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Jesse Jackson: Big Oil Has Dominated America for Too Long

Three dollars a gallon for gas. Soaring home heating costs. Record oil company profits. Billions in taxpayers dollars raked in by those same oil companies in subsidies and tax breaks promoted by the 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, like that called for by the Apollo Alliance: investing in alternative energy sources and rebuilding cities to make them energy efficient. This 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 this administration has refused to summon us to that mission. Instead, its last energy legislation actually gave oil companies over $2.5 billion in subsidies even as they raked in record profits. ExxonMobil rang up the largest profit ever recorded by a corporation.

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. 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 more than 10,000 gas stations around the United States. None are 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 of which 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 going to Republicans. Not surprisingly, the Tom DeLay majority tends to protect the special interests of its donors more than the common good of its voters.

Turning this around will take citizen action. In the wake of the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik, amid fears the U.S. was losing its technological edge, President John Kennedy issued the Apollo challenge, calling on Congress to provide the resources to go to the moon in a decade. We need a new Apollo challenge to make us energy independent in the next decade.

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 received in exchange for their millions in campaign contributions. And this coming weekend, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition will start picketing BP/Amoco gas stations -- protesting their high gas prices and lack of top-tier African-American managers, as well as their lack of investment in the African-American community.

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 happen only if the gas companies and Congress start hearing from consumers and citizens, and are persuaded to stop playing the game of special-interest politics that has gone on for too long.

Email to: jjackson@rainbowpush.org

© 2006 The Chicago Sun-Times