Climate activists block entrance to Bank of America

Climate activists seen blocking the entrance to Bank Of America Tower. Ahead of the Climate Ambition Summit in New York City, climate activists gathered for a rally and civil disobedience outside Bank of America Tower in Midtown Manhattan as part of the March to End Fossil Fuels wave of actions resulting in multiple arrests.

(Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

We're Taking Civil Disobedience to End Fossil Fuels. Will You Join Us?

Asking people to engage in nonviolent direct action isn’t something we do lightly. But it is something we must do.

This summer, we are asking thousands of people to join us in engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience. Our actions will be designed to cause as much disruption as possible for the Wall Street banks, insurers, and investors bankrolling new coal, oil, and gas projects.

Asking people to engage in civil disobedience isn’t something we do lightly. We understand that we’re asking people to do something that might feel big and scary, and might involve people taking real risks and making real sacrifices. But in our bones, we believe that this is not only the right thing to do, it’s something we must do.

In 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released a landmark report outlining what we need to do to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and give ourselves a fighting chance to lead rich, dignified lives on a safe, stable planet. To stave off the worst of climate catastrophe, the IEA concluded, there must be no new fossil fuel expansion. That means that Wall Street giants like Citibank ― the world's top funder, since 2016, of new coal, oil and gas ― bear major responsibility for the floods, food shortages, and forced climate migration already upending millions of lives.

We know that to end fossil fuel expansion, we need to end the flow of money from Wall Street to Big Oil.

That’s why we’re launching the Summer of Heat on Wall Street, a sustained campaign of disruptive, nonviolent civil disobedience targeting the companies financing coal, oil, and gas. We know that to end fossil fuel expansion, we need to end the flow of money from Wall Street to Big Oil.

Both of us have campaigned against these Wall Street giants for years: organizing petitions and letters; taking countless meetings with bank sustainability staff. But little has changed. In fact, big banks have even recently started winding back their climate promises.

As the world burns and air pollution from fossil fuels kills millions of people a year, we’re out of time to keep asking nicely. To kick off the Summer of Heat, we’re going to shut down and disrupt the global headquarters of Citibank every day, all week long. We will then be back week after week, and month after month.

We’re taking inspiration from disruptive campaigns of the past and present. Many of the wins of the past one hundred and fifty years ― from women’s suffrage to desegregation; the advances toward queer liberation to the many gains won by organized labor ― owe less to subtle, “respectable” maneuvering than to the disruptive social movements that first made the issues impossible to ignore, and then forced decision-makers to act.

We are also inspired by the student uprisings of recent weeks. The encampments ― and the fierce repression and violence that these nonviolent protests have triggered ― have made the ongoing genocide in Palestine a crisis not only for college administrations across the country, but for the Democratic Party, which must now surely realize that they need to respond to the movement for Palestinian liberation, or risk losing the election to an increasingly fascistic and dangerous Republican Party. This is a testament to what well-organized, sustained nonviolent disruption is capable of.

Throughout history, different movements have taken different approaches to civil disobedience. And while there is no “one size fits all” to organizing successful disruptive campaigns, we are clear on our approach this summer.

First, we’re directly targeting and disrupting the elites responsible for the climate crisis. We believe that actions that disrupt the operations, bottom lines, and daily routines of the rich and the powerful are far more strategic than actions that are purely symbolic, or actions that don’t have a clear target and inconvenience everyday people.

Second, we know that our actions must be sustained over a long period. Dr. Martin Luther King famously wrote that the point of disruptive action is “to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.” No matter how large, showy, or disruptive, one-off actions cannot create the sustained state of crisis required to force an opponent to negotiate. Dr. King and his peers understood this. It’s why their most successful campaigns, from the Montgomery bus boycott to the Birmingham campaign, were sustained and not one-off mobilizations.

Third, it’s critical that our actions involve mass participation from many walks of life. It’s well-documented that mass-based social movements can shift public opinion and create a new “common sense”. If thousands of us demand an end to financing for fossil fuels, we can make crystal clear to millions the urgent moral stakes at play, and shift what is politically possible.

Fourth, we understand that all movements for social justice address the same fundamental root causes. Our main target is Citibank and fossil fuels. But Citi isn’t just the world’s largest funder of fossil fuel expansion, it is also a bank that helped engineer the financial crisis of 2008 and pushed the US government to invade and illegally occupy Haiti for decades last century, and that was found guilty of widespread discrimination just last year.

In a time when the climate crisis threatens all that we love, we must face our fears and choose to be brave, refuse to accept the unacceptable, and do all that we can to change the course.

Citi is also the largest foreign bank in Israel, and a major financier of Israeli companies involved in surveilling Palestinians as well as companies like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Technologies that provide Israel with the fighter jets, missiles, and bombs used to massacre Palestinians. As we demand an end to Citi’s financing of fossil fuels, we will also vehemently call for an end to the other ways that the bank perpetuates violence and harm upon oppressed peoples.

We’re clear in the strategy and values that will guide the Summer of Heat, but what we do not know is what the outcome will be. We do not know if this will work. We do not know if we can bring together the thousands of people needed to pull this off. And even if we are able to meaningfully disrupt Wall Street for months on end, we do not know if it will be enough.

We fear that our opponents may be too big and too powerful. We fear that we may face corporate backlash and state repression. But we can live with our fears. For as one movement song reminds us, courage is not the absence of fear; it’s feeling afraid and standing up for what is right anyway.

Besides, far greater terrors loom over us. In a time when the climate crisis threatens all that we love, we must face our fears and choose to be brave, refuse to accept the unacceptable, and do all that we can to change the course.

Will you join us?

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