In Solidarity With Frontline Communities, Day of Action Demands End to Funding for Tar Sands

Protesters gathered outside a BlackRock office in London Friday. (Photo: Ron F.)

In Solidarity With Frontline Communities, Day of Action Demands End to Funding for Tar Sands

Protesters targeted BlackRock, JPMorgan Chase, and Liberty Mutual for supporting the Keystone XL, Line 3, and Trans Mountain pipelines.

Climate campaigners with the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition held a day of action in solidarity with frontline communities on Friday, featuring protests around the world and a digital rally to pressure major financial institutions to cut off funding for tar sands pipelines that "are disastrous for both people and the planet."

The coalition--which launched in January and is made up of over 130 groups--calls for banks, insurers, and asset managers to sever ties with companies that cause climate destruction. Their broad message is: "Stop financing fossil fuels and deforestation and start respecting human rights and Indigenous sovereignty."

Those demands were at the forefront of Friday's day of action, which highlighted that tar sands projects like Keystone XL, Line 3, and Trans Mountain pipelines are often "built on Indigenous lands without consent, endanger the safety of Indigenous women, and poison nearby communities."

During the digital rally, Lucy Molina, a frontline community organizer resisting the Suncor tar sands refinery in Colorado's Commerce City, delivered a messages to funders of fossil fuels: "Stop banking on human misery. Our families are dying. Our children are losing their education because they're always sick. Your money is killing our children, our neighbors, and the people that we love."

The day of action focused on the coalition's three primary targets: JPMorgan Chase, the world's top banker of fossil fuels; BlackRock, the largest investor in dirty energy and commodities tied to deforestation; and Liberty Mutual, a leading insurer of polluting projects like Trans Mountain.

In solidarity with the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen's Association (GPTCA), the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) and partners delivered a petition to Liberty Mutual's Boston headquarters, urging CEO David Long to end the insurer's relationship with TC Energy, the Canada-based company behind the Keystone XL pipeline.

The petition echoes concerns about treaty rights, cultural resources, natural resources, water rights, and greenhouse gas emissions that GPTCA chairman Harold Frazier raised last month in a letter (pdf) to Long--sent on behalf of 16 sovereign tribal nations across South Dakota, North Dakota, and Nebraska.

"Liberty Mutual is insuring treaty violations and violence in my homelands, it is profiteering off of our lives and land, and it needs to stop," declared Joye Braun, a Cheyenne River Sioux tribal citizen and frontline organizer with IEN. "Keystone XL continues to threaten violence towards our women, increase crime, and potentially bring this deadly Covid-19 disease to our borders."

Outside the insurer's headquarters, activists constructed a mock pipeline covered in red handprints to represent missing and murdered Indigenous women. Eva Blake, one of the participants, said that "I took this action in solidarity with our native relatives who are fighting KXL. We are giving Liberty Mutual a chance to stand with these communities, Mother Earth, and the future of us all."

In New York City, activists with New York Communities for Change, Sunrise NYC, 350NYC, and Rise & Resist rallied outside JPMorgan Chase's headquarters with a large banner and signs. Since the Paris agreement was adopted in 2015, the bank has provided over a quarter of a trillion dollars in fossil fuel financing.

Demonstrators took aim at the bank's CEO, chanting, "Jamie Dimon, you can't hide, we can see your greedy side!" According to Stop the Money Pipeline, as Chase employees locked the building's entrances, "activists from around the country left messages for Chase board members and executives demanding they stop funding fossil fuels."

After targeting Chase, the NYC protesters then marched to BlackRock's Manhattan headquarters. Climate activists have long accused the asset manager of failing to "live up to its rhetoric on climate change" and demanded "substantial changes to its entire investment model."

"There is a lot BlackRock could be doing to effectively center climate in its investment decisions," Lucie Pinson, executive director of Reclaim Finance, explained Friday.

"It could have used its significant voting power during shareholder season in a consistent, concerted way. It could set concrete, time-bound standards and limits around deforestation. It could frame and act on a coal exclusion policy that puts nails in the coffin of a dirty energy source that belongs to yesterday," she said. "But by being mostly talk, BlackRock has spent 2020 on the sidelines instead of being the decisive financial steward it says it wants to be."

Andrew Hyams, who joined the demonstration in London, specifically called out the firm's CEO, saying that "it's mind-boggling that in 2020, after all the climate devastation we've seen and all the economic instability, Larry Fink and BlackRock are still trying to pass off a bunch of greenwashing and marketing as leadership."

There were also protests in other cities in the United States--includingChicago, Minneapolis, and San Francisco--and beyond, from Bristol and London in the United Kindgom to Vancouver, Canada. Participants and reporters tweeted updates:

Tara Houska, Couchiching First Nation and founder of the Giniw Collective, called into the digital rally from a protest in St. Paul, where 30 youth leaders blockaded a Chase branch demanding the bank defund tar sands, respect Indigenous rights, and stop the Line 3 pipeline.

"It's incredibly important that we stand up in all the ways we can, and that includes divesting from the banks that fund these projects, because they all need money to run," said Houska, who is also a steering committee member of Stop the Money Pipeline.

Other activists who joined the event from local protests included Kanahus Manuel of the Secwepemc Ktunaxa First Nation and Tiny House Warriors. Speaking from a blockade of the Trans Mountain pipeline, Manuel said: "We want to raise the risk for insurance companies who are underwriting these projects. We've been blockading this site for two years and we're going to continue to ramp up our direct action."

Calling in from what is now known as Cold Lake in Alberta, Nigel Robinson, a member of the Luechogh Tue First Nation and activist with the Beaver Hills Warriors, shared that "these insurance companies like Liberty Mutual, they're working hand in hand with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to oppress people up here. A lot of our community members are suffering in big ways. A lot of our problems have to do with fossil fuels."

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