Earth Quaker Action Team Campaigns Against PNC Bank for Financing Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining 2010-2015

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Timing
Time Period:  
March
2010
to
February
2015
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Goals: 
To persuade PNC Banks to cut funding to Mountaintop Coal Mining.
 

The Earth Quaker Action Team’s first campaign, BLAM! (Bank Like Appalachia Matters!) began on 18 February 2010. Ingrid Lakey, Board Member of EQAT, sent a letter to PNC Vice President Jean Caulfield, which described the health and environmental dangers of mountaintop mining and requested a meeting. Shortly after Lakey wrote her letter, three EQAT members met with J. William Mills (the president of the Philadelphia Regional PNC banks) and relayed their expectations of PNC Bank to him. Less than a week later, PNC Bank sponsored a flower show on 9 March 2010. EQAT generated public interest at the flower show by distributing fliers about mountaintop removal. Swarthmore College and Bryn Mawr College students and local musicians, joined the protest and sang songs in support of EQAT. A total of 250,000 people came to see the flower show.

A lot of the campaign involved ‘EQATers’ participating in actions outside of Philadelphia. EQAT members participated in Mountaintop Removal Lobby Week in Washington D.C., a fifth annual week of action organized by Alliance for Appalachia from 6 March to 10 March. Two hundred activists participated to urge congress to curb mountaintop removal. On 1 April, EQAT and an ally group, Rising Tide Philly, held signs outside a PNC bank in Philadelphia encouraging patrons to not be “fossil fooled.” George Lakey (a Swarthmore College professor and founder of EQAT) stood on a milk crate and spoke as group of protestors sang folk songs adapted to decry mountaintop removal.

By 29 September 2010, EQAT had recruited a group of 35 people (consisting of EQATers, Swarthmore Students, members of the Rainforest Action Network and Reverend Billy’s Gospel Choir from the Church of Stop Shopping, a radical performance group in New York) to protest at a Washington, D.C. PNC bank by building a small mountain out of dirt. Police arrested George Lakey , Alexa Ross (a Swarthmore student) and two other EQATers. In October of 2010, PNC announced that they would stop loaning money to companies that gained over 50% of their coal from mountaintop removal. However, none of the companies with which PNC conducted business produced that much coal via mountaintop removal, and thus the new policy did not represent change. Soon after the bank’s new commitment, PNC gave money to Massey Energy, a company found responsible for poor safety conditions that led to the deaths of thirty-one miners in April 2009. Unsatisfied by PNC’s ineffective policy, EQAT staged another protest on 17 December 2010. Protesters sang Christmas carols while delivering stockings full of coal to a PNC Bank in Media, Pennsylvania.

A month later, Temple students presented the Board of Temple University with a petition asking the school to stop their association with PNC bank. The board ignored the petition. A group of three Temple University Students (Ethan Jury, Diane Isser and Daniel Teichman) held a sit-in at their university’s Temple PNC branch in response to the university board’s lack of reception to a letter by students demanding the school stop endorsing the bank. While the students protested inside the bank, members of EQAT stood outside and handed out fliers describing the Board of Trustee’s response to the students’ demands. Members of Occupy Philadelphia supported the protesters.

The next month, on 4 February 2011, seventy students from Swarthmore College’s Mountain Justice group entered the local PNC branch lobby and sang songs. When police ordered the group to leave, Will Lawrence, the occupation organizer, peacefully led the group out and continued to sing and speak on the sidewalk and distribute pamphlets.

PNC continued to meet EQAT's protests with resistance. On 9 March 2011, EQAT returned to Philadelphia’s annual flower show and created a “flower crime scene,” to represent PNC’s damages to the environment. The group said they would continue their action at the flower show until the regional PNC president, J. William Mills, signed a “confession” to funding mountaintop removal. Mills refused, and various representatives from the bank would not negotiate. The group left by police escort.

EQAT next moved to infiltrate PNC by attending a meeting in D.C. as shareholders. On 26 April 2011, EQAT, RAN (Rainforest Action Network, which had helped support EQAT), and Keepers of the Mountain Foundation conducted a shareholder meeting as if it were a Quaker worship, where the activists directly confronted board members and asked them how they could morally support mountaintop mining. A traditional Quaker Meeting involves worshippers sitting in silence until compelled to speak. At the end of the meeting, the activists gave a gift bag to CEO James Rohr with a framed picture of the Appalachian Mountains and a pamphlet about the dangers of mountaintop removal.

By the following September, EQAT had prepared more elaborate demonstrations. On 22 September 2011, EQAT held a mock-trial in the lobby of PNC, charging the company for “impersonating a green bank,” and on the 7 November, they held a die-in in the PNC bank with activists from Occupy Philadelphia. EQATers staged the die-in by lying on the floor of a PNC bank and occupying space as a group of people.

