University of Virginia Library

Gideon's Gang Marches Again: The Gulf Boycott

Three widely separated concerns in American thought came together in the early 1970s to provide a setting in which the Congregation for Reconciliation progressed from the local to the national scene with a social-action project.

First, the Vietnam war was finally winding down. Pressure for immediate withdrawal of troops mounted in Congress. The Cambodian incursion in the spring of 1970, followed by the killings at Kent State and Jackson State, sparked nationwide student protests demanding an immediate end to the war. In this context much concern for avoiding. such future conflicts developed, and American national interests abroad became a focus of assessment.

Second, for at least a decade, support for white-minority-ruled states in southern Africa has been on America's agenda of moral issues. This issue gained a great deal of public attention in 1965 when Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), under pressure from Great Britain to decolonize, unilaterally declared independence. The white-dominated regime of President Ian Smith increasingly implemented a system of racial segregation. In 1968, the United Nations enacted mandatory trade sanctions against the regime. Guerrilla attacks shortly before Christmas in 1972 led Rhodesia to close its borders to Zambia, its black-dominated neighbor to the north. Rhodesia's guerrilla skirmishes called attention to the nearby Portuguese colonial territories of Mozambique and Angola, where revolutionary independence movements have been active for many years, recently with increasing intensity.


Third, consumer groups such as the Nader organization gained national attention during the latter 1960s in calling for business concerns to consider more seriously the social and environmental consequences of their actions.

The theme of corporate responsibility coalesced with the growing interest in racist regimes in southern Africa to focus debate in this country on the proper strategy for companies with investments in that area. In the past few years stockholder proposals and all kinds of protests on the ethics of investment by U.S. corporations-not only in South Africa but also in its neighbors Namibia, Rhodesia, Angola, and Mozambique-have abounded. The suggestion that investments be withdrawn has borne little fruit.

American companies in southern Africa have tended to respond to these protests in two ways. First, by refusing to take advantage of customary racial disparities in pay, and thereby upgrading black employees in these countries, some have argued they are establishing a precedent for the white governments. Second, others have argued that their stimulation of the economies of these countries will gradually undermine their racist policies. In 1973, seventeen corporations faced stockholder proposals urging withdrawal, fair employment practices, or disclosure of investments in southern Africa. This protest is coordinated by a coalition of Protestant church groups called the Church Project on U.S. Investments in Southern Africa. [1]

The Gulf Oil Corporation is the largest single American investor in Portuguese Africa. In 1954 it began prospecting in Cabinda, an enclave of Angola located on the Atlantic Ocean between the two Congos. Its first important oil strike was made in 1966. By 1969, it had invested $130 million in developing the field. [2] In 1972, the oil production rate rose to 127,000 barrels per day, representing approximately 3.9 percent of Gulf's total world petroleum output. In the same year, Gulf paid $61 million to Portugal in taxes and rights.

In June of 1970, the Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ passed a resolution for a boycott of Gulf products. The denomination's missionary ties with Angola had prompted the resolution. In the war of national independence there, Protestant missionaries have often sided with the insurgents. The resolution's


supporters claimed that Gulf, through its taxes, contributed financially to the colonial war against independence. Gulf, in response to the call for a selective patronage campaign, threatened to sue the Ohio Conference. The Washington Post picked up the story, and it received wide coverage across Ohio.



"Minding the Corporate Conscience, 1973," Economic Priorities Report 4 (Jan.-Mar. 1973), pp. 10-12.


Africa Today (July-Aug. 1970).

Outreach or Overreach?

In the fall of 1970, several Congregation for Reconciliation members interested in the issue of colonialism formed a study group to explore the Angola situation more fully.

