Protest Outside Of Rex Tillerson’s House Over Hurricane Harvey

Above Photo: Activists held a Hurricane Harvey vigil outside Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s house on August 31, 2017.
Photo Credit: Anthony Torres

The Secretary of State made millions at Exxon by fueling climate denial.

Wednesday night, I joined dozens of D.C. residents for a vigil of mourning and reckoning outside the D.C. residence of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former ExxonMobil CEO. We mourned for our sisters and brothers in Texas, Bangladesh, Mumbai and Sierra Leone drowning in their homes. We leveraged our resources to raise funds for the community organizations that will sustain the organizing needed for just and equitable recoveries. As we mourned, we also condemned those responsible for these human catastrophes: the oil barons and politicians who profit off of climate disaster.

We gathered just before sunset at a neighborhood park in Kalorama, one of D.C.’s most exclusive neighborhoods, home of Ivanka Trump, President Obama and Rex Tillerson. Led by local leaders from Sunrise Movement, Hip Hop Caucus, Rising Hearts Coalition, 350 DC, Interfaith Power and Light and more, we marched in song, hand in hand, toward Rex’s multimillion-dollar residence.

Upon arriving, we lit our candles and raised them toward the building to shine a light through this dark hour. While we stood in prayer, nearly a dozen police stood between us and his front door—enough to mark every year he spent building a private fossil-fueled empire as Exxon Mobil’s CEO. This Texas oilman barricaded himself inside, while millions in Houston were flooded out of their homes.

The total disaster wrought by Harvey is not fully natural; it is a partially manmade disaster, much of which was perpetrated by fossil fuel executives and shouldered by black, brown, immigrant, disabled, indigenous and poor Americans. Houston, we have a culprit. Rex Tillerson made his millions at Exxon by fueling climate denial, by poisoning the air and water of fence-line communities long before this tragedy, and by pitting us against each other with the claim that for one community to thrive, another must suffer.

It is our duty to confront those responsible for gutting public health and environmental safeguards, for forcing some to choose between deportation and drowning, and for claiming to love America when they hate millions of Americans. It is our duty to show up in the streets when disaster strikes. It is our duty to organize and prevent a future where sinking cities is a seasonal occurrence. It is our duty to talk about how race, class, gender, ability and immigration status have everything to do with who lives and who dies.

For months, CEOs-turned-cabinet secretaries have rolled back rules designed to slow the steady stream of fumes and pollutants from facilities like Exxon’s in Baytown into children’s schools and lungs. Days before the hurricane, President Trump repealed rules designed to protect coastal infrastructure from increased flooding. Even now, in Harvey’s aftermath, Trump administration officials and Republicans on Capitol Hill continue to seek millions in cuts to FEMA in order to pay for a racist border wall. We cannot forget that people like Trump and Tillerson believe this land is reserved for the few who look and live and think like them.

Though the storm has now passed Gulf Texas, the toll of the damage will continue to rise and there will be a long fight ahead for a just Harvey recovery. Meanwhile, in Sierra Leone, hundreds have died from recurrent mudslides, while the death count rises into the thousands from floods in South Asia. As I’m typing this, a notification appeared on my phone about yet another mega-storm, Hurricane Irma, churning in the Atlantic and threatening countless more lives in the coming week.

Our government has failed to act, and is now fully in the hands of the culprits. We come together to honor the victims and uplift our family. We fight for no one to be left behind. The sun will rise again when we make it.

Tillerson, who is poised to lead the U.S. delegation to the upcoming global climate negotiations this November—after removing the special envoy—will not escape blame for his crimes against people and planet. There is no equivalence between immoral silence and righteous outrage. Together, we can enact a bold vision for healthy and thriving communities. It’s on us to continue to name those responsible and build the movements necessary to ensure health, safety, wellbeing, and justice for all of us.

As Mustafa Ali, former director of the EPA’s environmental justice office, who publicly resigned after Trump’s EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced his plans to shutter the program, reminded those gathered: we have power and we must never forget that.

Tillerson’s victims do not need tears—they need action.

If you’d like to donate and support those on the ground in Texas, here are five community organizations building for the long haul on the frontlines: