Fueling a Protest

Fueling a Protest

Protesters gathered at Fairfax gas station to oppose Congress members who have taken contributions from oil companies.

Gas prices hovering around $3 a gallon have fueled some local activists into speaking out against members of Congress they say have questionable sources of campaign contributions.

The group, members of a Democratic Political Action Group called MoveOn.org, gathered at a Fairfax Exxon gas station at the intersection of Chain Bridge Road and Fairfax Boulevard, June 28. They held signs and spoke to passing drivers to raise awareness about the source of some of Rep. Tom Davis’ (R-11) campaign contributions, which they say have come from oil companies. The protest was one of nearly 300 going on that day around the country, organized by the Democratic political group's regional coordinators around the country. Each protest focused on various congressmen who members of MoveOn.org believe are tied to oil companies through campaign money.

George Farah, an attorney and a Washington-area regional coordinator for MoveOn.org, organized the protest in Fairfax to tell people that Congress should be blamed for soaring oil prices and the reluctance to develop alternative sources of energy.

“Republicans are in bed with Big Oil,” said Farah. “It’s not just a consumer issue, it’s an environmental issue, and also a national security issue.”

Farah and other protesters passed out flyers to drivers stopped at traffic lights. The flyers reported that U.S. Rep. Davis received $123,860 in campaign money from oil companies, which protesters said has created a commitment to voting against environmental issues and alternative energy sources.

“He’s pretty much in lockstep with the Bush administration,” said David Kuebrich, an environmentalist and an associate professor of English at George Mason University. “I don’t think he deserves to be re-elected.”

IN AN ELECTION YEAR, this kind of backlash is common between parties, said Davis, and especially common among politically motivated action groups that align themselves along party lines.

“I’ve never taken a nickel from oil companies,” said Davis. “MoveOn.org has been widely discredited ... It’s going to be a long [campaign] season."

Davis said he has, however, accepted campaign money from employees of Exxon Mobil, since the company is based in Northern Virginia and its employees would naturally want to support their local congressman, he said. He denied having ever accepted money from the companies themselves.

Davis is the chairman of the Government Reform Committee, whose subcommittee on energy and resources is investigating leases signed by the Department of the Interior in the late 1990s with various oil and gas companies. The contracts, according to committee spokesperson, Robert White, "failed to include a clause requiring oil companies to pay appropriate royalties when they started producing oil from what is known as "deep water" drilling." The committee issued subpoenas in June to five major oil companies as part of its oversight investigation into the absence of the price thresholds in the leases, which will cost the U.S. Government more than $10 billion in lost revenue, according to the Government Accountability Office. Davis said his committee is trying to save taxpayers from these oil profits and other oil-related issues.

"Davis' committee will continue to vigorously pursue our oversight role in ensuring the taxpayer is protected from oil companies producing profits from federal lands, without sharing profits with the federal government," said White, in an e-mail to the Connection.

BUT THAT ISN'T enough for the MoveOn.org protesters. They aren't interested in making sure the government gets its share of the oil profits, they want members of Congress to crack down on the companies and also pursue technology advancement for alternative sources of energy.

Susie Crate, an anthropologist and cultural ecology professor at GMU, said many alternative sources of energy are out there that can wean Americans off foreign oil dependence. By remaining addicted to oil, Crate said, Americans are threatening the future of their children, plants, animals and environment.

“We need to develop alternatives,” said Crate, who drives a hybrid vehicle. “There are all kinds of alternatives.”

"We're addicted to oil and we're running out," said Farah.

Sustainable design, or "green" building, is the wave of the future, according to protesters. Green building includes methods of construction and utilization that are more environmentally friendly, mainly by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and saving natural resources wherever possible.

In January, Whole Foods Market became the only Fortune 500 Company to purchase wind energy to offset 100 percent of its electricity use in all of its stores, offices and facilities, as stated in a company news release. Architects of the new Washington Nationals ballpark in southeast D.C. have applied green design principles to ensure the park will be environmentally sensitive to the Anacostia River in close proximity, according to the DC Sports and Entertainment Commission's design narrative report. General Electric boasts on its Web site that it has created wind turbine technology for wind energy, and another technology, Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC), which converts coal into a clean burning fuel.

Crate and her fellow protesters want Congress to encourage people and corporations to use these and many other alternative sources of energy, because they say the lack of doing so has already affected Americans' quality of life.

"I wanted to help because I think of the people coming after me," said Katie Crate, 11, who came with her mother to the protest. "I don't want them to have a bad life."