she is interested in seeing educational reform, especially when it comes to student loans.
“What would this economy look like if we didn’t have student loans to repay?” she asked. “We need to make education accessible to all.”
Lois Flood, a Danville resident, is also concerned about where the money is being spent.
“I am absolutely horrified that we invaded two countries and wasted taxpayers’ money on wars that are totally unnecessary,” Flood said. “We need teachers, police officers, firefighters.”
Castro Valley resident Sonya Howes, a retired teacher, shares Flood’s concerns.
“When we have a major earthquake or other disaster, where will the first responders be?” Howes asked.
“I think we can all agree that we’d like to see more jobs and prosperity,” Comey said. “[Chevron] employs nine million people in this country and pumps a trillion dollars into the economy.”
But he said we can’t tax our way into prosperity.
“We need mutual prosperity. When companies like ours are successful, we can help create a better economy and more jobs.”
But protesters like Beck see a huge disparity. Beck joined the organization about a year ago because she wanted to help make a change.
“I’d had enough,” she said. “Rather than sitting on the couch and talking about it, I decided to get involved. Getting out on the streets is the only way we can bring about change.”
Beck estimates there are about 13,000 MoveOn members in the Tri-Valley area.
The Occupy Wall Street website urges Americans to copy the mass rallies of the Arab Spring to bring about nonviolent change to what protesters say is the 1 percent of people who hold down the other 99 percent.
There will be another protest at Chevron tomorrow from 4 to 6 p.m. Protesters will also be in downtown Walnut Creek tomorrow, in front of the Bank of America building on Main Street.