Interfaith San Ramon Valley
San Ramon, CA
In May 2003, the suffering of an indigenous people half a world away led a group of Californian pastors and rabbis to challenge a huge multinational oil company they believed responsible. The Interfaith San Ramon Valley first became involved with the fate of the Cofan people when three members of the indigenous nation traveled from the Ecuadorian Amazon to the headquarters of ChevronTexaco in California’s San Ramon Valley, hoping to meet with the company’s chairman, David O’Reilly. They wanted to explain to him the amount of environmental and human devastation left in the wake of the company’s 20 years of oil exploration, drilling and pipeline development in the Amazonian region known as the Oriente that had turned a pristine ecosphere into a toxic wasteland where the water and rain are made undrinkable with oil and industrial byproducts, the land is made barren and babies are frequently born with missing organs, and more than 90 percent of local families have suffered various cancers unknown in the area just 20 years before.
Unsurprisingly, ChevronTexaco -- which was facing a multi-billion dollar lawsuit over the claims -- wouldn’t meet with the Cofan delegation. But when they wouldn’t listen, members of Interfaith San Ramon Valley did, setting up meetings between the Cofan and their own congregations, so that members of their faith communities could hear the Cofan’s stories and learn about the far-away destruction that could be traced back to a company in their own town.
In appreciation of their audience with Interfaith San Ramon Valley (ISRV) congregations, the Cofan invited ISRV to form their own delegation and travel to Ecuador to see the destruction for themselves. That November, three ISRV members from Danville -- Rev. Steve Harms and Rev. Margareta Dahlin-Johansson from Peace Lutheran Church, and Rabbi Dan Goldblatt from Beth Chaim Congregation -- as well as John Dalymple, the Secretary of the Central Labor Conference of Contra Costa County AFL-CIO and the labor representative of the oil workers of ChevronTexaco in Richmond, California, took them up on the offer and traveled to Ecuador’s capital, Quito, under the guidance of the group, Amazon Watch.
In Quito, the ISRV delegation met with faith communities and union leaders and the press to discuss their mission. They spent three days observing the untouched beauty of healthy Amazon rainforests, before moving into the “toxic tour” of the Oriente, where an estimated 19 billion gallons of waste water and 16.8 million gallons of crude oil were left in the wake of the company’s pullout in 1992: half again as much as was spilled by the Exxon Valdez.
The ISRV delegation was horrified, but vowed to share their experiences. Upon their return to San Ramon, they more than kept their word, authoring a three-part diary of their journey that was published in local papers, holding numerous press conferences, making a video documentary in partnership with Amazon Watch, and hosting a series of “report-backs” with the Bay Area community.
The publicity that greeted the delegation’s return prompted ChevronTexaco to request a meeting with ISRV. Though the company had previously turned down ISRV’s requests for a meeting, as well as an invitation to accompany ISRV on the delegation, since their return from Ecuador, ISRV has had four meetings with members of ChevronTexaco’s Social Responsibility Team and has even managed to facilitate a meeting between corporate leaders of the company and the indigenous people of Ecuador they turned away in 2003. In addition, representatives from some of ChevronTexaco’s major stockholders and investors subsequently toured Ecuador and have returned to San Ramon to speak to ISRV to discuss their experience and listen to the stories of the original ISRV delegation. ISRV has continued to keep the issue in the public spotlight with the formation of a local group called “San Ramon Valley Cares,” and by assisting the creation of similar groups in Sacramento; by helping Amazon Watch organize a youth delegation to Ecuador; by speaking about the issue at both religious and environmental conferences in cities across America and in Europe; and by maintaining close ties with the faith leaders in Ecuador who have founded a “Quito Cares” group. ISRV has also met with area Congressman George Miller and made presentations to the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors to propose that Ecuador’s Oriente region be named a sister region to their county, reminding members of San Ramon Valley community about the many ties that bind them to the fate of Ecuador’s Amazon rainforests.
Contact Information:Interfaith of San Ramon Valley
Partnering with Indigenous People to Save the Environment
c/o Beth Chaim Congregation
110 Ryan Industrial Ct. #3
San Ramon, CA 94583