Early in March 1971 the research committee presented a resolution to the Congregation calling for social action against the Gulf Oil Corporation. Two controversial issues developed around the resolution. First, several members questioned the wisdom of adopting a social-action project of national scope. It seemed to them a matter of overreach rather than outreach. For so small a group to take on the fourth largest oil company in assets in the world appeared absurd. The Congregation had already proved itself skilled in social action on the local level. Some wondered if a move to a national issue, however, might indicate both foolhardiness and an unrealistic assessment of the Congregation's social-action skill and resources. It would surely be interpreted by the Congregation's detractors as arrogant self-aggrandizement.

Second, in response to this action, Gulf could file a slander or defamation suit against the Congregation, just as it had threatened to do against the Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ. The Congregation was divided. To some, if the Congregation was unwilling to risk its life, it should get out of the social-action business. For others, the possibility of a legal action which could affect the financial resources of each member was clearly intimidating.

The gravity of the issue led to tabling the resolution and scheduling a workshop to explore the legal ramifications with a lawyer. They then learned that only those voting in favor of the action resolution could be sued. This provided a test of social-action commitment unequaled in the life of the Congregation. Many members agonized over their decisions. The workshop had been well attended, but when the Congregation convened in a business


session on March 11 and the resolution came to a vote, only thirteen persons were in attendance. Some who voted in favor of the resolution had taken all property out of their own name and placed it in the name of a spouse who, if he was a member of the Congregation, voted against the resolution. The call for social action against Gulf by the Congregation for Reconciliation passed by a vote of eleven to two.

Since the resolution embodies the basic rationale for what later grew to a national movement, it is important to examine the entire document.

WHEREAS, the Portuguese territories of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, remain the last major European colonies of that continent;
WHEREAS, the United Nations General Assembly "reaffirms the inalienable right of the peoples of the Territories under Portuguese domination to achieve freedom and independence, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 1514, and legitimacy of their struggle to achieve this right" (Resolution 2270, November 17, 1967);
WHEREAS, the United Nations General Assembly "strongly condemns the activities of the financial interests operating in the territories under Portuguese domination, which exploit the human and material resources of the territories and impede the progress of their people towards freedom and independence" (Resolution 2270);
WHEREAS, Christian teaching proclaims release to the captives and liberty to the oppressed (Luke 4:18);
WHEREAS, currently, many Angolans, some of whom are members of the Christian community, are imprisoned because of their struggle for freedom and independence;
WHEREAS, the Gulf Oil Corporation, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has been doing business in Angola since 1957 and considers Angola "A vital source of oil" (Gulf statement, September 10, 1970) and thus provides economic support to Portuguese colonialism in Angola; and
WHEREAS, the Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ has recommended that its members participate in a selective


patronage campaign by discontinuing the use of Gulf products and turning in their Gulf credit cards: therefore [be it] [Resolved by] the Congregation for Reconciliation, a member of the Ohio Conference, as a matter of conscience and Christian responsibility, [That it] supports the right of the Angolan people to achieve freedom and independence and their struggle toward that SEC. 2. [It] calls for the release of all political prisoners.
SEC. 3. [It] expresses its disapproval of the Gulf Oil Corporation's business involvement with the Portuguese government in Angola.
SEC. 4. [It] recommends to its own members and to American Christians and the American public that they refrain from purchasing any product of the Gulf Oil Corporation while the business relationship of Gulf Oil Corporation with the Portuguese Government in Angola continues.
SEC. 5. [It] commends the Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ for initiating the said campaign of selective patronage and authorizes its officers and the Angola committee to participate in and support the said campaign by lawful means and in all lawful ways. [3]

By calling for social action under the legitimation of United Nations Resolution 2270 and scripture, the appeal extends to secularists and Christians alike. Further, the phrasing is clearly an extension of the resolution passed by the United Church of Christ. This would provide legal argument for the complicity of the Ohio Conference of that denomination in boycott activities generated by the Congregation. Finally, the Congregation sought to protect itself by specifying authorization only of such activity using "lawful means."

