Chasing Banks

Activists rally in national day of action against JPMorgan Chase

The crowd of 20 organized under drizzly skies on Wednesday afternoon, April 10, their backs turned on the Willamette Street traffic. Their signs, paintings of a world on fire, burned into the darkened windows.

A woman held a megaphone to her lips, shouting for a change that everyone knew was necessary, that the country was seeing more and more. It’s a political debate, and a promise on the campaign trail. It’s the center of scandal and of outrage, for both Democrats and Republicans: banks, specifically, JP Morgan Chase.

“Chase is the number one funder of fossil fuel projects in the world, by far,” said community organizer Sandra Clark. The chart that she held aloft indicated the donors to pipelines and drilling. The top four were American banks, with Chase Bank at the very top, by a large margin. “This has been since the Paris Agreement,” she explained. “They’ve invested more than $190 billion in the last three years, and they’re not going to stop.”

The outrage that Clark expressed was not solely on her shoulders. “People’s attitudes are really changing about what’s okay in terms of the way our system supports fossil fuels, despite all the negative effects,” said student Eloise Parish Mueller, stressing the current movement towards “mobilizing public dissent against that system.” Mueller, a University of Oregon student, is deeply invested in multiple facets of the climate change fight. Though it was her first protest specifically involved in the fight against Chase, she is a member of Cascadia Action Network and of the local chapter of Sunrise Movement.

Protests have always been a cornerstone of democracy, calling to mind the dutiful resistance that Thomas Jefferson mentioned. Of course, there is more than one way to skin a cat, or a corporation. Committees formed for protest, as well as calling representatives, are abundant. Mueller assisted in the ardent urging for Rep. Peter DeFazio and Sen. Ron Wyden to take the “No Fossil Fuel Money” pledge, following in the footsteps of Senator Jeff Merkley. Attempts to widen the gap between government and financial bias are consistent and persistent. But, how did the protesters feel about the Green New Deal?

“The Green New Deal, to me,” Clark said, “is fantastic as a resolution,” but she still stressed the need to iron out some kinks. “I think it’s the best step that addresses climate issues at scale, which is the really hard thing, and the thing that Chase could really be helping us do.” She pinpointed her appreciation for green jobs, calling them a “no brainer.”

“Through collective action,” said community member Chuck Areford, “something like the Green New Deal, we can actually make a difference. You have to start somewhere.” However, he emphasized that this was far from a local issue. “We’re not going to solve it in Eugene; we’re not going to solve it in Oregon; we’re not going to solve it in the United States. We have to solve it globally.”

That connectivity was also a talking point by Clark. “When it comes to climate issues,” she said, “it’s better to work as a ‘we’, not as an ‘I.’” Opportunities abound in terms of involvement; there’s smaller factions, as well as proverbial tsunamis, assisting in the fight to achieve carbon neutrality, and the removal of corporations in environmental politics. Diverse individuals, from organizations like 350 and Extinction Rebellion, were local faces in the climate change fight.

The effects don’t stop with titles and protests alone. Areford believes that a mindset change is necessary, a change that can, and should, begin with political leaders. “You don’t start at the bottom,” he said. “It’s not the homeless who are causing the problem. The overconsumption starts at the top.”

A doomsday clock ticks away for these protesters. As they march, misted by afternoon rain, they clutch, with white knuckles, their signs and charts. They hand out small slips of paper, statistics and figures outlined in diagrams. They are desperate to get the message out, somewhere in between lawyers making their case against death row, and evangelists warning of the end times. “Just start,” Clark said, “I feel like if we start down that path, as a nation, we’re going to work it out. We have the technology we need. We don’t have the political will, and we don’t have the funding. All of that is changeable, like that,” she snapped her fingers.

Areford’s foreboding words were simple: “We can’t negotiate with physics. Things are going to happen whether we want them to or not. It’s better to plan for it.”

Clark’s message: “The time is now

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