There were probably 60 people standing outside the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center this morning holding placards, standing in makeshift oil barrels and chanting anti-ExxonMobil mantras such as, "People, not profit! Peace, not war!" From retirement-aged activists to college kids--and probably a couple of high-schoolers thrown in for good measure--they were a motley, well-organized bunch as they shouted down folks arriving for the company's annual shareholder meeting.
I walked up as a group of Denton hippie-types (guys with beards) joined the fray and picked up signs. They mocked the metal barriers around them, saying, "They're just trying to contain us!" But someone else caught my eye: a strawberry blonde woman standing off to the side of the protest, silently holding a bright orange sign. She was probably 55 or 60, and she seemed to be unsure about whether she wanted to join the more zealous protestors at the center of the barrier. She told me her name was Helen Elkins. She was wearing a pair of sophisticated gold hoop earrings.
"This is the first time I've done anything like this!" she exclaimed. She told me she worked for Exxon about 40 years ago. Now, she says, "They've gone over to greed. There's a lot they could do with all that money."
The protestors' demands were the usual: clean energy and plenty of funding for it. Stop ignoring global warming. Don't be assholes, yadda yadda yadda. As I was snapping away with my brick-sized digital camera, I found that a guy in a black suit with a black earpiece had somehow found his way into my lens.
"Excuse me, are you a member of the press?" I asked him, after he'd snapped a close-up of the protest. His reply? "I'm just here." I told him I was with the Observer. He inched away from me. I asked again, "What paper are you with?" No answer. As he scooted sideways like a keyed-up crab, I asked him what the badge stuck under the button of his jacket said.
"It's just my badge." Was it a press badge? "I'm just here." You can imagine how much further I got by telling him he didn't have to "be so cagey, dude." I abandoned the cause and watched as he went to stand next to a couple of DPD guys, snapping more photos of the protestors all the while. No sign of any accompanying Cigarette-Smoking Man.
A few minutes later, I asked a kinda-hot Exxon rep named Leah if she knew who he was. She told me if he had a badge on a red cord (he did) then she "guessed he must be with the press." Right. And I'm with the Vietnamese mafia.
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I stopped a shareholder named Georgene ("I was supposed to be George!") Bleuler following her husband into the Meyerson. As they walked staunchly by the protestors, Georgene, in her smart black suit, had raised her arms and yelled, "Yay, Exxon!"
Did any of the things the protestors were saying mean anything to her?
"I think [Exxon has] done some things wrong in the past," she conceded, "But I disagree with how [the protestors] are doing this." She said she hoped the company would drill in Alaska, since they were much "more careful" these days.
As I drove away, I noticed a line of Town Cars and limos filed into the employee entrance driveway off Woodall Rogers—-probably where members of the real Exxon brass are going in. Good old back door. Good old back door. --Andrea Grimes