Tag Archives: Students for Bhopal

Students for Bhopal Targets Dow’s Decision-Makers

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.

UMBhopal90 Michael Parker Dow CEO
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.

Milwaukee19 James Ringler

Milwaukee3 James Ringler

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.

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36 years on, outraged students again unite against Dow

Reviving memories of the fierce Vietnam War protests at universities in the 1960’s, students at 20 colleges across the United States are once again organizing against Dow, this time united in their demand that Dow accept its moral and legal responsibilities in Bhopal. They’ve banded together to form Students for Bhopal, a national network that is planning campaigns against Dow until it accepts all the demands of the Bhopal survivors. “Students here are like students elsewhere,” said Janine Jacques, one of the student campaigners at Brown University. “When we heard about what was happening in Bhopal, we were outraged. We decided that we had to act.”

The student protests of 1967-8 afflict Dow’s reputation even now. Today’s students are also busy driving Dow’s expensively crafted image as an environmental steward and warm-hearted corporate citizen to the wall. Such as students at Brown, who aren’t buying it; they dressed up as the “Dow Grim Reaper” this past Halloween and set out to “kill” their fellow students on the college green. “We feel that Halloween is the perfect time to highlight the unholy alliance that Dow and Death seem to have made,” declared Mika Nagasaki, a sophomore at Brown. “Dow maximizes its profits by contributing to the deaths of thousands of people throughout the world, and Death is only too happy to collect these victims before their time. Dow’s legacy of contamination and death must come to an end; by refusing to take action in Bhopal, Dow is condemning thousands more to an untimely end.”

Students at other colleges were also making the connection between Dow and Death this past Halloween. Students at the University of Michigan, the University of Maryland–College Park, the University of California–Berkeley, and Wheaton also participated in the Halloween Day of Action. Over 30 colleges are expected to participate in the December 3rd Global Day of Action Against Corporate Crime.

Students for Bhopal has been organizing a series of campaigns against Dow Chemical, many of which parallel the student campaigns that plagued Dow during the Vietnam War. During the late ’60s and early ’70s, thousands of students forced Dow off of their college campuses-sometimes violently-because of its production of Agent Orange and Napalm for the US military. Dow’s steadfast refusal to take any responsibility for Bhopal is leading many students to question whether the company’s behavior has ever changed. Many are deciding that they don’t want their Universities associated with Dow, financially or otherwise.

“Is it possible to ethically invest in a corporation that refuses to remediate the impacts of its own pollution, to the detriment of thousands of lives? I don’t think so,” said Clayton Perry, one of the Bhopal organizers at Occidental College in California. “Nor is it really fair that Dow donates millions of dollars every year to colleges and universities across the country, while refusing to spend a cent in Bhopal. We don’t want our colleges accepting Dow’s blood money.”

“Many students have never heard of Bhopal,” said Ryan Bodanyi, the Student Coordinator for ICJB. “But once they do they become outraged, and they want to become involved. It’s amazing how quickly the student campaign is spreading; if Dow continues to dawdle and delay I think that they’ll have a huge fight on their hands before too long.”

To find out more about Students for Bhopal, visit www.studentsforbhopal.org

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