Ted’s new climate change-focused nonprofit, Climate First!, was making its debut at a protest against the Pennsylvania-based bank’s investment in mountaintop removal (MTR), an especially devastating practice of blowing up mountaintops to get at the coal underneath. Studies show higher incidences of birth defects and cancer rates in communities impacted by the toxins released into the air and water.
The protest was in conjunction with Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT), which had organized similar actions at 14 sites in other parts of the Mid-Atlantic on the same day.
Ingrid from EQAT picked us up and we drove down to Dupont Circle with a trunk filled with signs, a couple of banners and dozens of mini informational flyers to hand out, unsure if anyone would be joining us despite Ted’s hours of promotion through email, Facebook postings and distribution of flyers.
Immediately we spotted a couple of young people, one of whom I had recruited through my interfaith coalition work. He’s an environmental advocacy intern with the Church of the Brethren, and even more importantly, an account holder at PNC Bank.
Within 10 minutes several other people trickled in, one a good friend of Ted’s who took a break from caring for his infant daughter; some who had learned about the action from the social justice activist group CREDO; one woman who lived in West Virginia and came to share the impact of MTR on the health of people of that state. I counted 20 people, and the 3 of us were absolutely thrilled!
Ted stood up on a park bench within the circle and laid out the plan: he and the 2 PNC account holders in the group would walk across the street to the bank first and go in to talk with the bank manager. The rest of us were to follow once they were inside, and stand outside with our signs and distribute the flyers to passersby.
But the bank was aware of our coming from all the promotion, and had locked the bank’s doors, so they couldn’t get in. But neither could any customers wanting to do business that day, and that left some really infuriated customers, banging on the door and waving their account cards at the staff inside.
We actually shut down the bank for at least 2 hours, a good hour of which we were outside holding our banners and signs for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers to see. Ted placed some yellow-and-black caution tape on the ground on 3 sides of the bank (it sits on a busy corner) and others of us picked up chalk to draw on the sidewalk messages like “PNC Funds Blowing Up Mountains” and “Green PNC Bank.” We sang songs and chanted.
Some of us took turns standing on a milk crate talking about why we were there, and it so reminded me of the soap-box speakers in London’s Hyde Park when I lived there in 1977-78. I got up and held up a jar filled with dirty water taken from a community near to MTR operations, and talked about how I work with the Sisters of Mercy, who have a deep concern for the environment and people impacted by Earth’s devastation. It was very cool, as my niece Olivia would surely say.
It actually was a lot of fun, we got plenty of attention to the issue, and many of us who had never done this kind of protest before felt empowered and ready to do similar actions again.