A demonstration against oil company Chevron’s role in the Israel-Hamas conflict erupted during the dinner service at Oakland-based Mediterranean restaurant Acre on Wednesday, January 31. Captured in various Instagram and TikTok videos, protesters can be seen singing songs and making demands to Chevron CEO Mike Wirth and his dinner guests, who were gathered for a private event.
“We’re here in Oakland disrupting this dinner because we say no more oil for genocide,” Jersey Noah, an activist, says in one video. Footage shows the dinner party disbanding and leaving the restaurant with protestors at their heels.
The protest was part of a coordinated effort to confront oil executives by local activists, who proceeded to demonstrate at another such event at the Claremont Country Club on Thursday, February 1.
Co-owner Pete Sittnick was on-site during the Acre protest, while co-owner and chef Dirk Tolsma was not. In a statement to Eater, a spokesperson for Acre stated that the restaurant’s staff were caught off guard by the demonstration:
We believe in the right to peaceful protest and expression, however, when it disrupted our restaurant operations, we asked the protesters to leave. We were completely taken by surprise by the protest inside of the restaurant, and recognized that staff and guests were being subjected to uncomfortable and potentially unsafe conditions. We did our best to ensure everyone’s safety by asking the protesters to go outside. In the end, many of the guests who had to witness the disruption, complimented the ACRE team on how we handled the situation.
Eater reached out to Chevron for comment and did not hear back at press time.
Jason Woody, who serves with the City of Richmond on the Human Rights and Human Relations Commission, joined the protest on Wednesday night. Woody says he and a friend took a table at Acre after he learned of Wirth’s plans to dine there that night. They ate an order of Brussels sprouts, and Woody says the other folks there to “make a toast to Mike” ordered food, too.
Another source who asked to remain anonymous — and who was connected to Eater through the Arab Resource Organizing Center (AROC), which has been connected to pro-Palestinian organizing in the area — says that they planned to purchase food and beverages, tip Acre’s staff, and make it clear they were not at the restaurant to disturb business or Acre’s employees. Woody estimates activists took up about 40 or 50 percent of the tables in the restaurant at the time of the demonstration.
Woody says he’s a longtime critic of Chevron, which operates a refinery in Richmond and is one of the area’s largest employers. It’s also one of the largest greenhouse gas polluters in the state, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. “[Chevron’s] been toxic to our community for over 100 years,” Woody says. “When these same people are doing this elsewhere, off the coast of Palestine, that’s not in the best interest of human rights as far as I’m concerned.”
Bloomberg reported in October that Chevron, which operates two well platforms off the coast of Israel, “prioritized” Israeli gas supplies since the October 7 Hamas attack, which killed 1,200 Israelis and took 250 people hostage. The New York Times reports that the Israeli power grid relies on gas for 70 percent of its electric power, and Israel-adjacent gas platforms are a keystone of Chevron’s international business. Meanwhile, Gazans have experienced chronic gas and energy shortages due to blockades and limitations on aid since October 7 — contributing to an already dire humanitarian situation in the region, per Human Rights Watch. So far, Gaza’s Ministry of Health reports more than 25,105 Palestinian deaths and 62,681 wounded as of late January 2024.
Once Woody and fellow demonstrators saw Wirth and his party arrive, they planned to approach him but the executive and his tablemates took a private room in the back. One activist stood up to start playing a song and others made a toast to Wirth. “Then we went back to make sure Mike felt unwelcome,” Woody says. “You can’t just come into our town and have a good time.”
This isn’t the first time people have confronted public figures during their restaurant meals — or at their restaurant properties. In December, pro-Palestinian protesters in Philadelphia focused their attention on Israeli American chef and restaurateur Michael Solomonov for his support of a non-profit aid group with connections to the Israeli Defence Forces. Both Sen. Mitch McConnell and Portland, Oregon, Mayor Ted Wheeler share the dubious honor of being heckled by protesters mid-meal.