- Posted November 24, 2012 by
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Being black in 2012
In wake of BP Settlement, SCLC, Art Rocker affirm battle for justice far from over
In a press conference at SCLC international headquarters, SCLC Florida Chairman and activist Art Rocker, along with SCLC CEO Charles Steele, and national Chairman Bernard Lafayette, Jr., recapped the exhaustive battle against the oil giant for restitution to more than 10,000 poor and underserved victims residing within the Gulf Coast region.
Rocker, leader of the advocacy organization Operation People for Peace, first became involved in the battle against BP after receiving an outpouring of pleas for help from women and churches in the affected areas -two groups that he says are cornerstones of the Black community.
According to Rocker, the 4.9 million barrel oilspill forced churches to the brink of extinction, as tithes withered away --a ripple effect of the economic fallout. Women lost their livelihoods and ability to provide for family units as they became displaced from various jobs, including: domestic positions, restaurant and hospitality work; cooking, cleaning and caring for workers' children.
"The Gulf Coast didn't know what to do," Rocker said. "More than 1.4 million jobs were lost, $50 billion in cash, $46 billion in the seafood industry, and BP said it was an accident and they're not at fault."
"Poor people are systematic to the region. When interruption occurs to people who have been poor all their lives, they are confused. Many of them did not even keep receipts," Rocker said.
"We will never know the psychological and long-term effects, or health problems resulting from this tragedy," Lafayette added.
An early activist, Lafayette traveled to the Gulf Coast on a number of occasions with Rocker and former SCLC CEO the Rev. Howard Creecy Jr., in search of justice. Lafayette encouraged Rocker to spin-off from the civil rights organization to form Operation People for Peace in order to tackle the pervasive giant head-on.
An investment banker and stock broker by trade, Rocker formed the Operation People for Peace coalition with Lafayette -a former lieutenant of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; comedian and activist Dick Gregory; National Congress of Black Women Chair, Dr. E. Faye Williams; National Action Network President, the Rev. Al Sharpton; and more than 200 ministers and 400 churches.
The delegation organized relentless, but peaceful protests at targeted BP offices across the nation and as far as BP headquarters in London, where they demanded compensation for thousands of "poor and ignored" claimants. Repeatedly, they were deflected to the Golf Coast Claims Facility, and Ken Feinberg, "pay czar" for the $21 billion fund allocated for BP oil spill claims.
After more than 15 meetings with Feinberg, three meetings with congress and several jailings, People for Peace has yet to be awarded any of the compensations sought for some 10,000 low-income claimants they have advocated more than a year for.
Last week's announcement by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, of a criminal settlement by BP is considered a provisional victory by the group and SCLC however. Terms of the agreement will include payment by BP of $4.5 billion, guilty pleas to 11 felony counts for the deaths of 11 workers and one charge of obstruction of Congress.
"Art has demonstrated what the result can be if you don't give up," Lafayette said in an earlier statement released to media. "No matter how tragic, King's example always was to never give up. Art stayed on the case in the tradition of SCLC. I asked him to do that. We knew he wouldn't turn it loose until he was able to reach the goal. We want young people to see this model. Still, there's more to be done, to help people re-tool their lives."
Steele says that the issue at hand now is implementation.
"We have the Emancipation Proclamation, but yet we are still on the battlefield for voting and civil rights. There are going to be cracks along the way. We need to make sure the money gets to the people who need the money," Steele said.
Steele, who recently returned from meeting with former Soviet President Gorbachev, in Russia on the topic of serving the poor, said that he is elated by news of the settlement due to the positive impacts it can have on underserved victims of all nationalities.
SCLC suggested a bottom-up approach to remedying the massive economic effects of the oilspill imposed on Golf Coast residents, stressing that education would be vital in recovery efforts.
"We can wipe that oil of them and get people in college," Lafayette said. We have had enough of disaster. It's time to get into training on how to restore. How great would it be to take a student whose education was interrupted due to the oilspill and train him now on the environmental sciences?"
Rocker expressed that People for Peace will continue to pursue disaster relief causes, and will work with SCLC on moving into the Northeast region of the U.S. to begin massive recovery efforts towards aiding hurricane victims.
While there are no immediate action plans outlined by BP, or exact figures on the settlement percentages that will go towards claimants represented by People for Peace, versus the 100,000 or so other claims collectively; opinions were strong on remaining active with the struggle to the end.
"Dr. King's nonviolent strategy paid off against BP, but it's not over yet," said Lafayette.