Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878

Regarding recent protests toward Bank of America on campus

Rahee Nerurkar | Student Life

Sam Wein reads aloud a prepared statement regarding Bank of America’s support of mountaintop coal removal. The speech was part of a protest staged by several of the green student groups on campus.

Last Thursday, I stood alongside Washington University students in protest. The demonstration targeted Bank of America’s financing of the coal industry; specifically, those corporations engaged in the hazardous and invasive practices of mountaintop coal removal mining in the Appalachian Mountains.

Our protest took the form of two separate demonstrations. The first was at an event called Meet the Firms, in which students and corporate representatives are encouraged to become acquainted. Here, student protesters took the opportunity to acquaint corporate representatives of Bank of America with their opinions regarding the company’s practices, speaking out against the financing of mountaintop coal removal.

The second protest took place at Bank of America’s informational session the next day. Prior to the demonstration, you could sense a clear air of apprehension amongst the bank’s representatives. They began by addressing the prior day’s protest—posing the question, “Did you get to see our friends yesterday?”—whilst evading mention of the specific issues prompting the demonstration. They noted that a security guard was on call in the event of another “incident.”

Mid-way through the session, students filed in to protest. There were more students in participation in the demonstration than were present for the meeting itself. Our message was clear: we will not stand behind organizations that enable the degradation of our health, our communities and our environment, or jeopardize the future of generations to follow.

Following our brief interjection, I was approached by the on-call security guard and informed that the police had been called and arrests would be made. While I cannot say for certain as to whether the police were in fact called, the threat was empty in any event. We were not violating any laws. Moreover, I seriously question whether it is in the interest of Washington University as an educational institution to penalize students for speaking out against social injustices.

We spoke up for the rights of those whose voices are being ignored; for the people in Appalachia whose communities have been destroyed and homelands polluted.

We stood up for the belief that corporations should be transparent in their practices, and accountable to the consequences of their actions.

We stood for the values of the Democratic system: a government by the people, for the people, wherein the voice of the people carries weight in the process of decision-making and policy development.

Finally, we stood in defense of a generation commonly criticized for an overly “apathetic” demeanor—a critique I find unfair. It is not that we are not apathetic; it is that we are over-stimulated and overwhelmed.

We are the first generation to have grown up in the presence of the Internet; to learn of the world under a constant bombardment of information. Everyday, tuning into world news promises a litany of horrifying stories and high definition glimpses into the most gruesome instances of human existence: victims of chemical warfare in Syria and disease-stricken slums of Liberia. There is more information than we could ever process, and our reaction too often is to subsequently ignore the issues altogether.

At some point, however, failure to act becomes your action. To ignore the issue of climate change is to resign yourself to its inevitability. We use feeling “overwhelmed” as a crutch to justify remaining uninvolved. Still, there is no excuse for inaction. If anything, the magnitude of an issue should provide more motivation to act. If we are to stand a fighting chance against climate change, we must be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that it’s going to involve far more than switching to reusable shopping bags.

Approaching an issue as goliath as climate change is daunting. However, if we break it down into challenges with clear goals and foreseeable ends, we can win. As young people, we represent the future of this nation. It is time we take accountability for our actions and rise above our reputation of apathy. If we are displeased with the nature of our nation, it is time we stand up and make our voices heard.

If you do not know where to begin, consider standing with us in our action towards Bank of America, or in Wash. U.’s campus-wide divestment campaign. Join the coalitions of students organizing on campuses nationwide to challenge universities and banks to divest from coal. Our mission will not necessarily be easy, but it is winnable. Through collective action, we can influence the forces of the change. Our future is at stake and the ball is in our court, friends. Let’s start making some moves.

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  • Anonymous says:

    I was involved in a similar protest at a BofA recruitment meeting on campus. We were all ordered to leave and told by an officer that he COULD refer us for a disciplinary hearing, but wouldn’t; however, a few days later we all received emails stating that we had, in fact, been charged with misconduct and would face a disciplinary hearing. Does anybody have a similar experience to share and if so, what are our options right now? There was no warning, we didn’t harass anyone or prevent the meeting from taking place, and we cooperated fully with the police.

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  • Jerome Bauer says:

    That’s a great idea! Picketing the Wash U BoA is a job for OSTL and OWU. They kicked us out of Kiener Plaza (a.k.a. Freedom Square). Why not meet up on the Wash U campus every week with all our scattershot homemade signs?

