By Ryan Bodanyi
Over the past three years, students have made it difficult for Dow’s decision-makers to ignore Bhopal, much as they might like to. In fact our efforts have shown how much power even a few students can have when they bring Bhopal ‘home’ to Dow.
In Mr. Parker’s Neighborhood
On Bhopal’s 18th anniversary, Dec. 3rd, 2002, students organized their first protest targeting a Dow executive. More than a dozen students from the University of Michigan traveled to Midland, Dow’s headquarters, to protest outside the home of Dow’s then-CEO, Michael Parker. Dow was forewarned of the trip and we expected to find a darkened and empty house. You can imagine our surprise when, quite the contrary, we found that Michael Parker was hosting a full-blown party on the night of the Bhopal Anniversary. Fancy cars lined the streets and the laughter inside could be heard clearly throughout the Parker estate. Was this the way that Dow’s CEO chose to commemorate the world’s worst-ever industrial disaster, for which his company was now liable? It boggled the mind.
Lugging our vigil candles, Bhopal banners, tombstones and posters to the door, we were doubly surprised when he came out himself to meet us. We shouldn’t have been; Parker had long cultivated a reputation as a smooth talker, able to disarm activists with his friendly recital of Dow’s PR talking points. It was a skill he’d used often before, and he may have relished the thought of doing so now, before the television camera crews on his front lawn. Whatever his intentions may have been, things didn’t work out as he’d planned. The laughter and tinkling of glasses from the party behind him made his professions of sympathy sound foolish and hollow, and our rapid-fire questions put him off guard. The liquor we smelled on his breath may also have been a factor; before long, we could tell that he was ready to snap. He did so when a small protestor at his shoulder pointed out that the Polluter Pays principle was the law in India, and that Dow should follow the law. “That’s your OPINION!” he shouted into her face, towering above her. On video, it didn’t look good.
Nine days later, Michael Parker was forced to resign as Dow’s CEO. In its statement, Dow explained that the move had been made for “financial” reasons.
Outside the home of James Ringler
“That worked so well,” we thought, “let’s try it again!” For the 19th anniversary of the disaster, we decided to deliver samples of contaminated water from Bhopal direct to the doors of Dow Boardmembers across the country. After what had happened last year, they were expecting us. At the time Dow’s Board included a former Senator and Secretary of Commerce, a MacArthur “genius” award-winner, the former President of Princeton University, and the CEOs of several major American corporations. These powerful, influential, and important people had a decision to make: they could attempt to repeat Michael Parker’s failed performance by appearing at the door to talk about Bhopal or – faced with a few students, a sample of Bhopal water, and a just cause – they could flee in fear. Can you guess which option they chose?
Yep, they chose to flee. Students across the country found darkened homes with the shades drawn tight – if any members of the Board were home, it certainly seemed like they were under the bed. In fact, students were only successful in speaking with one of Dow’s 14 Boardmembers – Harold Shapiro, the former President of Princeton University. Conveniently enough, he’d scheduled a public speech for the day before the anniversary – and it was on bioethics. After the talk several Princeton students presented him with his sample of contaminated water from Bhopal. He was not happy.
Feel like getting in on the fun? You, too, can make Dow’s Boardmembers unhappy by reminding them of their ability – and responsibility – to end the killing in Bhopal.