Three dollars a gallon for gasoline. Soaring home heating costs. Record oil company profits. Billions in taxpayer dollars raked in by those same oil companies in subsidies and tax breaks promoted by the Big Oil Bush administration and passed by the Republicans in Congress who rake in Big Oil campaign contributions.
And African Americans get gassed. Largely urban, we pay the highest part of our incomes in home-heating and cooling bills, living in old buildings often with miserable insulation. But we are locked out of much of the industry as it consolidates.
Americans ought to be up in arms about oil and gas prices. We're the world's largest users of energy per capita, but we're now importing over two-thirds of our oil. We should be pushing ahead with a concerted drive for energy independence investing in alternative energy sources and rebuilding cities to make them energy efficient. That would create jobs in the cities, revive our auto industry, make us a leader in the green industries that will grow across the world — and help reverse the global warming that is now a clear and present danger.
But the Bush administration, bought and paid for by Big Oil, has refused to summon us to that mission. Instead, its last energy legislation actually gave oil companies over $2.5 billion in taxpayer subsidies even as they raked in record profits. Exxon/Mobil rang up the largest profits ever recorded by a corporation in history. Its CEO retired with a stunning $400 million retirement package. Yet the right-wing majority in Congress voted to subsidize Exxon with taxpayers' money.
But that's only the beginning. For African Americans, the story gets worse — because the oil companies are consolidating, tightening their control over the markets and locking African Americans out in the process.
Consider British Petroleum. BP made $5.3 billion in profits in the first three months of the year. Its CEO, Lord Browne, pockets annually some $20 million in salary and stock benefits. African Americans are major consumers in the U.S. market that BP controls. But they aren't in on the rewards.
BP has 800 gas distributors who now own over 10,000 gas stations around the U.S. None is African American. Of 1,200 senior managers in the United States, BP has zero African Americans. Of 33 vice presidents, zero African Americans. BP does some $16 billion in procurement each year — less than one-third of 1 percent goes to African American businesses.
Big Oil can buy legislators on both sides of the aisle, but it doesn't waste its money. Since 1990, Big Oil has given more than $190 million to members of Congress with 75 percent ($142,635,314) going to Republicans. Not surprisingly, the Tom DeLay majority tends to protect the special interests of their donors more than the common good of their voters.
To turn this around will take citizen action. In the wake of the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik, amid fears the United States was losing its technological edge, President John Kennedy issued the Apollo challenge, calling on the Congress to provide the resources to go to the moon in a decade. Now we need a new Apollo challenge to make us energy independent in the next decade.
But we don't have the presidential leadership to make that happen. So the Apollo Alliance has launched the Apollo challenge (www.apollochallenge.org), calling on citizens to demand that Congress make the investment needed to end our addiction to foreign oil. Moveon.org has called for pickets at gas stations across the country on July 28, to protest their pocketing billions in public subsidies in exchange for their millions in campaign contributions.
Big Oil has had its way for too long. It has consolidated without check, locked out minorities without respect and pocketed billions in subsidies provided by legislators that it has rented — if not purchased — with campaign contributions.
The results are high gas prices, rising trade deficits and increasing dependence on foreign oil. We need to go another way. But that will only happen if the gas companies and the Congress start hearing from their consumers and their citizens — instead of the special-interest politics that have gone on for too long.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. is founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.