By Rev. Richenda Fairhurst | Pastor, Camas United Methodist Church
On November 14th, the Army Corps of Engineers announced it would not grant an easement for the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline without further ‘robust’ and ‘expeditious’ conversation. This space for further study has occurred because of the prayerful and determined activities of the Sioux Nation and its allies from across the American continent and internationally.
In this construction lull perhaps the looming lights glaring out from atop the desecrated hills and gravesites above Oceti Sakowin Camp can be turned off. But what must remain shining is the light of a people determined to see America conduct its business in a fairer, more equitable, and more responsible way.
This lull is not the time to turn away and imagine that the Army Corps have seen the light, and, like Gandalf on the bridge declared “you shall not pass.” This is a decision brought about by pressure from the people who displayed their conviction so prayerfully and steadfastly that they could not and would not allow yet more desecration of Native land for the purpose of enriching a few with yet more oil money. In this lull we need to get bigger, not rest and wait. We need to widen our reach and recognize and address the broader scope of players. And by that I mean the banks.
Energy Transfer Partners cannot exist without money from banks. This project is financed in the billions of dollars, and it is time to let the air out of that balloon.
On Nov 3, 2016, 500+ Clergy from 20 denominations walked and prayed and sang in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. Some of the clergy there that day were United Methodist including myself. Yet as I prayed and sang and listened to the people of Standing Rock and Cannon Ball, ND, I carried a dark and painful truth inside me. I knew something others did not. I knew that I was an investor in the very companies that bulldozed sacred sites and pressed the pipeline into the earth.
So let me confess: I am a stockholder in the companies behind the Dakota Access Pipeline. As such, I am complicit in the destruction of sacred land and the threat to water at Standing Rock. I am benefiting from a financial system that dehumanizes indigenous people and destroys the environment. I want to be part of the solution, but I am part of the problem.
Here is the rundown for United Methodists—but this does not touch United Methodists alone. This is just one example of how pervasive the money problem is, and how it touches all of us. The simple truth is most of us are invested in the Dakota Access Pipeline through savings, banking, and pension accounts.
Our United Methodist Church pensions management, Wespath, has millions of dollars invested in the key players in the DAPL: Sunoco Logistics and LP ($3,944,192), Marathon Oil and Petroleum ($25,565,825), Phillips 66/Conoco ($8,588,708), Enbridge ($8,179,195), and also Energy Transfer Partners/Equity ($11,324,108).
In addition to Wespath’s investments above, Wespath’s holdings include hundreds of millions of dollars in the banks that keep the DAPL balloon inflated—the drilling, the private security, all of it. I researched just the top investors but found them all. United Methodist investment in the banks funding DAPL—just naming the top few—is as follows: Suntrust Banks/Auto ($3,278,989), Wells Fargo ($44,336,656), Mizuho ($3,281,309), Mitzubishi UFJ ($15,958,243), BNP ($39,929,715), and Citibank/Group/Credit/Mortgage Inc. ($101,178,770). These banks, in turn, invest hundreds of millions each in the Dakota Access project.
The hard truth is that with so much money at stake, it is no wonder that the Energy Transfer Partners hired private security, ignored the Army Corps’ earlier requests to stop construction, and hoped that the Sioux would go away. The harder truth is that this is the business as usual that most of us don’t notice, excuse in the name of progress, or simply have no idea how to make work any differently.
But I am here to declare that real difference is well and truly possible. And the hopeful truth is that we can show up, take action, and ask for the better world we all want.
The remedy is divestment.
If we are to make real change, we must recognize that money infrastructure and concrete infrastructure go hand in hand. The financial infrastructures of banks, back room handshakes, fresh inked contracts, and concrete infrastructure built by construction jobs exist in partnership. We cannot have one without the other. Stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline isn’t just about stopping construction on bad projects. It’s about stopping the money from pouring into projects that destroy communities, and, in the case of oil and gas, destroy the planet.
Divest from the money. Email or call Wespath or your own pension plan manager and demand all investment in Dakota Access Pipeline banks and companies be withdrawn immediately. Call the companies constructing the pipeline and the banks funding them on the phone and say you have made this request. Do not allow use of your funds and investments for the DAPL.
During Occupy Wall Street the organizers held a ‘Bank Transfer Day’ event. By that effort, 650,000 people moved 4.5 billion dollars from banks into credit unions. We can do this. And it matters that we do. Our visible demand that our money not be used to desecrate graveyards forces banks to consider the moral consequences of their investments alongside their desire to make money.
Our great, great-grandparents shared a first Thanksgiving with the indigenous people of North America who saved them from starvation. We received with thanks what we were given that day. Since then, however, we have become thanks-takers instead of thanks-givers. By continuing to benefit though investments in worldly projects that harm our planet, its animal and plant life and its people, we are living lives complicit with destruction. This is not the path to salvation or everlasting life. Our use of fossil fuels is unholy and it will never move us closer to perfection.
Our voices have never been more necessary. Use yours now. Where should the money go? Demand community accountability and clean energy investment. That is what Thanksgiving really looks like. This is the path to an abundant earth, Abundant Life, and a return to our garden paradise. This is God’s good promise to his children.