Several dozen protesters braved chilly winds on Church Street in Burlington Tuesday afternoon, brandishing vibrant signs and chanting rhythmically to the accompaniment of a blaring sousaphone with one target in mind, located at the top of the street: Chase Bank.
The local protest was part of a nationwide campaign to divert big banks away from their investments in the fossil fuel industry. The financial institutions in the hot seat include Bank of America, Citibank, Wells Fargo and Chase Bank, all of which have financial ties with fossil fuels, according to Third Act, the organization that sparked the protest.
Third Act, a nationwide group founded by author and environmentalist Bill McKibben, held demonstrations across the country Tuesday. Made up of Americans over the age of 60, the organization prioritizes combating climate change and improving democracy, according to the group’s website.
“Money is the oxygen on which the fires of global warming burn,” McKibben says in a video on the Third Act website. “If you can cut off that flow of money, it’s like cutting off the flow of oxygen to a fire. You can put it out, pretty quick.”
The philosophy guiding the demonstration centered around the fact that retirees hold around 70% of the nation’s wealth, explained Suzie McCoy, one of the protest organizers.
“We’re holding dirty banks accountable by telling them if they don't stop funding fossil fuels, we're gonna move our money,” she said.
McCoy said that nationally, Third Act organized 100 protests across 30 states on Tuesday. She added that, as of February, the group has collected at least 17,000 pledges from people promising to cancel their accounts with big banks.
After marching up and down the street, the large group, which skewed older, blockaded the entrance to Chase Bank with signs and banners, among them reading, “Chase closed due to moral bankruptcy.”
Laurel Green, co-facilitator of Third Act’s Vermont branch, rose above the crowd on a step ladder and gave an impassioned speech that incorporated songs and chants.
“Give a man a gun, he’ll rob a bank,” she called to the crowd, amongst hoots and hollers. “Give a man a bank, he’ll rob everyone!”
Another speaker and member of Third Act, Ross Eisenbrey, told the protesters that big banks have been investing even more into fossil fuels in recent years, calling out Chase Bank in particular.
The event ended with a ceremonial credit card cutting, during which Green held up a large cardboard credit card with the names of the four banks pasted onto it, while another organizer pretended to cut the card in half with cardboard scissors. Then, Green encouraged any Chase Bank members in the crowd to come forward and cut up their credit cards with scissors, and a line soon formed.
Green told VTDigger after the event that one of the goals of the protest was to have a group enter the bank to perform a sit-in, but the bank doors were locked when they arrived around 4 p.m.
One demonstrator was Jim Stiles, of St. Albans, who said he’s been involved in climate activism for about 20 years. While Stiles did not physically cut his card at Tuesday’s event, he said that he and his wife recently canceled their accounts with Citibank as a result of Third Act.
Another demonstrator, Joe Golden, of Bolton, said he is a member of a credit union and tries not to deal with banks, and he has never owned a credit card. He said of the banks, “if they can be convinced not to fund the fossil fuel companies, that'll make developing oil resources and other things tougher.”
In response to an email from VTDigger requesting comment, a Chase spokesperson wrote, “We provide financing all across the energy sector: supporting energy security, helping clients accelerate their low carbon transitions and increasing clean energy financing with a target of $1 trillion for green initiatives by 2030.”
“We’re trying to get the leadership of the bank to change their practices,” Eisenbrey said. “We have a small window that is closing fast.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Ross Eisenbrey's name.
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