Drill Baby Drill Part 2

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Drill Baby Drill Part Two
by Nick Cooper

Four years ago, at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, MN, activists from Rainforest Action Network, Codepink, Veterans for Peace, Oil Change International, and others followed the Texas Republican delegates around to their parties and events. The activists dressed up as "oil company executives who were cheering them on," says Antonia Juhasz, author of The Tyranny of Oil. Houston activist David Graeve explains that the activists were using satire "to bring attention to the influence of money and oil in the campaign."

Across town, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele stayed up until 2am working on his speech for the next day, debating whether to include the slogan, "Drill Baby Drill." Erik Rush, a conservative blogger, had used it a few days earlier:

"Guns, baby, guns" was the call of black militants during the civil rights movement, who reasoned that armed rebellion was the only way blacks would realize the fullness of their constitutional rights. So perhaps "drill, baby drill" ought to be the mantra of those proponents of drilling for new oil.

The expression also brings to mind "Burn Baby, Burn," which was associated with the 1965 Watts Riots in Los Angeles (and of course the 1976 song "Disco Inferno"). It was also invoked during the California electricity crisis of 2000 and 2001; an Enron trader was recorded chanting "Burn baby, burn" during a forest fire that would further raise the price of electricity.

With the history of the phrase inextricably linked to guns, riots, and disaster, it couldn't connote a very conscientious policy. So, Steele thought twice about using it. In a recent interview with Greenwire, Steel recalled, "I was worried about how it would be received in the convention hall." He was aware it might sound like a celebration of recklessness.

The activists were coming up with phrases to encapsulate the same culture of recklessness. Juhasz remembers brainstorming -- "We were struggling -- how would you cheer on oil drilling? And we came up with, 'Drill! Drill! Drill!' Then our parody was topped by the reality that night...”

With no taste of irony, and with increasing pride and volume, the audience inside the convention hall chanted "Drill Baby Drill" during Steele and Palin’s speeches. Oil company executives could never have imagined such success at branding their product. The activists stood stunned.

"When we heard them chanting it inside," said Graeve, "we were like oh my god - do we have folks inside too?!" Jeff Grubler, an activist from a group called The Ronald Reagan Home for the Criminally Insane, said when they heard that chant, "we were all blown away."

After spending days trying to come up with the most biting parody of this culture, their targets had come up with the perfect parody themselves, and wore it with pride. How could you satire such people?

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Four years later, the Republican Party's energy plan hasn't improved one drop. Both ABC News and Time Magazine have referred to Republicans’ energy plan as an extension of “Drill Baby, Drill.”

For Juhasz, the Republicans are, "utterly ignoring the idea that there are consequences like climate change. At least in 2008 there was a feint in that direction. In 2012, it's been eviscerated."

For Juan Parras, of the non-profit organization Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS), the poor are always closest to the pollution of extraction, spills, and refining. "There is an extensive risk,” he says, “that we have to assume in communities for the sake of ‘progress’ and profit for those that benefit from it."

Though Juhasz still sees significant differences between the parties’ positions on regulation, she says that since 2008, the Democrats also have moved closer to the energy industry’s positions.

However, it is the Republicans who proudly embrace the most destructive policies. In their 2012 platform, in a section titled "Reining in the EPA," they enshrine wholesale deregulation:

The most powerful environmental policy is liberty, the central organizing principle of the American Republic... Liberty must remain the core energy behind America’s environmental improvement.

Houston Tomorrow's Jay Blazek Crossley responds that "it is the role of the government to properly assign external costs. When a government fails to do this, we reach the least optimal economic solution and impose an oligarchic order where the wealthy are polluting and extracting profits at the expense of the health and quality of life of the bulk of the people."

"We have to save ourselves," says Juan Parras. "Those in authority are not looking seriously at those issues that are having an impact on low-income communities. We should be pushing for a clean environment instead of 'Drill Baby Drill'."