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Environmental Justice tied to Economic Justice

meggiekate's picture

            On Tuesday, I decided to participate in a direct, non-violent action against PNC bank in Philadelphia instead of going to class. The group I participated with is called the Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) and although they are primarily an environmental justice group, the action was actually focused on jobs and economic justice as well as environmental justice. PNC invests in mountain top removal coal mining in Appalachia, where basically mountaintops are blasted off to get the coal in the ground for energy uses. EQAT has lead a campaign to get PNC to divest from this for the past three years now. However, during the two groups’ last interaction, PNC defended their investment by stating that it creates jobs for the people in Appalachia, an area that happens to be a very poor part of the country in general. While this does provide jobs, it’s jobs that are harmful to the employees and are not sustainable. Also, the practice itself adversely affects the people who live in Appalachia in many ways – cancer rates have increased, more babies are born with birth defects, and many people don’t have access to clean water in their homes.

            To ask why they won’t invest in only clean energy, which would provide safe and sustainable jobs, we went into the lobby of their branch in Philadelphia and assembled windmills, sang, and chanted together. In the end, the police came and those of us who did not want to risk arrest left after they issued their first warning. Five people did choose to risk arrest by staying inside the bank until someone from PNC talked with them to answer our questions or until they were forced to leave. And the police ended up arresting them after giving them three warnings to leave.

            When I first got involved with this issue, I was not particularly passionate about it but I felt a calling of sorts to participate. I probably felt this because I’m for justice of all sorts and I understood that what was happening was an injustice. It wasn’t until I really got how this issue in Appalachia fits in with larger issues, like global climate change, the fight for sustainable energy sources, and economic justice for this mostly impoverished area of the US, that I felt some real passion for it. Also, on Tuesday, a young man from EQAT spoke to how PNC bank’s other investments and activities negatively affect the economy of the greater Philadelphia area, including the city’s public education system and civil servants’ pay and pensions. I’m still a little fuzzy on the details of this, though, sorry! Another time when I was really struck by how our action fit into the larger scheme of things was when a woman passing by on the street stopped and joined us because she is fed up with the current economic, political, and social situation. Although we were advocating for sustainable job creation in a different part of the country, she could see how that could lead to other positive changes closer to home and for the country overall.

            Participating in this direct, non-violent action made me feel more empowered and inspired than I have felt at any other point in my time here thus far. It also gave me hope that it is possible for a system of oppression to change and helped me realize there are concrete steps that can be taken, although they might seem small and unrelated at first.