    I am glad the discussion here is all about the etiquette of protest, the efficacy of tactics, and the substantive issues, not our right to protest. There are many other issues worthy of discussion, and protest, such as predatory lending, illegal and unethical foreclosure, and investment in payday loans.

    We are a free speech movement, occupying a free speech zone, establishing an open university, practicing direct democracy. It’s an experiment, still ongoing, busy being reborn.

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  • Logic says:

    Communities in Appalachia that are being destroyed? They are the poorest communities in the country because coal mining is disappearing and that remains their only significant source of income.

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    • Revision Much? says:

      If they are home to billions of dollars in natural resources, why are they among the poorest communities on the country? Coal production isn’t disappearing anytime soon in Appalachia. Something about your logic defies economic principal.

      I’m not sure what your definition of destruction is, but the coalfields of Kentucky and WV are experiencing increased rates of cancer, heart disease, and birth defects because of these extreme mining practices. (google: Hendryx mountaintop removal studies) If the same silica and sulfur that have been known to kill coal miners for more than a hundred years is suddenly blasted by the ton into the local environment what would you logically conclude about the threat to public health? If you’re still not sure, you might consider that healthcare is the fastest growing industry in the region.

      Appalachian people are also experiencing the loss of drinking water, infrastructure, and property values due to MTR induced flooding, pollution, and blasting. Is a person not entitled to certain protections as property-owners? Would you have your countrymen eat cake?

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  • gobears1 says:

    Thanks for making sure Bank of America doesn’t come back to recruit next year–those of us who have worked our tails off in hopes of landing careers in finance after school really appreciate it. And way to go, standing up to random recruiters who have no power over any of the things you were protesting will definitely go a long way in making sure these practices stop!

    Admire your drive, don’t lose it. It’s critical in this day and age, and nice to see from our generation. But please be careful about how you go about these things, and stop to think whether you’re doing more harm or good in the grand scheme of things. WashU is trying so hard to provide more high level job opportunities for us after school. Incidents like these only do damage to the ambitions of your fellow students.

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    • anonymous says:

      These recruiters actually have more say than you would expect; oftentimes, they will be returning to their companies to share their experiences at the universities they visit. If they report back that many college campuses have been protesting their specific practice of giving loans to support MTR coal mining, this will make its way up the ladder, and may actually have an impact. Because shareholder advocacy has continued to fail on issues like this, a different approach, such as direct action, might be more effective.

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      • Finance101 says:

        I am not sure you understand completely how recruiting works. Do you think they have time to share their experiences? These people have JOBS to do, and recruiting is something they do because they care about the school and helping students.

        The recruiters are typically Wash U alums who only visit Wash U and vouch for our school internally. They will do less vouching if we look as unappreciative as we did.

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    • anonymous says:

      Very valid concern regarding the potential negative impacts on students seeking jobs with Bank of America who may have been affected by the protest. It is a critique I strongly sympathize with, and I have a few brief comments to share in response.

      First, it should be known that the speech presented toward Bank of America stated clearly that the intention was not to object to the bank as an institution, but rather to critique the specific action of financing mountaintop coal removal and to open up dialogue on ethical financing. I am interested to hear more extensive feedback from the commenters who have taken this message to be ignorant or particularly radical in some regard.

      Secondly, our message was passed along to higher-ranking bank administrators in the form of a letter. The letter explains our demonstration and its underlying motivation, and attempts to ensure that our voice reaches the Bank of America employees who DO have a say in the matter, rather than–as you aptly point out–random recruiters.

      Finally, our action was taken in association with the Rainforest Action Network, an environmental group that has been in active discussion with the Bank of America for several years now; the protest marked the first in a series of protests that will occur on campuses across the nation. In other words, we are not alone in speaking out. If Bank of America is truly going to discontinue future recruitment at all campuses where upon students voice discontent with their practices, it is likely they will need to develop a new strategy for recruitment.

