Before the end of chattel slavery in the United States, some people of faith refused to buy sugar produced by slaves. During apartheid many divested from companies working in South Africa. In that tradition of non-cooperation with injustice, the Earth Quaker Action Team is launching a new program called Green Your Money to encourage people of conscience to stop financing mountaintop removal coal mining, a devastating practice that the National Council of Churches describes as "dramatically damaging God's good Creation and impacting the health, homes, and lives of our neighbors in Appalachia."
At their Feb. 29 kick-off event at Friends Center in Philadelphia, EQAT will announce that Quakers have already pledged to remove at least $1.9 million from PNC Bank, one of the biggest financers of mountaintop removal. PNC claims to be a "green" bank with Quaker roots, part of the reason the group believes the bank is susceptible to consumer pressure. For two years EQAT has used nonviolent direct action to pressure PNC to stop financing companies that extract coal in a way that their website explains "has destroyed over 500 mountains and buried over 2,000 miles of stream, causing increased rates of cancer and birth defects for families across Appalachia."
One of the speakers at the Feb. 29 kick off will be Chris Nicholson, grandson of John E. Carter, co-founder of "the Quaker Bank" in 1865. Nicholson plans to sell most of the bank shares he inherited, keeping a few so he can attend shareholder meetings. A Philadelphia Quaker congregation, Chestnut Hill Monthly Meeting, will also announce plans to move their funds to a local bank, and the Green Your Money Program Director Walter Hjelt Sullivan says that more Quaker institutions are studying the issue and seriously considering action.
"Green Your Money strikes a chord in the hearts of many Quakers and other people of faith," explains Sullivan. "We are called by Divine Love to heal a wounded world, to stand with the oppressed, and to speak out to the powerful. Acting together, we can start taking the profit out of financing climate change while helping to build the beloved community here on earth. When we stand in solidarity with the people of Appalachia, we follow God's most basic commandments. We do not seek the collapse of PNC Bank, we seek a PNC Bank renewed -- a PNC Bank ready to lead the financial services industry into a more just and sustainable future dedicated to the common good."
The Green Your Money Program hopes to inspire as many PNC account holders and institutions as possible to sign the pledge, promising to move their money out of PNC Bank unless it commits to a sector exclusion of companies that practice mountaintop removal coal mining.
To build support for the campaign, longtime activist George Lakey will be leading a "Green Walk for Jobs and Justice," which will start April 30 in Philadelphia and arrive at PNC national headquarters in Pittsburgh on May 16. The walkers will stop at PNC branches and Quaker meetings along the way, inviting all to join the campaign and the walk. The team plans outreach to environmental and student groups, as well as other faith communities.
The National Council of Churches has worked for more than 10 years to stop mountaintop removal, as have some of their member denominations. NCC offers discussion guides and other resources for congregations wishing to explore how they are called to respond to this particularly aggressive form of surface mining. "Our faith teaches us to care about our neighbors," explains William Layton, Eco-Justice Fellow at the NCC. "Mountaintop removal harms the well being of some of those neighbors; recent studies have shown a correlation between mountaintop removal and a number of health problems, including birth defects. As people of faith, we must responsibly care for God's creation and use the gifts our Creator has given us in a way that is just for all of God's people. Mountaintop removal is neither a responsible nor a just use of those gifts."