Day One of Hunger Strike Supporting Bhopal Survivors: My Truck Parked in Front of Union Carbide Plant in Texas

 I threw a milk jug of well water into my truck and drove to the Union Carbide (now Dow) plant site. I’d already missed the contractors, maintenance hands, hourly workers, and Dow’s management. I’d missed the Public Relations Lady, too, but news travels fast when its 2002, post 9/11, and you’re in a truck parked outside of a big, badass, ugly chemical plant with green cupped, helping hands painted on one side of a chemical tower as a public relations stunt to show just how green and lovable Union Carbide was. Thirty minutes later my life wasn’t my own. It belonged to eleven dead babies (counting them all) and all the Bhopal survivors in India and if they didn’t care a fig for Union Carbide or Dow or whoever they were calling themselves ever since Dow had bought out, merged, or co-joined with Union Carbide, then I didn’t care, either. I was committed.
The chemical plant threw a conniption fit. They sent out security trucks. They sent out the sheriff. They sent out the PR Lady who demanded to know what I was doing out there. Finally, Union Carbide/Dow’s management sent out a memo to all their workers that the woman parked in front of the plant in her truck was NOT broke down. She did NOT need help. Do NOT talk to her. She is protesting. Only, Union Carbide didn’t bother to tell the workers why I was protesting. That was my job.
The next morning I did the same thing as I did the first day, but lots earlier. I got at the Dow gate with an armload of fliers and met the shift workers as they came through the front gate. The fliers explained the dire situation in India: how many people were still dying a month from the l984 Union Carbide pesticide release that killed thousands that December night, how much contamination still remained in the soil and drinking water, how little compensation the survivors received for all their misery, and how many years Warren Anderson, Union Carbide’s ex CEO, had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. 
The PR Lady was the most persistent visitor and the only one officially allowed to speak to me so she walked out to the truck in the heat of the day and said, “So you’re here, again?”
I had set up a teepee in the back of my pickup after the previous hot blistering day with nothing to cover me but the hair on my head so the PR Lady had to peek under the tarp to talk to me.
“Come on in,” I said.
Oh, she couldn’t do that. Oh no, she’d just stand out there in the blistering heat.
“Suit yourself,” I said. 
What are you doing, she asked like she hadn’t already asked that the day before. I figured she thought I’d slip up and say something different than before and if I did then she had a notebook to jot down that fact. Maybe she’d run and tell her superiors. 
I handed her the information packet that I had printed from the internet plus a press release the Bhopal Network had written the night before: the now world-wide (I was the American leg) hunger fast that was seeking justice for the world’s worst environmental disaster. I asked her to pass the press release on up to her higher ups in Michigan. See if those corporate guys knew any of the Bhopal folks that wrote the press release. 
Next I lobbied some questions to her like I was whacking a kid’s tennis ball over a waist-high net. They were the kind of blunt questions that you ask when you really don’t give a heck what the other person thinks about the bluntness of the questions. There’s a certain freedom there and I just loved questions like that and not because I expected an honest answer—which I didn’t. I loved them because the questions were like a kick in a donkey’s knee and the response was, usually, uncommonly revealing. 
“Did Union Carbide merge with Dow Chemical to hide?” I asked.
“ WE MOST CERTAINLY DID NOT!”
“Well, so is it Dow in control or is it Union Carbide in control? Or is it both? Who, for instance, do you work for?”
The PR lady shot me an outraged look like I’d asked her if she was an American or not. 
“I am a Union Carbide employee!” 
“So there’s still a Union Carbide company around here someplace? Where ‘bouts is it, do you know? On paper? In the administration office? On top of that chemical tower over there?”
The PR Lady refused to answer the question so I figured she didn’t know who was in control or where that control might be so I took a wild guess and asked why Dow didn’t deal out some justice to the survivors in India. 
“ Union Carbide paid those Indians money,” she said. “ Five hundred dollars, in fact. And…”
“So Union Carbide is still in control?” I asked
“Nooooo.”
“Well, Union Carbide or Dow, five hundred dollars isn’t much money. It really isn’t.”
“Five hundred dollars is real good for an Indian,” she said. “Plus that’s American dollars.”
“ I remember when Dow paid ten million dollars as a settlement to one American family that had been harmed by Union Carbide’s product. Don’t seem fair. Ten million dollars to an American and five hundred dollars to an Indian.”
The PR Lady snapped, “Five hundred American dollars translates into a lot of money in India!”
“ I heard it amounts to a cup of tea a day for the next ten years of their lives. And, hey, how come Dow just doesn’t clean up the contamination? What’s the big deal? Clean it up!”
“But Union Carbide sold the plant!”
“Oh shoot, lady. Make up your mind. Who’s dealing the cards here? Union Carbide or Dow? ”
The PR Lady glared like she had coals for eyes so I lobbied another question across the net.
“You know, under Superfund– a federal law by the way– if a company sells a plant or land that’s contaminated, then they’re still liable. The company still has to clean it up.”
“But that’s an American law. It only applies in America. That’s not a law in India so we don’t- have- to –do- it.”
“Well, what about that arrest warrant that’s been out on Warren Anderson– your ex CEO– for the last twelve years or so. He ignored it. Union Carbide ignored it. Dow ignored it. The FBI ignored it. The US government ignored it.”
The PR Lady shrugged her shoulders. “ I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Oh yeah, you do,” I said. “ Those criminal charges. The arrest warrants those Indian courts have out on a number of Union Carbide individuals. Warren Anderson, for one. You’re ex-CEO.”
“Well,” the PR Lady said, “ that should tell you something, shouldn’t it? If the FBI ignored the warrant maybe that warrant isn’t any good. Besides, the case is closed. The settlement was reached.”
“Look, let’s forget all this legal mumbo jumbo. Why can’t Dow just do the morally right thing over there? You know, why does it take a legal crowbar to make ya’ll do the right thing?”
“We are legally in the right!” she said. Then she shrugged her shoulders, again. “Well, ok, maybe morally we’re not.”

 

 
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