Divest Now! Why Seattle Took Back Its Money From Wells Fargo (And Your City Should As Well)

Credit: Alex Garland, AlexGarlandPhotography.com
“We don’t need any bricks and bottles. We don’t need any Molotov cocktails. We just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, “God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God’s children are concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.”
~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Written by: Gyasi Ross & Matt Remle

Today marks a historic turn in the fight for justice.

Today, the City of Seattle took an unprecedented stand against unethical banking practices by unanimously passing the Socially Responsible Banking Ordinance. It will require the city to divest from $3 billion in contracts with Wells Fargo Bank, one of the several banks with a large financial stake in the Dakota Access Pipeline. The move sends a clear and powerful message that the people of Seattle expect our money to reflect and uphold our values.

Divestment — Or, How to Take On the Banks

Fighting politically entrenched big money is always a hard, uphill battle. They can absorb some losses and afford lengthy court proceedings that those with little or no capital cannot. Their vast resources often allow them to simply bulldoze over the rights of others — even when they are dead wrong. Without access to the same level of funding, we must use many different strategies to even the playing field, like direct action and media pressure. But our most effective weapon against well-moneyed opposition is divestment.

GoFossilFree.org defines divestment as “the opposite of an investment — it simply means getting rid of stocks, bonds, or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous.” In other words, when businesses or institutions show that they do not speak for us, that they do not value us, or that they are willing to put profits ahead of people and the planet, then we do not give them one dime. If money is all that matters to them, then we hit them where it hurts — on the bottom line. We must make it painful for institutions that elect to harm Native communities in the interest of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Instead, let’s only do business with those who actually support our communities.

There are 17 banks that directly finance the pipeline construction by Dakota Access LLC. Seven of them also provide significant lines of credit to parent companies Energy Transfer Partners, Energy Transfer Equity, and Sunoco Logistics.

Divesting from these institutions is more important than ever now that Donald Trump has signed an Executive Action to continue construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. By not allowing the US Army Corps of Engineers’ to complete a full Environmental Impact Statement, he is putting corporate interests ahead of those of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, thus ignoring the rule of law. This Executive Action will be challenged in court, but that will be a costly, drawn-out process. And even then there are no guarantees that the courts will side with the will of the people. Therefore, our best hope — perhaps one of the only recourses that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has left — is to take direct action against those who would profit by the pipeline.

The financial backing of the Dakota Access pipeline is, of course, just one of the many reasons to cut financial ties with major institutions such as Wells Fargo, Bank of America, US Bank, JP Morgan Chase and Citibank. These corporations have a history of predatory lending practices and fabrication of personal bank accounts. For many of us in Seattle, however, financing DAPL was the final straw.

City and Municipality Divestment

The Seattle City Council was only recently introduced to the notion of divestment by Matt Remle (Hunkpapa) of Last Real Indians and Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant. Once a case was made that Wells Fargo was actively working against Tribal interests by funding DAPL, councilmembers immediately began working toward ending the city’s banking relationship with Wells Fargo. Aided by the urging of local organizers and amplified by national movements like the Injustice Boycott, the ordinance was passed within a matter of weeks. This was no small victory. It was proof that collective economic protests work, and that we should use them to hold big business and our public representatives accountable.

For Native people and their allies, divesting from unethical institutions like Wells Fargo is only one step in our multi-faceted fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, We must band together to be successful against such well-moneyed, politically connected opposition. We encourage everyone across the nation to follow Seattle’s example and consider a divestment strategy. Lobby your representatives to take taxpayer money out of the hands of those who value their profits over our communities. In doing so, you’re not only showing that you stand with Standing Rock. You’re also making an investment in the future of our nation.

Money talks.

If you don’t like what yours is saying, you have the power to walk away.

Matt Remle (Hunkpapa Lakota) lives in Seattle, WA and works for the Office of Indian Education in the Marysville/Tulalip school district. He is a writer and editor for Last Real Indians and runs an online Lakota language program. Remle is a father of three and the author of Seattle’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution, and Seattle’s resolutions calling on Congress to engage in reconciliation with Tribe’s over the Boarding School Era policies and to oppose the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. He has been organizing around issues of environmental, social and tribal justice for over 20 years. In 2014, Remle was awarded Seattle’s Individual Human Rights Leader award. He can be reached at Twitter: @wakiyan7

Gyasi Ross (Amskapipikuni) is a father, a storyteller and attorney. He is also host of the Breakdances With Wolves Podcast, the most beautifullest podcast in the world. He can be reached at Twitter & Instagram: @BigIndianGyasi