The boycott resolution could probably have passed when first presented in spite of the feeling by some that the enormity of the undertaking was patently absurd. The Congregation has almost never denied an action committee the right to pursue a project in

the name of the Congregation. Holding the workshop and seriously considering the legal ramifications prior to the vote promoted an image of responsibility in action to community leaders, pastors, and denomination executives who knew the


history of the boycott. This was consistently borne out in our interviews. The process of adopting the Gulf boycott project thus served two functions. It reinforced personal commitment to social action among many members by making the risks personal and significant, and it earned credibility points from interested observers by demonstrating a high degree of responsibility for the ramifications of congregational decisions.

Two years after the resolution's adoption, the support base for the Gulf boycott had mushroomed beyond the point where a lawsuit leveled at the Congregation would have stopped the movement. The legal risks taken on March 11 then ceased to be an issue in the minds of the members of the Congregation for Reconciliation. For two years, however, those who had voted to support the national boycott of one of America's largest corporations had, in their minds at least, run a risk for their commitments far beyond all but a few church people. Even in a social-action oriented congregation, that some would abstain when personal risk to property was threatened is predictable.

No doubt some abstained not for want of conviction but in protest to a division of the Congregation's attention between local and national issues. We can understand how the proposed action goal must have seemed a totally unrealistic and wasteful squandering of precious resources in time and energy for a congregation of about thirty members.



We have put the resolution in proper form but have not altered its content.

Climbing Jacob's Ladder:
The Gulf Boycott Coalition

In early July 1971, the Gulf-Angola Committee sponsored a workshop for representatives of several national groups to work on a statement of goals and strategy. Members of the American Committee on Africa, the United Church of Christ Council on Christian Action, and CORUNA, the United Nations student organization, attended the workshop, coming from such scattered places as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Indianapolis. At the workshop the Gulf-Angola Committee changed its name to the Gulf Boycott Coalition. Although the name may seem to imply a coalition of organizations, in reality it represents only a coalition of individuals. The base of the Coalition was and has remained


solely the Congregation for Reconciliation, although its boycott has received endorsements from many organizations and prominent individuals.

The meeting was concluded with a celebration (worship service) outside a downtown Gulf service station on the fourth of July. To mark the official birth of the Coalition, they released a large helium-filled orange balloon proclaiming the message "Boycott Gulf." Small grants from members of the United Presbyterian Church and the United Church of Christ symbolically established the initial funding of the organization.

The first action of the newly formed Coalition took place on the Congregation's home turf. Dayton had a contract with Gulf to provide gasoline for city vehicles, renewable every six months on a low-bid basis. The Gulf Boycott Coalition (GBC) began laying a strategy to undermine the Gulf bid. Their research had uncovered that Gulf had only a 4 percent minority work force in its Ohio region; the second lowest bidder (only $150 higher) had a 12 percent nonwhite work force. Since the city government had taken a public stand against minority job discrimination, the GBC began politicking with city commissioners to line up opposition to .

accepting Gulf's low bid. When the issue came to a vote, Gulf lost its contract.

Rejecting the Gulf bid on December 8 cost the city $150; it cost Gulf more than $55,000. More importantly, the Gulf Boycott Coalition catapulted into brief national prominence. The Wall Street Journal carried the story, and such visibility bolstered the Coalition's credibility before other protest groups and served notice of their seriousness on Gulf. Success at the local level where social action processes were well understood served as a springboard to the unfamiliar waters of national action, for they had been noticed.

As a result of demonstrated clout in depriving Gulf of a city contract, the Coalition was invited to participate in the National Conference on Southern Africa in Washington, D.C., several months later. Several national church bodies and a loose coalition of Afro-American organizations sponsored the conference. The GBC participated with the specific purpose of seeking out support for the boycott and cultivating the media. Unexpectedly their involvement also earned them the bonus of an advisory board of


prominent individuals who lent their names to the support of the boycott. The national conference, in addition, resolved to support the boycott.

