Students Protest Coal Funding at Bank of America

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by
Diamondback Online (University of Maryland)

Students Protest Coal Funding at Bank of America

Protest Part of National Day of Action

by
Michelle Cleveland

Students for a Sustainable Future, a group composed of members from Students for a Democratic Society, Clean Energy for UMD and the Student Sustainability Council, organized the protest to raise awareness about the damage coal mining has on the environment. (Media Credit: Jackie Borowski)

More than 25 students formed a brigade outside the Bank of America
on Route 1 Friday afternoon, laying down on the wet sidewalk and
obstructing the entrance to protest the bank lending money to
coal-mining companies.

Students for a Sustainable Future, a group composed of members from
Students for a Democratic Society, Clean Energy for UMD and the Student
Sustainability Council, organized the protest to raise awareness about
the damage coal mining has on the environment. For about 30 minutes,
students chanted and played bongo drums while holding homemade
cardboard signs with messages such as "Death to old king coal" and
"Coal is over! Fund the future."

Link to the video report.

A single student shouted, "Dirty coal!" several times, to which the
rest of the group responded, "Not with my money!" The demonstrators
tried to engage students and community members who walked past by
distributing informational pamphlets and explaining why they were
protesting.

According to the group's fliers, Bank of America lent $144 trillion
to Massey Energy, Arch Coal and Peabody Energy as of April. The fliers
stated the companies practice mountain-top removal, or the blasting of
mountains to extract coal from the earth.

"This is the national day of action against coal finance," said Bob Hayes, a sophomore mechanical engineering major.

"Mountain-top removal is something that is not sustainable for our
environment, and it directly affects communities in the area," said
Emily Kloc, a senior environmental engineering major. "If I don't deal
with this, the next generation will have to, assuming our environment
isn't degraded by then."

The group of students, most of whom wore bright green stickers that
read "No Coal," paraded down the sidewalk parallel to Route 1, passing
the bars and restaurants with their signs held high, chanting, "Stop
your mining. Go green. Get your coal out of my streams," before they
formed a loud crowd on the bank's steps.

Two students went inside the bank and presented the assistant bank
manager with 53 signed letters telling the bank they do not want it
funding coal-powered plants and asking for a meeting to discuss the
bank's lending practices.

When the bank declined to meet with them, the students staged a
"die-in" and lay down on the sidewalk for about 15 minutes, blocking
bank customers from using the bank's steps in an attempt to shut the
bank down for a short time, Hayes said.

"If they ask us to get up, if they give us a legal order to leave, then we're going to do it," Hayes told the crowd.

A bank employee came outside and stood at the doorway to motion to
customers walking by and inform them the bank was still open. He
declined to comment.

Three Prince George's County policemen arrived, but did not take
action to stop the demonstrators. Lt. J. S. Decker said he was not
going to arrest anyone unless someone broke the law, which would
include blocking the sidewalk or the entrance to the bank. As
protesters did not block the ATMs and customers could still use a ramp
to enter the bank, their actions were within legal limits, Decker said.

"We're more than happy to let the folks have their say," Decker said.

A representative from the National Lawyers Guild was at the protest
as a legal observer to ensure students' First Amendment rights were
protected.

Rob Helman, a sophomore accounting major and one of the students who
was on the ground, said he felt "angry at the bank for supporting such
an atrocity."

"I think this is a major problem about our society, and it's making our world ugly," Helman said.

During the rally, Hayes told the protesters, "You can tell Bank of
America today with us that it's not OK that they're making these
investments and coal is over," and encouraged them to put their money
in local banks or credit unions so their money can stay in the local
community.

A.J. Short, a freshman women's studies major, said the rally was "a big win" and that she hadn't expected such a big turnout.

"Next time, we will shut it down," Short said.

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