Protest against Veolia. (Photo: US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation)
At 2:30pm on Wednesday, December 19, 2012, at a standing-room only meeting in the mayor’s office for the St. Louis City Board of Estimate & Apportionment (E & A), the Board declined to approve a city contract with Veolia Water, putting off the vote until there can be a full investigation into the company’s history. The decision came in light of new information on the company’s involvement with ethnic discrimination in Palestine, as well as a flurry of phone calls, emails, and meetings voicing “concerns about the company’s human rights practices and financial condition,” as reported by St. Louis National Public Radio.
In the six hours prior to the vote, board members had received more than 200 emails apiece asking them not to rush the contract through. Their phones rang off the hook as local activists also addressed the officials on Twitter. Members of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee and St. Louis Jewish Voice for Peace attended the meeting to show their opposition to Veolia.
The board, which is comprised of the St. Louis City Mayor Francis Slay, Comptroller Darlene Green, and President of the Board of Aldermen Lewis Reed, agreed that they could not in good conscience vote to approve a contract with so many outstanding questions. Earlier, the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee had delivered a statement and facts sheet documenting Veolia’s history of profiting from Israel’s illegal occupation and apartheid policies in Palestine, and the company’s notorious environmentally disastrous activities, anti-labor practices, mismanagement, corruption, bribery, embezzlement, fraud, and failure to make good on promised improvements.
When Mayor Slay presented the contract with a motion to approve, President Reed put forward a motion to postpone the vote in order to allow time for investigation into the company’s practices. While the city’s Water Commissioner and the mayor continued to argue that Veolia was the right company for the job, Green spoke eloquently in agreement with Reed:
“We have several complaints from our citizenry. And I want to honor their complaints [and] their time and desire to ‘Investigate Veolia.’… It’s not our money; it’s their money. Period… You [the citizens] do matter. So let’s get more information.”
Reed expressed concerns that the contract had been added to the agenda at the last-minute, following outcry from environmentalists, workers, the Palestine solidarity community, and other constituencies outraged by the corporation’s abysmal track record.
In spite of the late notice, local organizers mobilized hundreds to spring into action. This victory has shown the power of everyday people standing up to multinational corporations and demanding transparency in public contracts.
Sandra Tamari, a local Palestinian-American member of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee attended the meeting and said:
“I thank the E&A board for their principled decision. My family lives in the occupied West Bank, where Israel has implemented a system of segregated roads and segregated buses, some of which Veolia operates. If we tried to board these Veolia buses, my family and I would be forced off simply because of our ethnicity and religion, which is what happened to the Palestinian Freedom Riders not long ago. I do not feel safe funding a corporation that oppresses my people, each time I turn on the faucet here. If the city stands against segregation in the U.S., it should not support corporations participating in segregation elsewhere.”
Having won the first victory, St. Louisans will now redouble efforts to stop the contract once and for all. It’s time for St. Louis to dump Veolia.