Two dozen protesters marched from City Hall to the Wells Fargo building on Church Street on Thursday afternoon to celebrate the recent federal downgrading of a bank that has invested in controversial oil pipelines and defrauded hundreds of thousands of customers with unnecessary fees and fake accounts.
The protesters called on the city to expedite its divestment of funds from the bank, Wells Fargo, and encouraged New Haven to move that money instead to a local or regional bank unsullied by fossil fuel associations.
New Haven Stands with Standing Rock, a group of local environmental activists who have held numerous protests over the past two years calling for the city to shake off all direct and indirect financial support of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), organized Thursday afternoon’s protest to celebrate the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s (OCC) move in March 2017 to downgrade Wells Fargo’s Community Reinvestment Act rating to “needs to improve.”
According to protesters and mayoral spokesperson Laurence Grotheer, that federal downgrading triggered a negative designation of the bank under Connecticut state statute that is further encouraging the city to take its money out of Wells Fargo.
Last March, Mayor Toni Harp promised that the city would withdraw deposits from Wells Fargo in response to environmental activist petitions.
Grotheer said that the city has already moved three small accounts away from Wells Fargo over the past year. He said that the city’s controller’s office is also working on a draft Request For Proposal (RFP) to solicit offers from other banks that may be interested in managing the city’s two primary operating accounts instead of Wells Fargo.
Grotheer said he did not know how much money is in the three accounts that were moved from Wells Fargo, or how much city money remains at Wells Fargo. City Controller Daryl Jones did not respond to voicemails requesting comment for this article.
Last year, before these three accounts were moved, Jones estimated that the city had around $10 million of deposits on any given day at Wells Fargo.
Wells Fargo has admitted making mistakes and promised to do better. (Click here for a statement about that.)
Outside City Hall Thursday, local environmental activist Melinda Tuhus rallied a small cohort of protesters with chants deriding Wells Fargo for its support of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL).
Wells Fargo spent $467 million funding the construction of DAPL, a 1,172-mile pipeline managed by Energy Transfer Partners that carries crude oil from North Dakota to southern Illinois, and runs close to North Dakota’s Standing Rock reservation and its clean water supply.
The protesters also said that Wells Fargo is involved in funding the Bayou Bridge pipeline, a $750-million Energy Transfer Partners project scheduled to carry crude oil through a nearly million-acre wetland in southern Louisiana.
Tuhus said that this new pipeline, if finished, would carry “really dirty, flammable, horrible oil from the Bakken Oil Patch in North Dakota all the way down to the Gulf for processing and export.”
She said that she went down to Louisiana for four reporting trips in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and saw first hand the toll that gas and oil company construction has had on the Louisiana coast. She said that the state loses a football field’s worth of land every hundred minutes or so, primarily because of pipeline and canal construction by oil and gas companies.
Tuhus said that Thursday afternoon’s protest was part of a week of solidarity protests held all around the country in support of Louisianans opposing the new Bayou Bridge project.
With banners in hand and veteran protester Norman Clement beating a steady rhythm on a hand drum, the protesters walked up to the Wells Fargo building, chanting slogans like, “Big banks, why you / Messing with the Bayou.” And, “You can’t drink oil, keep it in the soil.”
Outside of Wells Fargo, Geremy Schulick, a local musician and one of the co-organizers of the protest, took the microphone to tell the group about a recent conversation that he had had with City Controller Jones. He said that, thanks to the downgrading from the OCC and the subsequent designation of Wells Fargo as a “non-qualified public depository” by the state’s Banking Department, New Haven would have to move its money from the bank soon.
“Though they are under no distinct timeline to do so,” he said, “New Haven is now required by the State of Connecticut to close its municipal accounts with Wells Fargo.” The small crowd erupted with cheers, with someone shouting, “Move that money!”
Schulick said that the campaign to get the city to divest from Wells Fargo was never just about Wells Fargo, but more about getting the city’s funds out of banks associated with fossil fuel construction projects.
“[This campaign] is about New Haven switching to a more ethical, a more local bank that did not fund the Dakota Access pipeline,” he said.
He said that New Haven should consider investing its resources instead with a local or regional bank, like Start Bank or People’s Bank, that do not have close ties to fossil fuel companies.
“We cannot just move our money to Chase Bank,” he said. “That would not be a success for this campaign.”