Students hold candlelit vigil outside Dow CEO's home on the 18th anniversary, find him hosting a party

Midland Michigan, 3 December 2002

Tonight about 50 students from the University of Michigan along with environmental and social justice activists from around the state walked in candelit procession through the streets of Midland to DOW CEO Michael Parker's house where they held a vigil to mark the 18th anniversary of the world's worst industrial disaster and to remember the 150,000 people who are still chronically ill in Bhopal.

Ryan Bodanyi, one of the student organisers, writes:

The visit, organized by students at the University of Michigan to commemorate the anniversary of the Bhopal tragedy, interrupted a lavish Christmas party at the Parker home. Although the vigil candles, Bhopal banners, tombstones, Parker "Wanted Posters" and other props didn't seem to distract the gleeful party goers, Michael Parker did step outside and debate the activists for approximately twenty minutes. The entire event was videotaped and a local news station also filmed the action and broadcast it on the 11 p.m. news.

Mr. Parker emphasized to the group that he remembered the exact day on which the tragedy took place, and that he and others in the chemical industry were deeply sympathetic to the plight of the victims in Bhopal. However when the activists offered to buy him a plane ticket to go to India to meet with the survivors and those still suffering, he refused. When asked why, he replied, "there are a lot of things that I have to do."

The activists made it clear to Mr. Parker that we hold him personally responsible for cleaning up Bhopal. Shivani Anil Patel, a student from AID, attempted to give Mr. Parker a list of demands (including that Dow clean up the site and properly compensate the victims), but he refused to accept them. Mr. Parker continued to deny all responsibility for cleaning up Bhopal, and told the activists that he had no legal responsibility "whatsoever" to do so. When Mr. Parker was reminded that courts both in the United States and India were still considering the case, he assured everyone that they would not decide against his company.

Mr. Parker made clear to the activists that he had "interfaced" with several of the victims from Bhopal and lamented the poverty that could be found throughout all of India. Jackie Downing, an activist from Greenpeace, interrupted Mr. Parker to point out that while Dow might not be responsible for all the poverty in all of India, it was Dow's responsibility to clean up its mess in Bhopal. "The polluter pays," she told him. "That's your opinion," he fired back.

Neglecting his dinner guests, Mr. Parker warned the group at several points that there would be consequences for making the issue personal and coming to his home. He told us to "consider very carefully" whether such a strategy might, in fact, achieve the exact opposite of what we intended.

Dow's spokesman John Musser later told the University of Michigan's student newspaper that the visit was "pushing the limits" and represented an attempt to intimidate Mr. Parker.

Before leaving the group, Mr. Parker told us how much he respected us for coming out on such a cold evening. He confirmed that we had "the best of intentions" and thanked us for our caring and concern. He then stepped inside and rejoined his Christmas party.

Our visit to Midland energized all of us to continue working for justice in Bhopal; we were proud to stand in solidarity with those who have been fighting for justice in India and elsewhere throughout the world.

Earlier in the day, students transformed the Diag at the University of Michigan into a mini-Bhopal disaster with a display of toxic waste barrels and clouds of dry ice to simulate the clouds of poison that rolled out over Bhopal eighteen years ago. students and activists wearing white hazardous material suits then quarantined and cleaned up the contaminated area – something Dow has steadfastly refused to undertake.

Picture: Michigan Daily News

The Bhopal Week of Action in Michigan coincides with protests taking place throughout India and around the world.

The Anniversary events in Michigan are sponsored by Justice for Bhopal, a group including activists from Amnesty International, Association for India's Development (AID), the Center for Creative Democracy, the Ecology Center, Environmental Justice (EJ), Environmental Action (EnAct), Greenpeace, Solidarity, and Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality (SOLE).