Danny Kennedy is the director of Project Underground, a Berkeley-based human rights and environmental organization which he helped to found in 1996. He is also a husband and a happy new father of a beautiful, bouncing baby girl.

Monday, 17 Jul 2000

BERKELEY, Calif.

Monday is a day I look forward to, not because I want the weekend to end and want to leave my beautiful baby and partner, but because I like the work we do here at Project Underground. I am proud to do what I do. Walking to the office at 6:00 this morning, however, I was grumbling to myself about why the hell I do it.

But then I only had to turn on my computer and download the email messages I’d received since Friday to remember. The most important virtual communication was from Nigeria, where we work with a number of communities resisting the depredations of the oil industry there. The email was one of thanks from our allies, with the good news that a small effort I made last week had been used to generate press coverage on a key issue in Nigeria.

On Thursday we had written to the Nigerian president decrying the execution of three children in the village of Ogale in the Eleme district of the oil-producing Niger Delta. They were shot for no reason other than that they were watching people siphon petrol from a leaking pipeline. This heinous crime was well documented, even decried by local police.

The murders were carried out by a “Task Force on Pipeline Vandalization,” which was commissioned by the president supposedly in order to stop people from stealing oil from the multinationals pumping in the area. In truth, the task force seems to be engaged in some kind of campaign of terror — much like that of the infamous Kill-‘n’-Go Mobile Police Squad that killed thousands of Ogoni between 1994 and 1996 — intended to repress the bubbling dissent in communities throughout the Delta against Big Oil.

This is why Project Underground was set up — to support the human rights of the Ogoni and other Niger Delta minorities, as well as people around the globe resisting mining and oil exploitation. It is good to see that working from the United States, we can throw daylight on such hideous acts as these and hope that it will stop them, like exposing a vampire to sunshine. We are aware that the process of creating change and protecting the human rights of people in such repressive settings does not come easily, but we do what we can to help.

And to that end, newly galvanized by kind words from our amazing friends from Nigeria, I set out to plan how best I can meet the goals of our organization. Monday is normally the day when I sit down with my ridiculous to-do list and try and break it into some manageable, if not bite-sized, chunks. I like to spend at least an hour revisiting my longer-term goals, according to my workplan and job description, and crafting three main goals for a week. Invariably I end up with at least five and a whole string of ancillary tasks.

This week I have some fundraising to do, both short- and long-term, since that is a big part of my job. The first deadline is this afternoon, of course, so I will be cranking to get that out the door in time. Then there are some calls I want to make to major donors to renew their support for us in the lead-up to our birthday party — since Project Underground just turned four. And finally I have to report to one of our past funders on our good work. Such mundane tasks are quickly overtaken by immediate demands and I have to fight the urge to just deal with the more interesting elements of our work.

Already today I have done a 15-minute radio interview about the struggle of the U’wa people of Colombia against Occidental Petroleum (check out our website for the latest); discussed the mineral economy of Japan with an old ally who wants to set up an organization to educate Japanese people about the worldwide impacts of their consumption of metals; and plotted our involvement in a strategy session on Citigroup with our program coordinator for later this week. And it is only 11:30 a.m.