“What do we want?”
“When do we want it?”
Two weeks ago, a small group of people gathered in front of the Chase bank at Sunset and Vine in Hollywood. They weren’t waiting to get inside the bank; they stood outside with several signs and a loudspeaker, protesting the hundreds of billions of dollars in funding that Chase and other major banks in the United States have poured into fossil fuels.
Climate activists all around the country organized a “national day of action” in the memory of Joye Braun, a Lakota activist from the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation who made history by erecting the first teepee at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to protest the Keystone XL pipeline that threatened the reservation.
“She was fire,” said Lydia Poncé, who organized the protest at Hollywood. “Either she pulled you in to keep you warm or she singed you to get your attention.”
Braun died last November, leaving behind a legacy of climate action and protection of Indigenous rights. The protest on January 20th marked both her birthday and the second anniversary of President Biden’s inauguration. The protesters at Hollywood carried large signs calling on Biden to declare a climate emergency and banks to stop bankrolling pipelines.
Poncé organized this protest in the honor of Braun and social worker Lawrence Reyes who died in late December. “They’re both going to be missed greatly,” she said.
“What do you do when the water we drink is under attack?”
“Stand up, fight back!”
“What do you do when the air we breathe is under attack?”
“Stand up, fight back!”
Sim Bilal, an activist from The Climate Center, led the protest wearing a green jacket and carrying a large loudspeaker. The goal of the afternoon was to deliver this letter about the climate crisis to the Hollywood branches of Wells Fargo and Bank of America.
When he yelled, “No more coal, no more oil,” into the loudspeaker, the protesters walking behind him yelled back, “Keep the carbon in our soil.”
The protesters carried on with enthusiasm and anger, even as passersby walked by with blank faces, and people in cars stared at the crowds and their posters, unaffected.
When Bilal and the small crowd entered Wells Fargo, the manager and security guards immediately came to the glass doors, anxious and alert.
“We’re here to deliver a letter about climate justice,” one of the protesters said on the loudspeaker.
“Thank you,” said Frankel, the manager of the branch, who refused to share his last name. He stood there reading the letter for a couple of minutes and said he will “pass it along to the higher ups.”
Ten minutes later, everything inside the bank was back to normal, as if no protesters had entered the building and begged the bank to listen, to respond to their contributions to the climate crisis that threatens all life across the planet.
At Bank of America, the peaceful protest was met with a chilly front.
“You guys need to exit,” said the manager, who refused to be named or interviewed. “Exit or the police come.” She snatched the letter from one of the protesters and asked the security guard to make sure everyone leaves the building.
The protesters walked back to their original spot, dismayed by the lack of response. But they were still angry, still motivated to continue speaking for the planet.
One by one, different climate activists took the mic to sing about climate change, recite poems, and explain the role capitalism has played in actively destroying the environment.
Everyone joined in when one activist brought out his guitar and sang a song by Joye Braun:
We stand to protect the land
When people hand in hand
One struggle till we heal us all.
“Bombs are not bridges, people are not property,
We are blooming in the desert of a dying democracy.”
Los Angeles resident Sherry Anapol decided to join the protest after she read about it in an email. “I just saw that there was a climate demonstration that I could get to, and here I am,” she said as she showed me a handmade sign that said “Biden, declare a climate emergency.”
Sherry said she is extraordinarily concerned about global warming.
“It isn’t going to affect me at all because I’m 78 years old, but my two-year old grandchild will definitely be affected,” she said. “Along with all the young ones and children in the world.”
While getting the word out about climate change has been hard for her, she said she feels really depressed and discouraged when she isn’t doing anything. “I just do what I’m able to do,” she said.
“We belong to the Earth and the Earth doesn’t belong to anybody,” Poncé said. “But we are just so fast buying into this capitalism… and people don’t want things to change. They’re not really paying attention.”
Despite all the sustainability promises made by Chase and other major Wall Street banks, they still continue to undermine the effect of the climate crisis and will continue to do so until fossil fuel companies remain protected.
Poncé believes that to succeed in the battle against fossil fuels, young people need to walk in Braun’s footsteps.
“Don’t be a wimp, show up and do it,” she said. “Get up and out and take people with you. Encourage other people, stay connected, and keep it prayerful. Be as real as you can.”
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