"We are not expendable" – US tour begins

Hard-pressed employees of Dow’s pr department have cancelled their vacation plans and had their teeth polished; the federal lobbying team are burning synthetic rubber in overdrive on Capitol Hill; and dear Willy Stavropoulos has been practising lying to himself in a gilt-edged mirror. That’s right, Bhopal has come back to the USA.

Three representatives of the ICJB – survivors Champa Devi and Rashida Bee of the Gas-affected womens’ Stationary Workers Union and Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action – have arrived in the US to begin a 5-week multi-city tour, beginning in San Francisco, California and culminating in Midland, Michigan at the Dow Chemical 2004 AGM. The tour “includes a celebration of solidarity across geography, culture, race, and constituencies”, taking in US Congress members, socially responsible investors, Vietnamese Agent Orange survivors, dioxin imperilled residents of Midland, trade unions, students and chemical security and human rights advocates.

“We are aware that the day we succeed in holding Dow Chemical liable for the continuing disaster in Bhopal it will be good news for ordinary people all over the world. From that day chemical corporations will think twice before producing and peddling poisons and putting profits before the lives and health of people”, says Rashida Bee.

“We are not expendable. We are not flowers to be offered at the altar of profit and power. We are dancing flames committed to conquering darkness. We are challenging those who threaten the survival of the planet and the magic and mystery of life. Through our struggle, through our refusal to be victims, we have become survivors. On our way to becoming victors.”

Read on for more details of the tour and contact information for organisers…

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Healing Bhopal: Survivors of the world’s worst industrial disaster take their struggle to the global community
 
The Bhopal Chemical Disaster: 20 Years Later
 
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Union Carbide gas leak that killed more than 20,000 people in Bhopal, India, the world’s worst industrial disaster. Today, two generations of victims continue to suffer the consequences, but they’ve found hope in three Bhopal advocates who have carried the torch of justice and remembrance for the last twenty years. Rashida Bee, 48, and Champa Devi Shukla, 52, two trade unionists turned Bhopal activists who have ignited the international campaign to seek justice for disaster survivors. Since 1984 Bee has lost six family members to cancer. Shukla, who has one grandchild born with congenital deformities, lost her husband and her health. Bee and Shukla’s courage and tenacity have galvanized the grassroots in their own country and abroad. In the process, they’ve drawn low-income, illiterate women like themselves from the margins of society to the center of a closely watched showdown whose endgame is to hold Dow Chemical accountable for the gas leak and its deadly legacy. The third activist, Satinath Sarangi, 49, has been the driving force behind the Sambhavna Trust, which operates a clinic in Bhopal, providing free medical care to survivors using a unique combination of allopathic, Ayurvedic and yoga therapies. The Sambhavna Clinic, which grows many of the herbs needed to make traditional Indian (Ayurvedic) medicines, has provided care to over 12,800 survivors in the last seven years.
 
Twenty years after the incident, most survivors have received less than $500 of Union Carbide’s $470 million compensation payout, which has been mired in Indian bureaucracy and other delays. The abandoned factory remains littered with toxic waste, leaking poisons into the surrounding neighborhood. Dow Chemical, which acquired Union Carbide in 2001, maintains to this day that it has no liability for the industrial disaster. Yet the Indian government has issued an extradition order for Warren Anderson, Union Carbide’s former CEO, to face criminal charges in Bhopal. And a federal district court in New York recently ruled that Dow could be held liable for property damages and compensation related to the ongoing contamination of the Bhopal pesticide factory site.
 
Taking Their Message To Dow’s Shareholders
 
On April 14, the Bhopalis will begin a multi-city tour of the U.S. to bring attention to the continuing struggles of the Bhopal survivors as well as raise awareness about corporate responsibility, persistent poisons, and environmental justice.  In addition, the tour marks the beginning of a yearlong series of events building towards the 20th anniversary of this disaster on December 3, 2004.
 
Their tour, which will begin in San Francisco, California, will culminate in Midland, Michigan – the company’s headquarters – where on May 13 they plan to attend Dow Chemical’s shareholders’ meeting.  There they will unveil a new resolution introduced by Boston Common Asset Management, a socially responsible management firm. The resolution warns of the “reputation risk” to the company if it continues to ignore Bhopal survivors’ demands. International protests and coordinated non-violent actions targeting Dow’s bad corporate citizenship around the globe are also in the works. 
 
 
Dow Shall Not Trespass Against Us
 
Dow’s corporate crimes aren’t limited to Bhopal.  From Louisiana to Michigan, from Nicaragua and Vietnam to our own bodies, Dow’s legacy of poison proves that no community and no individual is safe from chemical trespass. 
 
The Bhopal survivors’ tour includes a celebration of solidarity across geography, culture, race, and constituencies.

The Bhopal activists are linking with:
 
– Congressional representatives, who last year wrote a letter to Dow asking the company to own up to its responsibilities in Bhopal;

– Socially responsible investors who are deeply concerned about the mounting liabilities faced by Dow for creating environmental and public health disasters around the globe;

– Vietnam Agent Orange survivors, who faced the largest chemical warfare campaign in world history, initiated by the U.S. government with dioxin-contaminated poisons provided by Dow and Monsanto;

– Communities downstream of Dow’s Midland, Michigan factory, who face high dioxin contamination levels in backyards where children play and vegetables grow;

– Trade union allies, who daily face the threat of job loss, union busting and hazardous chemical exposure on the job;

– Students around the U.S., who last year brought bottles of contaminated Bhopal water to eleven Dow Board members to highlight the company’s failure to clean up the Bhopal site;

– Chemical security advocates in Boston, Washington, D.C., New Jersey, and Richmond, California, who face the potential threat of a Chemical 9/11 in their communities because the Bush Administration is more interested in protecting the chemical industry than our own people from chemical terrorism; and,

– Human rights advocates, who are working to establish a new set of human rights guidelines for corporations at the United Nations and regard Dow as a poster child for human rights abuses around the world.
 
“We are aware that the day we succeed in holding Dow Chemical liable for the continuing disaster in Bhopal it will be good news for ordinary people all over the world. From that day chemical corporations will think twice before producing and peddling poisons and putting profits before the lives and health of people”, says Rashida Bee.
 
“We are not expendable. We are not flowers to be offered at the altar of profit and power. We are dancing flames committed to conquering darkness. We are challenging those who threaten the survival of the planet and the magic and mystery of life.  Through our struggle, through our refusal to be victims, we have become survivors. On our way to becoming victors.”
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For more information on tour related events in your area, please contact Niaz Dorry: 978-281-6934
niazdorry@earthlink.net
 
Visit www.bhopal.net and www.bhopal.org for more detailed information about the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal and the Sambhavna Trust clinic.
 
And, coming soon…  www.thetruthaboutdow.org

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“Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning… give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..

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