There have been a lot of deeply disturbing images and stories to emerge from the BP spill: the dead workers, the oil-covered wildlife, and the gulf-coast families whose lives and livelihoods have been devastated. But few aspects of the spill are as deeply disturbing in terms of their implications for our country's future than BP's systematic efforts to stifle media access to the public spaces where the spill is unfolding.
Since the oil started to hit the beaches, BP's assault against media coverage has been well documented: the gag orders imposed upon cleanup workers, the establishment of no-fly zones over oil-beleaguered areas of the coast, and the attempts to keep journalists out of the cleanup areas. It's an assault that's continued even after the government directed and BP promised open media access to the cleanup sites -- something WDSU reporter Scott Walker learned this past weekend when BP employees told him he couldn't come within 100 yards of cleanup workers and he rightfully challenged their so-called authority:
WALKER: And who's saying that? Because no one can tell me, unless you are the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, you are the Coast Guard, or you're the military, can you tell me where to go on this public beach.
BP OFFICIAL: I can tell you where to go because I am employed to keep this beach safe. And right now, those are my instructions.
Any American who claims to have any shred of respect for our democracy should be deeply, deeply disturbed by what is going on here. Reporters being denied access to public beaches by corporate security guards who have in essence usurped the police power of the state is about as disturbing an anti-democratic scenario as could be imagined. It's a scenario straight out of some futuristic dystopian novel. It's the chilling specter of authoritarianism. It is not something we should ever expect to see in America, and yet there it is.
To be precise, what we're seeing here are our first direct glimpses of the face of corporatocracy. Since this is perhaps the first ever major public emergency that a corporation has not just perpetrated, but managed the response to, the spill could very well be our very first glance at what things will look like when corporations are really calling the shots -- not just exercising financial influence on the government behind the scenes, but out in front directly wielding public power in place of the government. Looking at the gulf coast, we see a snap shot of the brave new world that is the end game of unrestrained market ideology. It is a place of fear, misery, ruin, death and trampled freedoms. It's a world in which corporations do not simply unblinkingly lay waste to entire ecosystems, communities and cultures, but lay waste to the very basic civil liberties that constitute the core of our democratic society, that undergird the American way of life.
BP isn't just dumping its filth on our beaches, it's dumping its filth on our democracy, and we need to fight back. And this fight isn't just about one company; it's about the entire corporate world order, and ensuring that it doesn't become the world order. For Americans today, there's no more immediate, more powerfully graphic demonstration of what that corporate world order would look like than the gulf spill, and hence there is no better time and place to take a stand against the rise of that order than right now, against BP on the gulf coast.
A good place to start would be exactly where Scott Walker left off: with journalists acting as defenders of our democratic right to a free press by not just questioning BP's illegitimate authority, but by non-violently challenging BP to see how far they would go in their attempts to exercise that false authority. Few headlines would be more likely to wake Americans up to what's really going on down there than "BP arrests journalist for covering cleanup."