Police arrested five members of EQAT for building model windmills on 6 December 2011 in the regional PNC bank (downtown Philadelphia) to highlight wind as an alternative energy source. In February 2012, EQAT began their “Green Your Money” (also known as Move Your Money) initiative and gave PNC 90 days to withdraw investments; at that time various Quaker groups withdrew a total of 1.9 million dollars from PNC. On 2 April 2012, Bryn Mawr, University of Pennsylvania, Temple, and Haverford students allied with EQAT by having dances and bluegrass music (which is linked to Appalachian culture) outside of the PNC Branch on University of Pennsylvania’s campus.

On 30 April, EQAT began the ‘Green Walk,’ a 200 mile, 16 day walk from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. EQATers visited several PNC banks, churches and Quaker meetings, staging die-ins and crime scene actions and posting their “Green Your Money” Pledge on the wall of a Greensboro PNC branch. EQAT ended the walk at PNC’s national headquarters in Pittsburgh on 16 May. On 1 June, EQATers publicly and officially withdrew money from PNC as part of their “Green Your Money” initiative. Because of the many account closings associated with the campaign, PNC lost 3.6 million dollars.

On 19 October 2012 in a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania PNC branch, college students (from Swarthmore, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr) offered well water from Appalachia to the PNC director, who refused to drink it. A similar action took place the next day on 20 October 2012, when EQAT representative, Judy Winters, presented the PNC bank manager in Narberth, PA with a jar of coal slurry and talked about the environmental implications of mountaintop mining. Around that same time, supporters took action in several states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio and D.C., where Quaker groups chalked messages on sidewalks at bank branches and handed out fliers about mountaintop mining to customers.

One year into the campaign, EQAT members began a fast on 14 March 2013. Members fasted for different amounts of time to escalate the action until PNC responded. The fast lasted for forty days in total. Some fasted for a week, a few weeks, or a month, and all of the participants made their fasts public via blog posts or social media.

On 19 April, EQAT members protested the Philadelphia Chamber of Congress for awarding J. William Mills with the William Penn award by dressing as Quakers to symbolize traditional Quaker values; the protest took place outside of a PNC bank. The fast officially ended on 23 April at a shareholder’s meeting, during which they again held Quaker meeting for worship. EQAT members asked each PNC board member to stop supporting mountaintop removal, but PNC closed the meeting after only twenty minutes.

Participation in the campaign grew, and EQATers began to target specific board members. On 16 May 2013, EQATers held signs and sung “Which Side Are You On” outside the Fairmont Horticultural Center, where PNC board member, Jane Pepper, was attending a social event. EQATers targeted Pepper again on June 13 as she left the Philadelphia Airport for her UK Gardens Tour. Protesters held up signs that said “End Mountaintop Removal Now.” On 1 August 2013, EQATers marched into a Longwood Gardens Board of Trustees Meeting that Pepper was attending, sang, and demanded that she stand up and support the campaign to end mountaintop removal. Longwood Gardens banned EQAT members from the gardens.

On 21 October, 2013 EQAT held the biggest bank branch action in U.S. history. Activists staged sixteen actions at PNC bank branches, mostly in Pittsburgh. In response, managers at several of the banks shut their branches down. In many of the banks, protesters held Silent Occupation, where groups of three to eleven went into PNC banks and practiced silent Quaker worship. As part of the occupation, seven EQAT members offered a presentation called the Poisoning Nature Tour in which they detailed the environmental impacts of PNC’s investments. Police arrested seven protesters in Pittsburgh after they refused to leave a branch.

George Lakey, co-founder of both EQAT and the Global Nonviolent Action Database, reported, “By late 2013 some EQAT members were becoming fatigued with the length of the campaign and frustrated at PNC's refusal to agree to EQAT's demand. Some members turned to the Global Nonviolent Action Database and read about environmental campaigns targeting large corporations, especially banks, and found that campaigns of four years and more were not unusual. They discovered a student-led campaign targeting the UK's Barclays Bank took 20 years to achieve victory. With that news, EQAT members realized there was no reason for discouragement.”

In December 2013, students from the local Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Middle School became allies to EQAT by performing charades in a PNC bank branch lobby in Westtown, Pennsylvania. The next month on 21 January 2014, EQATers organized a silent vigil in honor of the West Virginians affected by the Elk Water Chemical Spill, which tainted water for over 300,000 people. On 22 April, PNC held their next shareholder meeting in Tampa, Florida at their furthest possible location from EQAT’s base in Philadelphia. Still 22 Florida partners of EQAT and six Philadelphia members joined the meeting and held a Quaker Worship at the Florida shareholder meeting. On 3 July, 200 people participated in EQATs “Clean Up Your Act” rally in Pittsburgh, and on 20 September 2014, in Manhattan, EQAT members staged theatrical investigations of PNCs links with mountaintop removal in front of seven different PNC bank branches in Pittsburgh.

The most extensive day of action, 6 December 2014, involved over thirty actions in twelve states. With support from Philadelphia-based EQAT organizers, activists from a variety of states, including Indiana and Ohio, organized workshops to prepare for actions in their hometowns. Workshops included non-violence training and EQAT volunteers coached leaders in various cities and campuses on how to organize actions. On 9 February 2015, forty-two EQATers held a Valentine’s Day protest at the PNC regional headquarters for Philadelphia with a sign that said “Stop in the Name of Love.” The youngest protester was eight years old, and the oldest was eighty-six.