Climbing to national prominence was a progression of happy surprises. Righter, then a Dayton representative for Americans for Democratic Action, lobbied at its national convention for adoption of a strong boycott resolution as presented by the Ohio ADA. The resolution passed and the boycott received further publicity through the ADA newsletter. Further, Allard Lowenstein, president of ADA, whose interest in southern Africa dates back to the 1950s, added his name to the advisory board of the boycott, as did Leon Shull, executive director of ADA, Dolores Mitchell, executive committee chairperson of ADA, and John Kenneth Galbraith.

The ADA endorsement not only gave the Coalition broader visibility than before but, perhaps more important, leaders of the organization opened to the GBC an extensive file of individuals across the country who they felt would be willing to become involved in local boycott activity. Mailings to these persons reaped an expanded list of friends and acquaintances for the Coalition's file.

When the 1972 Gulf stockholders' meeting convened in April, the Gulf Boycott Coalition stood ready. They sponsored a liberation celebration outside the meeting hall in Pittsburgh as stockholders were gathering. Several persons, including an Angola missionary, spoke, and a model of the Statue of Liberty, battered by a Gulf sign, provided photogenic novelty for the press. The celebration ended with the release of dozens of orange "Boycott Gulf' balloons to rise above Pittsburgh, the home base of the international oil corporation.

The Coalition leaders, in collaboration with the Church Project on U.S. Investments in Southern Africa, then attempted to bring resolutions to the floor of the stockholders' meeting. Although the resolutions were allowed, discussion from the floor was tightly controlled. Microphones were turned off at mention of Angola. This experience convinced Coalition leadership that their time was better spent elsewhere.

Many boycott sympathizers on the mailing list of the Coalition were assumed to be timid about the use of confrontation tactics. In order to provide for social-action appeal to the broadest audience of supporters, the Coalition developed techniques of


"nonconfrontation tactics." After a feasibility study, the first of these tactics was activated between Thanksgiving and Christmas of 1972.

During this period shopping centers are filled with Christmas shoppers. Gulf had recently distributed bumper decals with seals of the various states through their dealers. Automobiles showing such decals on their bumpers were assumed to belong to Gulf customers. Volunteers flocked into parking lots and leafleted decaled cars in several scattered areas of the nation. No direct confrontation between the customer and the volunteer occurred. The message in the leaflets was designed for middle America, making appeals primarily to patriotism in their request to boycott Gulf products.

In January 1973 the Gulf Boycott Coalition received its first substantial grant. The $8,300 stipend came from the DJB Foundation in New York which funds social-action organizations they consider capable and responsible.

During the first half of 1973 Coalition leaders fanned out across the country, organizing local boycott groups. In these encounters they taught crash courses on research, education, media utilization, and action skills. St. Louis, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Birmingham were areas of concentration. In their efforts, they met with a black militant group based in Massachusetts, independently organizing groups in several black communities and preparing to launch a Gulf boycott media campaign in a number of black news magazines. A statewide organization in Maryland operating through campus, political, and church groups and gathering its own endorsements from prominent political and activist leaders was established.

In March, the Coalition was surprised by a call from Congressman Charles C. Diggs, Jr., asking if representatives of the Coalition would testify before the House Subcommittee on Africa which was holding hearings on U.S. corporate investments in Southern Africa. Congressman Charles W. Whalen, a member of the Coalition's advisory board, introduced its representative at the hearing. Whalen's Republican status lent the GBC a degree of credibility it would otherwise have lacked. A free-lance journalist who had followed the subcommittee's hearings told Coalition leaders afterward that one of the subcommittee members who had


attempted to discredit previous witnesses from social-action organizations as Communist sympathizers refrained from attacking the Gulf Boycott Coalition in the face of Whalen's strong endorsement.

Additionally, the testimony before the House Subcommittee on Africa led to Congressman Diggs's agreeing to serve as an advisory board member. Congressmen Ronald Dellums and Charles Whalen had also previously agreed to serve in this capacity.

