Diane Wilson, from Seadrift, Texas, was arrested after protesting against BP at the entrance to a conference center where the company held its annual general meeting of its shareholders, in London on Thursday.
By Marian Smith, msnbc.com
LONDON - "It's humiliating! They treated us like we were criminals," said Tracy Kuhns, who had traveled from Barataria Bay, La. to attend BP's annual shareholder meeting in London on Thursday.
She and her husband, Michael Roberts, had made the long trip with three other Gulf Coast residents hoping to address BP shareholders about their ongoing plight almost one year after the catastrophic oil spill began on April 20, 2010. But even with their proxy cards in hand, which they believed would allow their participation in the shareholders meeting, all five Gulf Coasters were denied entry.
"They asked us where we were from, we said Louisiana, and they said you can't go in," Kuhns told msnbc.com outside the massive Excel Center convention hall in east London. She described how the guards had lowered a metal security gate to stop them from entering the event.
One woman from their contingent, Diane Wilson from Seadrift, Texas, didn't even get that far – after smearing black paint on herself at the convention center's entrance, she was promptly arrested by police.
For Kuhns and Roberts, however, it wasn't about protesting. "We wanted to tell the shareholders that all is not well in the Gulf of Mexico," explained Roberts, despite what BP says about the clean-up effort being a success. Before the oil spill he made a good living catching shrimp, crabs and fish, but today his family is living off the money he earned from Vessels of Opportunity, the program that paid local boats to help with the clean-up. "And that's about to run out," he said.
Roberts said he was frustrated by BP's claims process, which he says wasn't compensating people adequately. "From my $100,000 claim, they gave me $6,000," he said. "We thought they would take care of us."
Another fisherman in the group of Americans, Byron Encalade, told a similar story. His small oyster fishing business in Pointe a la Hache, La. was devastated by the spill and time and time again BP denied his claims, he said. "I'm not out to destroy BP – they employ a lot of people. But they just need to keep their word," Encalade said.
Victims of the BP oil spill traveled from the Gulf Coast to London on Thursday to drive home the point that almost one year after the country's largest-ever environmental disaster, many people are still dealing with the impact. NBC's Anne Thompson reports.
He had wanted to urge BP to pay the interim claims. "Who are you giving the money to?" he said, addressing the oil company. "We're not getting it."
The group saw their trip to London, paid for by the Gulf Coast Fund charitable organization, as an opportunity to make sure BP's shareholders know that the disaster isn't over. "Everybody is sick, no one is talking about that," Kuhns said. She described the skin rashes people have and the respiratory difficulties – the "BP cough," as locals call it.
"They're scared of us, that's why they didn't let us in," Kuhns said. "The executives are scared to death that the stakeholders are going to find out the truth."
BP spokesman Robert Wine said the four Americans were turned away because they had been seen with Wilson, the woman who was arrested after staging the protest at the convention center's entrance. "The decision [to turn them away] was taken because of safety issues – because of the possible disruption," he said. "We weren't sure what might happen."
The company is entitled under law to turn people away over "appropriate grounds," Wine said, even if they hold proxy votes as the four Americans did.
About an hour into the meeting Kuhns, standing outside with the rest of her group, answered a call from someone inside the meeting. "He wants to know if we want to try to get in," she said to her husband. Roberts held up his proxy sheet, which he had torn into pieces.
He laughed. "Tell him their proxy is in 150 pieces."