DATELINE TEXAS / Woody and Charlie Saving the Ancient Redwoods at the Galleria BY PAUL JENNINGS Houston, September 12 lthough the rally fliers asked people to wear animal or tree attire, there aren’t many takers today: a couple of gorilla masks, one very faux leopard-skin outfit, a handheld Christmas tree, and a pair of giant pipecleaners wrapped around a cowboy hat in the shape of bunny ears. Mostly, it’s just too hot. Organizers have prepared cardboard cutouts of endangered salmon that you can hang around your neck, but the prospect of wearing even a cardboard fish in this Gulf Coast heat is not particularly appealing. Still, it’s a good turnout for a weekday; perhaps 200 people in all have gathered in a night club parking lot in the heart of the Galleria area. A crew from Food Not Bombs provides refreshments while musicians, dancers, and poets perform from the back of a flat-bed trailer. There’s a relaxed, almost carnival-like atmosphere: petition pushers and fund raisers work the crowd, a couple of art cars show up, various groups of drummers carry on a running dialogue of different rhythms. An Orkin man on his lunch break pulls into the parking lot to check things out, but doesn’t hang around. At the microphone, the rhetoric heats up. Speakers take turns slamming Houstonbased Maxxam Corporation, which announced that it intends to resume logging old-growth redwood forests in California next week. Included in the logging area are 60,000 acres of virgin timberland, the last privately owned ancient redwood groves in the nation, and containing some of the oldest trees left on the planet. Headed by financier Charles Hurwitz, Maxxam acquired the forests in 1986 in a hostile takeover made possible by the use of junk bonds issued by the now-defunct Drexel Burham Lambert securities firm. According to the FDIC, many of these bonds ended up being purchased by United Savings Association of Texas, an S&L also owned by Hurwitz. Charlie got his redwoods, and when United Savings went belly-up in 1988, taxpayers got stuck with the $1.6 billion tab. Last year Hurwitz negotiated an agreement with the Clinton administration to exchange a 7,500-acre plot of the forest for a compensation package totaling $380 million, much of which is destined to pay off the high-interest debt used to finance Maxxam’s original acquisition of the properties. The deal outraged many environmental activists, who noted that the agreement would result in increased logging activities in four adjacent redwood groves. At the rally, speaker after speaker denounces the unholy alliance between corporate interests and environmental bureaucracies that is constantly finding new ways of converting natural resources into new collateral for junk bonds. Meanwhile, a new row of townhouses is slowly taking shape across the street, the steady thud of the pneumatic nail guns punctuating the remarks of each speaker. Today’s rally features an appearance by the actor Woody Harrelson, whose $5,000 check to a local activist got the rally’s sponsor, the Houston Coalition for Headwaters, off the ground. Texas native Harrelson is a cool customer, likable and straight-shooting. He lays out the case against Maxxam like a lawyer before a hometown jury, concluding his talk with a plea to boycott redwood products, and then closing with a plug for another of his pet projects, the promotion of hemp clothing. As Harrelson leaves the microphone, he’s immediately surrounded by people wanting him to autograph their protest signs. He patiently works on each request, his forehead glistening with sweat. Maybe the all-hemp cowboy hat is an idea whose time will come. More or less on schedule, the parking-lot rally draws to a close. The demonstrators start walking down Augusta Drive to Maxxam’.s corporate headquarters on San Felipe, chanting “Green not Greed!” and adding a new wrinkle to the usual lunchtime traffic. As a group, drivers of sport utility vehicles seem particularly put out. The HPD keeps a low profile during the march, squad cars parked around the corner, a cheerful white-haired traffic cop keeping things moving along, a couple of plainclothesmen systematically videotaping the face of each marcher. Outside the glass-walled headquarters, the marchers regroup for another rally, this time with veteran Maxxam flackmeister Bob Irelan sharing the platform with Harrelson. Predictably, Irelan’s remarks about protecting the environment, the economy, and the interests of the shareholders meet with a solid chorus of boos and some fairly aggressive drumming. This delights the group of office workers clustered around the front entrance who have taken advantage of the commotion to extend their lunch hour. It’s easy to imagine Charlie Hurwitz up in his corner office like a character in an Ayn Rand novel, watching all the little people down below. Later we learn that he is, in fact, out of town and unavailable for comment. No one blames him. Hurwitz might have an estimated net worth of $100 million, but 1997 hasn’t exactly been a great year for him. He’s been successfully sued by a group of wealthy investors, seen his financial holding company go into Chapter 11, and watched as California State Teachers’ Retirement System, one of the largest public pension funds in the nation, unloaded its Maxxam stock. Last spring, attendees at the Maxxam shareholders meeting were greeted with a crowd of demonstrators, a 35-foot-long inflatable chain saw, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow \(who Then there’s the Jail Hurwitz web site \(www.jailhurwitz.com ward of $25,000 to anyone supplying the information that can put him behind bars for a minimum of six months. Rewards for information leading to lesser sentences will be prorated on a weekly basis. For a thousand bucks you can buy a brick in his cell. By 2 p.m. the rally has begun to fizzle out. Small groups of marchers start to drift back See “Woody,” p.25 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER SEPTEMBER 26, 1997
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