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    • anonymous says:

      What makes you think Bank of America will consider applicants who happened to be at that info session less highly? I don’t mean to be critical, I just honestly don’t see the connection. I understand that you’d be frustrated with the situation, but find it hard to believe that this will actually influence your ability to land a career in finance. Even if it somehow managed to, wouldn’t you prefer to work somewhere that hasn’t spent more than $6.4 billion investing in coal over the past two years, making it the biggest underwriter of coal? (Coal is the Number 1 contributor to climate change, is a leading cause of mercury pollution, and continues to scar mining communities in untold ways.) What do you think, as a finance major, someone with an extra stake in our economy, about the fact that Coal is a threat to our economic security? In 2011, Harvard published a report that found that “the life cycle effects of coal and the waste stream generated are costing the U.S. public a third to over one-half of a trillion dollars annually.” To address your point about this action being futile- the most effective way to change a practice of a corporation is to shift its cost/benefit ratio. Interrupting recruitment sessions wastes the time of their on-the-clock paid employees. Getting these protests in the media raises awareness and tarnishes the image of the corporation. The overall wave of these protests that have happened and will be happening all over the country will lead BOA to spend money trying to counter the bad publicity with PR and media. Eventually, with enough people and groups taking action, this will take up enough executive time that BOA might feel pressured to change its practice of funding coal.

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      • WashUBME says:

        Is this comment actually a joke? “Even if it somehow managed to, wouldn’t you prefer to work somewhere that hasn’t spent more than $6.4 billion investing in coal over the past two years, making it the biggest underwriter of coal?” No. No I wouldn’t and I’d appreciate if you would respect my right to make my own decisions as a competent adult living in America. Just like the author saying they “spoke up for the rights of those whose voices are being ignored.” Let the people being “negatively” impacted by this deal with it themselves if they really believe as strongly as you do that this is a horrible practice. You shouldn’t just put words in the mouths of communities that rely heavily on coal mining because it looks bad from your $50 thousand university hundreds of miles away. You guys need to get a clue and stop trying to force your extreme opinions on everyone.

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        • anonymous2 says:

          “I’d appreciate if you would respect my right to make my own decisions as a competent adult living in America.”

          No one is interfering with your rights. You seem to think you have a right to only hear what you want to hear.

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      • Jerome Bauer says:

        >Even if it somehow managed to, wouldn’t you prefer to work somewhere that hasn’t spent more than $6.4 billion investing in coal over the past two years, making it the biggest underwriter of coal?

        Actually, many people have goals and values that are very different from yours, and would appreciate it if you didn’t attempt to impact their careers with your fringe ideology.

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        • LK says:

          Calling divestment from an inherently non-renewable resource “bad” is less fringe and more good business sense. In the long term.

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    • anonymous says:

      If Bank of America does not come back to WashU to recruit due to the protests, they will not return to a single school at which they recruit in the upcoming months. Why? Because at every single school that Bank of America holds a session, they will be greeted by students urging them to stop funding mountain top removal coal mining. Every school. Since WashU’s action just 2 weeks ago, over seven schools have held protests. Do not think that this was just an isolated, ill-thought-out event. This is part of a national movement fighting for a win-able goal.

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  • Concerned Libertarian says:

    I agree with WashUBME, you are only giving Wash U a bad name and making yourself look ignorant and naive by doing things like this.

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    • anonymous says:

      Naivety is ignoring scientific consensus to rationalize acting solely on the basis of immediate economic interests.

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  • indybend says:

    go Sam! I’m proud of you.

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  • WashUBME says:

    You are ignorant. You should express your radical liberal views in more appropriate ways that don’t embarrass Wash U and yourself.

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    • Be More Constructive with your Criticism. says:

      In what way do you think she is being ignorant? Do you have a suggestion as to a more effective means by which students might engage corporate institutions in open dialogue regarding their practices?

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      • dsteinberg says:

        Perhaps in a manner which doesn’t harm other classmates’ potential futures. Go to their headquarters or a local branch. Get an online petition going. The people who come to these recruiting fairs are in all likelihood not the ones making the decisions that are being protested. Identify the ones in BoA (or in whichever institution you are trying to effect change) who can actually do something and work to gain their attention. Don’t disrupt the daily routines of people who are several pay grades below decision-making capacity and who are on campus to help your peers.

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    • anonymous says:

      How is opposing mountain top removal coal mining ignorant? And why are environmental issues considered “liberal”? Don’t we all live on this planet and owe it to ourselves to invest in a livable future?