In the spring a staff reporter from the Pittsburgh desk of Business Week discovered that no proxy resolutions were to be presented at the 1973 Gulf stockholders' meeting-for the first time in three years. After several calls and encouragement from national leaders in the southern Africa protest movement, the GBC decided the stockholders did indeed need a reminder of the Angola issue. Ignoring the normal routine of advanced planning, they managed a protest at the gathering. In this instance, without a push from the media the meeting would have proceeded without dissension.

In 1972 the GBC introduced and distributed gummed miniposters which read, "Boycott Gulf, Help Angola-Gulf Boycott Coalition." By the summer of 1973, they decided that dealers made aware of the boycott would become concerned and contact those higher up the chain of command. This would serve both as an annoyance and perhaps a small scare to company officials. To assure dealer complaints from scattered parts of the nation, the Coalition sent out "Vacation Idea Kits" to action volunteers. These kits contained the mini-posters and other boycott materials and invited volunteers to stop at Gulf stations and place the labels in conspicuous places in the station rest rooms. Since the volunteer came and went unnoticed, this was another nonconfrontation action. Purposely, no address of the GBC appeared on the sticker. Dealers had to turn to someone higher in the Gulf organization for an explanation. Boycott stickers have since been placed in Gulf rest rooms crisscrossing the nation.

Gulf ships much of its Angolan oil to Canada for refining. Since the Angola Committee of the Netherlands has successfully pressured Gulf to stop imports to Holland from the Portuguese colonies, the Gulf Boycott Coalition has seriously considered the strategy of organizing activist groups in Canada to campaign


against the importation of oil from Angola. On several international policy matters Canada has shown itself a step ahead of the United States. With this in mind, GBC strategists considered the Canadian government more likely to pass legislation banning Angolan oil, given enough attention to the issue in the media. In May of 1973 organizers went to Canada to begin building a Boycott Gulf network.

During the Canada trip, one GBC leader joined a Toronto Gulf action group to call upon the chairman of the board of Gulf Canada to inform him of the issues and to prevent future distortion of the cause. A primary purpose of this visit, however, was the nonconfrontation of Gulf Oil Corporation executives in Pittsburgh, since they assumed word would be passed by the Canadian board chairman. The message, of course, said that the small group of activists, once considered a localized group, was now organizing in Canada as well as the United States.

During our last field contact with the Gulf Boycott Coalition they were circulating a $100,000 grant proposal among several funding agencies, talking of a national media campaign, and discussing research on half a dozen institutional contracts which, with careful planning, could be snatched from Gulf bidders. In addition, three national organizations with large mailing lists have a Gulf boycott endorsement now under consideration.

Grumbling among members of the Congregation for Reconciliation about squandering resources on quixotic national protests is no longer heard. Few would have believed in March of 1971 that a thirty-member congregation could launch a viable national movement. But it did. [4]



The Gulf Boycott Coalition was certainly not the first group to be concerned with the" Gulf-Angola connection. Several national organizations interested in the broader issue of social justice in Southern Africa have recommended action against Gulf. A pan-African liberation organization has worked steadily for several years on generating a boycott of Gulf products in a number of urban black communities, quite independent of the GBC. By focusing upon the Dayton-based group alone, we may have inadvertently left the impression that it singly mans the barricades against Gulf. Let us hasten to correct that impression.

The Potentially Prodigious Snowball:
Interpreting GBC Strategy

With the Gulf Oil Corporation, the Congregation for Reconciliation for the first time engaged an opponent with potential to affect resources dear to its members. In that sense, the conflict model developed in chapter 5 more closely parallels that of a war game. The power relationship clearly favors Gulf. Although the tactic might have attracted a great deal of unfavorable publicity and thus have been counterproductive, Gulf could have sued the


members of the Congregation who voted to support the boycott. A defamation-of-character suit by Gulf at this point, however, would catapult the Coalition into unimaginable national prominence. The Coalition has had two years to build alliances with journalists and national organizations which would promptly pounce upon such a controversy, leaving Gulf in an awkward and embarrassing public relations posture.

