SAN FRANCISCO – Rush hour traffic into the city came to a standstill longer than usual Monday morning thanks to a giant disembodied head of the Statue of Liberty and protesters shackled to it who demanded change to United States’ energy policy.
Approximately 100 protesters, who wore forest green sashes on their arms and waved banners that identified themselves as ‘Eco-Socialists,’ blocked passage into the downtown area along the Interstate 80 Freeway starting at 7 a.m. after a replica of Lady’s Liberty’s head was hoisted onto the expressway by crane and supporters who chained themselves to it chanted ‘no gas taxation without representation’ before a crowd of more than 1,000 stalled commuters.
The chant was a play on the 1750s slogan ‘no taxation without representation,’ which summarized a primary grievance American colonists had against the British Empire, to which they were subjects and felt they did not have a fair say regarding that government’s policies.
The issue became a major cause of the American Revolution.
Approximately 30 minutes into Monday’s demonstration, Maria Sanchez, president of the local chapter of the New Democratic Party, the political arm of the Eco-Socialist movement, spoke for 15 minutes over a loud-speaker and explained the rationale for the group’s action.
“We like to believe we live in a world where we have freedom of choice, but the reality is most of us depend on fossil fuels to light our homes, prepare our food, use our computers and get to and from our jobs,” said Sanchez. “To survive in this system, we have no choice but to play a part in our own exploitation. While such a system tremendously profits the producers of fossil fuels, it also places a huge burden on the environment and the rest of us who consume them. The public should be dictating energy policy to the government, which should be dictating energy policy to Big Oil … instead it’s the other way around, and this form of oppression is taking a tremendous toll on the world and our people. Tax by gas must come to an end, but our leaders do little to address the fossil fuel crisis.”
Cheers and boos from stalled commuters followed Sanchez’ remarks. Police who arrived at the scene surrounded Sanchez, but she continued to speak.
“The amount of time, energy and money this demonstration has taken from your day is a drop in the bucket compared to the tremendous resources you expend regularly battling traffic and paying at the pump to be part of a system you feel immense pressure to help perpetuate. However, if you are ready for real change, join a real group that is taking real action on this and other critical issues of national importance, which our leaders continue to neglect.”
Sanchez and her followers unchained themselves from the head of the Statue of Liberty. They told police they wanted to remove the installation from the freeway, which police permitted them to do, and then traffic continued to move freely.
Police arrested Sanchez and other participants in the demonstration for obstruction, which lasted for more than one hour.
Environmental groups have directed national attention at the oil industry in recent years over concerns that drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking,’ might have on wildlife and human health.
While many economists agree that recent efforts to shore up oil production in the United States has increased fossil fuel supplies at home, minimized imports from abroad, and lowered gas prices at the pump, environmentalists continue to question the viability of using fossil fuels as the nation’s primary energy source.
According to the most recent 2012 Energy Information Administration report, approximately 82 percent of energy consumed in the United States was derived from fossil fuels. Thirty-six percent of the nation’s energy came from petroleum, followed by 27 percent natural gas and 19 percent coal.
Only 10 percent of the nation’s energy came from environmentally-safe renewable sources such as hydroelectric, solar and wind power.
The remaining 8 percent of U.S. energy came from nuclear power.
Despite assurances from federal officials that renewable energy production would increase over the course of this decade, the change has been slow, according to environmentalists.
Supporters of Eco-Socialism — a philosophy of economic and social justice popularized in academic and literary circles in recent years — seek a comprehensive U.S. energy policy to be developed that rewards energy innovation in the marketplace, decreases the nation’s use of fossil fuels, and spurs sustainable growth.
Because of the perceived lack of progress in addressing the energy policy issue, Eco-Socialists said they will continue to be vocal until their concerns are addressed.
Monday’s demonstration was a first by environmental groups intended to disrupt consumers directly, and some stalled on the freeway expressed frustration with the effort.
“While I respect the right for people to express their opinions, they shouldn’t be able to do so at other people’s expense,” said Bill Baker, a financial adviser on his way to work. “I had a meeting with a client this morning that I had to bump, and the worst part is, this demonstration won’t change a thing. I’d rather watch butter melt in a frying pan than put up with this holdup.”
Others, however, said Monday’s demonstration was inconvenient but necessary to publicize an important energy issue.
“What else can these environmentalists do, but annoy the rest of us?” said Charles James, a high school biology teacher on his way to work. “Everyone knows the changes are necessary, but they’re not happening. So, who’s responsible for the real holdup here? It’s like America has transformed into a giant greedy monster that can no longer help itself. At least some people are trying to make a difference. Maybe the rest of us should, too.”
Tammy Lee, Nov. 12, 2018