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    • Kelsey Rogers says:

      “radical”
      hmm…

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  • T says:

    As an alum, I’d also like to say that working from 11-4 is criminal. How about a little customer service, people!?

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  • Maddy says:

    Yeah Rosie!!! Lovely article. I am so happy to hear your voice in environmental justice issues and divestment. I love how you expand it from a singular protest to a call to our generation to take action.

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  • Jerome Bauer says:

    “I seriously question whether it is in the interest of Washington University as an educational institution to penalize students for speaking out against social injustices.” So do I but that does not mean they won’t do it.

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  • Checkmate says:

    I understand your concern but yours is still the generation that cannot sleep without the lights on, the computer running, and your alarm clock is in your constantly running Iphone. Until your generation can implement real change in your habits how can you criticize coal — which is the primary fuel for most of your electricity. Until you can live without or with less — which you have proven you will not do judging from the large screen Tvs in the dorrm rooms, how do you protest what is fueling your desires. You are like the kids in the story– you want the cake but you dont want to be the ones to help bake it.

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  • curious says:

    At what point does the inertia behind shifting a local economy’s focus around become less important than global climate change?? Should we wait until storms like hurricane Katrina and floods like Colorado is currently experiencing become a yearly occurrence to consider action? WVA’an, I’m from the coast, and if we’re using local economies as a defense for raping the environment, remember that not only our coastal economies but coastal CITIES were nearly wiped out in the past decade. Get outside of yourself for a minute pal.

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    • WVA'an says:

      If you read carefully, you’ll see that I was criticizing the point about how they were speaking up for the poor, downtrodden citizens of Appalachia. My post had nothing to do with climate change or shifting local economies; I was merely pointing out the absurdity of claiming that you’re coming to the defense of people in Appalachian states by raging against coal.

      Looks like you need to work on your reading comprehension, pal.

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      • anonymous says:

        I think the point that was being made with regard to your original comment was that in “saving” the economy of West Virginia through the protection of the coal industry, you are allowing the continuation of practices which have already indirectly incurred tremendous economic damage to cities afflicted by the increasingly severe natural disasters brought about as a result of climate change. You are winning a battle, but you are losing a war.

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      • curious says:

        WVA’an, I comprehend what you were getting at in your original post: I chose to respond in the manner that I did because your point that the economy is currently dependent on the industry is inconsequential in a scope longer than you must be able to comprehend. Your worry that banning mountaintop coal removal (MCR) would decimate the economy of the Appalachian states… but have you considered what economy will remain when the corporations have had their fill of your land and moved on to greener pastures? Do you comprehend the very real health and environmental hazards that are a direct result of MCR?

        I think it might be of benefit to your understanding of the effects of mountaintop coal removal to watch a documentary on it, “The Last Mountain” (trailer found here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5wmUkpOCKE).

        Your stance reminds me of the old southern defense of slavery: the economy is so dependent on it and it is humming along, so why change anything?? The only difference here is that the earth itself is the slave. That, and that our very well-being is so directly tied to this ‘slave’ that we’re content to ravage to our hearts content.

        So, if we cannot be said to be defending of the people of the Appalachian states, it is because one could more accurately say we are coming to the defense of the world we live on and future generations who will have the pleasure (?) to live on it.

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  • WVA'an says:

    >We spoke up for the rights of those whose voices are being ignored; for the people in Appalachia whose communities have been destroyed and homelands polluted.

    You’re kidding, right? Destroy the coal industry, and you destroy the economy of West Virginia, to say nothing of other Appalachian states.

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    • Montani Semper Liberi says:

      WVA’an… Surely you have spent time north of Charleston, perhaps even along the technology corridor in Marion County or the eastern panhandle. Somehow these areas of WV are able to create a diverse economy despite the lack of flat land and the billion dollar coal economy. Morgantown had the lowest unemployment rate in the entire nation at 2.7% and the coal companies had very little to do with it.

      Coal has destroyed the economies of Boone, Lincoln, Logan, etc. Nobody in their right mind would open a business where the roads, homes, and health are in constant disrepair. The only reason that there aren’t more companies investing in WV is because the coal companies have guaranteed that nobody will ever be able to use that land again. Would you sip from the orange waters of Cabin Creek?

      Mountaineers are always free, at least in their mind if they want to be.

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