In February 2015, after five years and 125 actions, PNC Bank announced that it would officially stop financing two of the biggest coal companies, effectively ending their funding of mountaintop removal coal mining.

After a period of reflection in order to learn social change and personal/spiritual growth lessons from the campaign, EQAT members held a "graduation ceremony" to mark the end of EQAT's first campaign. In the following months the members went through a consensus-building process to design their next campaign, which began in the summer of 2015 and was called Power Local Green Jobs. The next campaign targeted an electrical utility and demanded that it solarize its service area, beginning with low-income areas that have suffered racial injustice and ensuring job training and hiring from those areas.

Research Notes
Influences: 

(1) The EQATers were influenced by the Quaker history and philosophy of Non-Violent action and by Martin Luther King Jr.'s strategist, Bayard Rustin. Rainforest Action Network (RAN) was a mentoring organization to EQAT during the campaign.

(2) Several banks followed PNC in giving up financing mountaintop removal coal mining, including the giant Barclay's Bank in the UK, but it is unclear whether PNC's change influenced them.

Sources: 
Anderson, Celine and George Lakey. Interview. 2015. “EQAT And PNC Campaign.”

Anon. 2010. “Don't Be Fossil Fooled.” Philly Rising Tide. Retrieved September 27, 2015 (http://web.archive.org/web/20150927222541/https://phillyrisingtide.wordpress.com/2010/04/03/dont-be-fossil-fooled/).

Anon. 2010. “Earth-Friendly Group Protest PNC Bank at Flower Show.” Newsworks.Org, March 10. Retrieved September 27, 2015 (http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/item/14827-earth-friendly-group-protests-pnc-bank-at-flower-show).

Anon. n.d. “About.” Reverend Billy & the Stop Shopping Choir. Retrieved September 27, 2015 (http://web.archive.org/web/20150927215702/http://www.revbilly.com/about).

Anon. n.d. “Dirty Money: U.S. Banks At The Bottom Of The Class.” Dirty Money: U.S. Banks At The Bottom of The Class.

Anon. n.d. “Earth Quaker Action Team | Building a Just &Amp; Sustainable Economy through Nonviolent Direct Action.” Earth Quaker Action Team | building a just & sustainable economy through nonviolent direct action. Retrieved September 27, 2015 (http://web.archive.org/web/20150927225124/http://eqat.org/).

Bloom, Iris M. 2010. “Earth Quaker Action Team Confronts PNC Bank At Flower Show.” Philadelphia Free Press, March 10.

Capello, Casey. 2012. “CH Friends To Withdraw Funds from PNC Bank.” Chestnut Hill Local, March 7.

Denvir, Daniel. 2011. “Quakers Target PNC For Funding Mountaintop Removal Mining.” Philadelphia City Paper, September 22. Retrieved September 27, 2015 (http://web.archive.org/save/http://citypaper.net/blogs/quakers-target-pnc-for-funding-mountaintop-removal-mining/).

Gill, Sahiba. 2011. “Charges From Civil Disobedience Expunged for Mountaintop Removal Protesters.” The Daily Gazette, August 30. Retrieved September 27, 2015 (http://web.archive.org/web/http://daily.swarthmore.edu/2011/08/30/charges-from-civil-disobedience-expunged-for-mountaintop-removal-protesters/).

Olson, Thomas. 2011. “Mine Issue Raised At PNC Meeting.” TribLive News, April 27. Retrieved September 27, 2015 (http://web.archive.org/web/20150927223055/http://triblive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/business/s_734119.html#axzz3myseehul).

The Pnc Financial Services Group, Inc. and 2014 Corporate Responsibility Repor. n.d. “Defining Our Success By The Success of the People We Serve.” Defining Our Success By the Success of the People We Serve. Retrieved September 27, 2015 (http://web.archive.org/web/20150927221500/https://www.pnc.com/content/dam/pnc-com/pdf/aboutpnc/pnc_2015_crr.pdf).

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. 2015. “PNC Joins Banks Not Financing Mountaintop Coal Removal.” New York Times, March 9. Retrieved September 27, 2015 (http://web.archive.org/web/20150927224839/https://myaccount.nytimes.com/auth/login?uri=http%3a%2f%2fwww.nytimes.com%2f2015%2f03%2f10%2fbusiness%2fdealbook%2fpnc-joins-banks-not-financing-mountaintop-coal-removal.html).

Sturgis, Sue. 2010. “Citizens Gather in Washington to End 'Mountain Bombing' of Appalachia.” Facing South. Retrieved October 24, 2015 (http://web.archive.org/web/20151024191307/http://www.southernstudies.org/2010/03/citizens-gather-in-washington-to-end-mountain-bombing-of-appalachia.html).

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Celine Anderson 27/9/2015