The power of the Gulf Boycott Coalition to affect valued resources of the corporation such as sale of products remains speculative. Damage to the public image of Gulf, rather than actual loss of sales, may be a more realistic measure of attrition.

Interaction and sentiment become vague concepts in this conflict. Nonconfrontation tactics have minimized direct interaction between the parties considerably, although behind the scenes contact with some Gulf public relations personnel-who have the unhappy task of undoing Coalition damage to Gulf's image-has remained constant. Assessment of sentiment is impossible.

The only cost to Gulf thus far has been the growing annoyance provided by the Coalition. Public relations personnel have appeared before several student groups in the past year and have required an increasing number of briefings from management in order to counter pointed questions. This demand upon management resources could become a major annoyance with time, putting Gulf on the defensive and ultimately stimulating internal consideration of alternative policy. Should alternatives be seriously entertained by management, the Coalition has shrewdly provided an opportunity for face-saving. The GBC has never insisted that Gulf withdraw from Angola. Rather, it has placed emphasis upon another option. The Coalition has argued that Gulf can satisfy its demands by "saving" the Cabinda oil-that is, by severely cutting back production until after Angola has become self-governing. In the long run, this would facilitate image cleaning without actual investment loss for Gulf.

On Gulf's side currently is the national attention focused upon "the energy crisis." Public sentiment is now unlikely to support the suspension of any important source of petroleum for whatever moral reason. On the other hand, stories are filtering through to the Western press concerning My Lai type actions of Portuguese troops in Mozambique. Portuguese colonialism may thus receive


increasing public attention as the guerrilla war continues. The American experience in Vietnam combined with the appeal of a war for national independence will probably lead American public opinion to oppose Portugal in the struggle. It is predictable that the Coalition will do what it can to fan the flames of public reaction. As Watergate resolves itself, Portuguese colonialism may receive far greater media attention in the years ahead.

Should this happen, the Gulf Boycott Coalition will reap the benefits of public sentiment. Further, they will make every effort to link Gulf symbolically with the image of a cruel and oppressive colonial regime, thus creating a public relations nightmare. Should this happen, Gulf may "save" the 3.9 percent of total petroleum output derived from the Cabinda field rather than suffer through the public relations contortions and accompanying management headaches produced by such a situation.

The Gulf Boycott Coalition would undoubtedly interpret this as a major victory and claim the credit. The outcome of the boycott, therefore, depends more on how Portugal's colonial war evolves than it does on Gulf. In this sense, time is on the side of the Coalition. Obviously, a major "victory" over Gulf would strengthen the perceived power of the Congregation for Reconciliation in future social-action projects.


To summarize and reflect, the making of a national movement requires progressively expanding sponsorship, which then generates broad-based support. The news media play a crucial role in providing wide visibility for any social movement, and in this instance skills developed in working with local media were transferred to developing rapport with the national media. Church publications responded because of Presbyterian and UCC sponsorship. The underground press rallied behind the boycott's sponsorship by the National Conference on Southern Africa and the regular mailings of boycott material to a large number of activist groups across the country. The story in the Wall Street Journal, however, provided a media breakthrough. Since then the Coalition has received some notice from other business-oriented periodical publications.


The dialogue between a social-action group and the media is dynamic and progressive. The action group provides news and the media provide exposure and influence. As interaction develops, action is not only covered but also encouraged by the media. In this way, the media can facilitate, if not create, news stories. The protest at the 1973 Gulf stockholders meeting is illustrative. An action group sensitive to the needs of the media, aware of deadlines, careful to stage suitable protests, and prompt to provide news releases, including background research, can anticipate media courtship.

The Congregation for Reconciliation, in fostering a social-action project aspiring to become a national movement, encountered considerable scoffing at such absurd self-aggrandizement. The thought of a small congregation taking on the fourth largest international petroleum group seemed patent fantasy. Yet as the movement has grown it has become conceivable that given certain circumstances the movement could actually succeed in its goal. Gideon's gang, ignoring its detractors, continues to polish its horns and trim its lamps.