BP Protesters to Stake Out New York Times Tomorrow; We Talk to Their Organizer


If today’s news that the oil spill in the Gulf is spewing out as much as the Exxon Valdez spill did, every 8 to 10 days, got you down like it did us, there’s a protest rally that has your name all over it. Tomorrow is Worldwide BP Protest Day, and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., NYC folks will rally outside of the New York Times to “express frustration at the inaction, understatements, finger pointing and the death and destruction of our oceans, beaches, ecosystems and local ways of life.”

Similar protests will take place around the world in a globally coordinated Facebook effort. We caught up with New York City organizer Lauren McGowan today to talk about how she got involved, what she expects for tomorrow, and what she’d say to Tony Hayward if she could.

Hey Lauren. How’d you end up as protest organizer?
I was just going to participate, but I noticed that a girl in Atlanta had started to organize the NYC protest and then basically dropped out. I’m from the Gulf Coast and have lived in New York for a few years short of a decade; when I saw that New York wouldn’t be represented, I said, I’m not going to let that happen.

Have you ever been involved in a protest before?
This will be my first besides a small one protesting lunchroom issues. I’m kind of scared of the number that will show up, but as long as everyone behaves…

You’re from the Gulf. How have people in your hometown been impacted by the spill?
I’m from Mobile, Alabama. I’ve had friends who’ve had to quit their businesses…. We know a lot of people who ran bait shops and did fishing tours, and they can’t go out into the water, so they’re basically stranded. The bait shop’s gone; this happened in the last week. it’s such a close-knit community in Mobile — as big as the city is, everyone knows somebody. I keep hearing all of these disgusting stories. There are people in Magnolia Springs who are trying to protect Weeks Bay, where a lot of dolphins live, and they’re afraid they’re going to be arrested. We also know people who’ve stockpiled hair booms, but they’re not allowed to use them. Today I heard people are being turned away from testing the water in Orange Beach by BP employees. What are they doing telling people to stop protecting their land?

Why did you pick the New York Times as a protest spot?
The Times ran full-page BP ads a few weeks ago, so they’ve accepted BP ad money (along with a bunch of other media outlets). Last night I saw an ad with Tony Hayward talking about how BP is “taking responsibility” — but when you’re really responsible, you don’t spend money on PR. After the protest, we’re hoping to start a letter writing campaign for anyone who took money for an ad to give it back to actually help the Gulf.

What do you expect tomorrow?
Well, it’s Facebook, right? I don’t know half of these people, so I’m not sure what to expect! Thankfully I ran into a feisty girl named Laura Zambito, who is helping me. Right now we have about 150 confirmed, so maybe it will be 100, or we could be surprised and get 300…but even if it’s just 10 people, I think the people in the Gulf will appreciate the support.

And what will you actually do?
It has to be 100 percent old-fashioned because we were left in a lurch by the former organizer. Starting at 11, we’ll have a moment of silence for the people who lost their lives in the oil rig explosion. Then some people who’ve come up from the Gulf Coast will talk about what it means to them. After that we’ll chant and rally, and then march down to Broadway at Union Square, where we’ll do a somber second line and then disperse into Union Square. Everyone is dressing like it’s a funeral, all in black, some in veils.

What would you like to say to Tony Hayward right now?
I’d ask him to keep his face out of the media for a while. We’re tired of looking at him and hearing excuses. To be quite frank, I’d tell him to cut the shit and just plug the well. I guess BP has never pissed off a Southern woman before, because the grits don’t shut up.

What about to President Obama?
I’m not one to go the Obama blame route. I think he was a little slow and I don’t think his ass-kicking comment helped, but every administration prior to this one has had something to do with it; it’s too big of a mess for it to not be everyone’s fault. What I don’t like is people saying it’s the consumer’s fault.

Do you think that the damage from the spill is fixable?
I know it will never be the same, but there are parts that we still have a chance to protect. Barrier islands can be constructed to prevent oil from spreading, but it’s not being done. I hope it doesn’t take oil going all the way around the coast of Florida for that to happen.