On April Fools Day in the most obese and most polluted city in the USA (no wonder Houston is famous for its cancer centers) Halliburton subsidiaty KBR (Kellogg Brown & Root) hosted an Open House for jobs. Come in they said and help yourself to a tiny handful of cash from the billions we’re scarfing up in Iraq alone. All you have to do is switch off your conscience and give us what’s left over. In return we will fly you to the Baghdad Airport where you can join our “Red Neck Mafia” building Texas-style democracy for Iraqis while beating the shit out of Mexicans that we will provide on site Easter Day. From there you can join other mercenary forces such as security contractors Custer Battles, Dynecorp, or Ultra Service where you will be taught valuable skills for the new world order such as how to kill or be killed while shredding human rights and disposing human remains. No it’s not a pretty picture, but it’s a paycheck, and we have 30,000 employees over there to prove that it can work for you.
Well if that’s not exactly how things went inside the Open House you at least have some idea of the counter-recruitment information that was being flyered by Houston activists outside. A Halliburton spokesman whom we would not have reached for comment said April Fools! But seriously the counter-employment action was the first of an ambitious seven-week campaign that will culminate in an international protest to get Halliburton out of Iraq, to be staged May 18 at the stockholders meeting at the Downtown Houston Four Seasons Hotel.
“For Houston we kind of use the term ‘Belly of the Beast,'” says Scott, a lifelong Houstonian and one of the activists present at the April Fools event. “Halliburton is the third largest employer in the city, so we run into employees who say Halliburton pays my bills and they are not nice about it. On the other hand there are former and disgruntled employees who say I’m with you but I’ve got to pay my bills.”
Scott (who has a day job and prefers not to use his last name) is co-inventor of the Halliburton campaign that began in Feb. 2003 when millions around the world tried to stop the USA-led invasion of Iraq. Weekly demonstrations continued from the time the war started in March until the Halliburton stockholders meeting in May. One year later at the 2004 stockholders meeting, five protesters covered in blood handcuffed themselves to hand railings inside the entrance while outside another 25 staged a sit-in at the driveway. In total, about 500 activists joined a demonstration that attracted international media attention. This year, “a bunch of different things are being talked about,” says Scott.
“Do you want to watch the video of the Halliburton stockholders meeting?” asks Rob the Editor on Friday night at MonkeyWrench Books in Austin. Rob is speaking to a small but cozy audience as part of a big-city tour that will take him also to San Antonio, Fort Worth, and New Orleans in the next few days. In hand he has Issue Number One of The Alarm, a free zine that Rob edits in Houston, touting “Voices of Resistance from the Heart of Empire.” A disclaimer on the cover portrays Bush the First warning, “Don’t read this, it’ll rot your brain.”
“Where are we?” asks page two of The Alarm. “We are in the city of Houston, the 4th largest city in the United States. Houston is the belly of the beast, the bowels of the empire. It is the home of the Political Family which controls our country, and the seat of the oil economy that creates sprawl, pollutes our air, water and bodies, dictates a neo-colonial strategy of conquest for petroleum in the middle east, and wages a campaign of violence against the people who live atop oil reserves in the global South.” That’s where we are. Rob is a re-patriated Houstonian who returns to his family homeplace with “breath in his lungs” and a “song on his lips.” He signs his work with “Love and Rage.”
The video of the 2004 Halliburton stockholders meeting shows a few folks milling around outside the Houston Four Seasons Hotel. Suddenly they hit the ground together and before you know it, there is a sit-in blocking the driveway. Several of these “Hallibacon” protesters wear pig noses. Someone holds a sign: “Will Kill for Profits.” Then they start chanting, “Pull Dick Out!” That was of course prior to the November election scandals when Americans allowed Dick back in. A police horse seems to be enjoying itself, head bobbing up and down in pantomime har-har-har.
“We felt obligated to target Halliburton,” explains Scott speaking by phone from Houston. “Halliburton is a pillar of support for the war effort. It is helping to build 14 new permanent bases. It is working to reconstruct the oil industry. And it provides laundry, food, and fuel. During the 1990s Halliburton replaced the US government in providing services for supporting the war effort.”
An alternative annual report on Halliburton produced by CorpWatch calls Halliburton, “the number one financial beneficiary of the war against Iraq, raking in some $18 billion in contracts to rebuild the country’s oil industry and service the U.S. troops. It has also been accused of more fraud, waste, and corruption than any other Iraq contractor, with allegations ranging from overcharging $61 million for fuel and $24.7 million for meals, to confirmed kickbacks worth $6.3 million.”
Against this sort of beast, where do activists begin? “We use two tactics, direct action and popular education,” explains Scott. Popular education means bringing in speakers, showing films, and organizing breakout sessions where people can talk about how to challenge the war in Iraq, corporate globalization, or war profiteering. Direct action includes street theater, protest, marches, and rallies. “We also do a lot of community organizing,” he says, “working with students and campus groups.”
Editor Rob, working the literature table Friday night says to me, “here be sure to take this.” It is a crisp 8-page brochure on Peoples’ Global Action (PGA). “PGA is not an organization and has no members. However, PGA aims to be an organized network.” The web page at agp.org (because pga.org belongs to racist patriarchs who invented country clubs) gives you the basics in six languages. Next action BTW is A16 DC v IMF/World Bank. So if you have your affinity group ready to go…
Halliburton actions in Houston, says Scott, are being coordinated under the umbrella of the Houston Global Awareness Collective which he describes as, “a loose collection of anti-authoritarians, radical, and progressive social activists.” The collective is working with other groups such as Global Exchange and Code Pink. Some of its inspiration comes from the Bay Area’s People Power Campaign, but I forget to ask him which Bay Area. I think he meant the Galveston Bay Area which is sprouting several progressive groups with Bay Area names. The main point here being that with all this Houston activism, you can excuse a writer for getting his Bay Areas confused.
“Making money off of imperialist occupation is fucked up,” concludes Rob the Editor as a band starts hauling gear into the room. And later Rob asks if I’m staying for the band. No I won’t be staying, but if that band is anything like what I’ve been hearing from Scott and Rob, there is a sound I’m really missing right about now.
Note: for updates on the Halliburton campaign in Houston see the web page of the Houston Global Awareness Collective.
GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime’s Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org