Let’s Take It Downtown: Challenging energy extraction companies at their headquarters
The following statement from Hands Off Appalachia activist Dan Cohn was written last week on January 8th, 2014, the day of his court date.
On November 25th, 2013, I was arrested for hanging a large banner off a construction crane in downtown Stamford, CT. Today, I’m back in Stamford going to court, where I am facing a felony charge.
I went to jail in November to expose UBS, the Swiss investment bank and wealth management firm headquartered in Stamford, as one of the most prolific financiers of coal companies that practice mountaintop removal (MTR) strip mining in Central Appalachia. We were there to make sure UBS can no longer hide from the desolation and desecration entailed by their financial backing of coal companies.
Where I live in St. Louis, MO, energy extraction is an abstraction for most folks. Yet, our city is home to five major coal companies and a huge regional gas utility that adores fracking for shale gas. For those of us like myself who don’t live in the shadow of energy extraction, we must confront extraction companies on our home turf if we are to stand in solidarity with the folks fighting them in their backyards, as well as those on the frontlines of climate impacts.
We can go after their corporate headquarters in at least two ways. The first is to drag these companies’ names through the mud. Most of them make a habit of sprinkling philanthropic breadcrumbs here and there in an attempt to show that they are “good” corporate “citizens.” Executives and upper management actually spend time deciding how to build this positive public perception of their company to minimize the risk to their reputation with investors and financial analysts, not to mention the general public. We can directly hamper that effort by exposing them as the socially indifferent, fundamentally ecocidal, shareholder value-driven machines they really are. It’s no coincidence that I was arrested the day after Stamford’s annual Thanksgiving-time parade of giant balloons and family fun, the UBS Parade Spectacular.
We can also cut off the spigot of public money subsidizing the operation of company headquarters. When large corporations threaten to relocate their office space and workers, city politicians nearly always swoop in to offer municipal tax breaks that swipe money from our public services. In St. Louis, coal mining giant Peabody Energy received a $61 million tax package in 2010 for furniture and office renovations as enticement to remain in the city, taking much needed dollars from the budget of our embattled city schools. This is for a corporation that brought in more than $8 billion in 2012, and whose business is responsible for digging up nearly 1% of all carbon emitted since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. We’re moving to amend our City’s governing Charter to make this form of “economic development” (i.e., extortion, corporate welfare, etc.) illegal.
Every morning, we need to remember that people are waking up to go to jobs in St. Louis, Stamford, and dozens of other cities where they make decisions to continue energy extraction, either by putting shovels in the ground, or, in the case of UBS and other big banks (PNC, Bank of America, Citi, Chase, etc.), helping pay for the shovels. These people pad their own pockets by sacrificing the health of human communities and the integrity of ecosystems, and we cannot continue to let them hide from their crimes behind the glass and steel of their corporate headquarters. As Utah Phillips famously put it, “[t]he earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses.”
If you want to help us continue to bring the fight against MTR to UBS, please consider throwing a few bucks our way at http://bit.ly/Ltg4zF.
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