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Big Oil Astroturf Rally in Houston More Company Picnic Than Grassroots Campaign

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Yesterday the Public Citizen Texas team drove down to Houston to crash the American Petroleum Institute's Energy Citizen event. Billed as a "grassroots" rally against the cap-and-trade bill currently before Congress, this event was nothing more than a company picnic.

About 2500 energy employees were brought by charter bus to the Verizon Wireless Theater, a private location that could be easily secured to keep undesirables out. David, Ryan, and Andy were all denied access, but stealthily dressed in Banana Republic and spectator pumps, our intrepid Sarah was able to blend in with the crowd and slip into the hot dog line.

Inside the theater it became evident quickly what a polished, professional event this was. Right at the door you could pick up a bright yellow t-shirt with a clever slogan on it like "I'll pass on $4 gas," "I'm an Energy Citizen!" and "Congress, Don't Take Away My Job!" The same lines could also be found on bumper stickers and the same kinds of cardboard signs you would wave at a football game.

In the middle of the arena was a giant action center where employees could voice their disapproval of climate change legislation through a variety of mechanisms. Six or seven computers were cued up with petitions to Sens. Hutchison and Cornyn, and attendees were invited to text JOBS to ENERGY (363749) to get involved. Drop boxes for postcards were also positioned in the corners of the room, and "activists" could sharpie their signatures to eight-foot-tall "shame on you" or "thank you" letters to Congressmen that voted for or against the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

My favorite aspect of the rally by far, however, was the high school marching band and star-spangled dance team. When I asked one of the teenage dancers what she thought the rally was about, she told me she thought that it was about conserving energy.

Even far-right teabaggers, brought out to the event by FreedomWorks and a promise of a free meal, weren't allowed in, despite actually being sympatico with Big Oil's agenda. The offending item that got one kicked out? An American flag. Why does Big Oil hate our freedom?

Read the rest and watch more video of inside and outside the rally at www.TexasVox.org.

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