From Slavery to Fossil Fuels, Banks Continue to be an ‘Industry of Injustice’

Excerpt of rally speech by Rev. Lennox Yearwood, president & CEO of Hip Hop Caucus, recorded and produced by Melinda Tuhus

On March 21, protests in more than 100 cities across the U.S. targeted the nation’s four largest banks funding fossil fuel projects: Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank and Bank of America.  These banks continue to finance fossil fuel projects despite calls from the scientific community, cited in the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, that ending our addiction to fossil fuels is the best chance of keeping global warming below the level that could trigger irreversible climate catastrophe.

The “Stop Dirty Banks” actions were organized by Third Act, a new organization engaging Americans over 60 to work on two issues: safeguarding democracy and confronting the climate crisis. The marquee event in Washington, D.C., included a 24-hour “Rocking Chair Rebellion” vigil with elders in rocking chairs in front of four banks, a rally featuring speakers, music and a performance by an intergenerational theater troupe, and a raucous march past four bank branches, ending with a die-in and a brief blockade of Chase and Wells Fargo banks.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus, who participated in the nation’s capital action, recorded rally speaker Rev. Lennox Yearwood, president & CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, a national organization that brings young people into political engagement through hip hop music and culture. Here, Rev. Yearwood talks about the history of banks as facilitators of slavery before their current role as enablers of today’s climate crisis.

[Editor’s note: The audio version of this interview has been edited to fit broadcast time constraints.]

REV. LENNOX YEARWOOD: This is not a game, because the same banks that funded the slave movement are the same banks that are funding the fossil fuel movement. And so you need to understand today – I’m not picking on nobody, I love my white brothers and sisters and I’m so glad we’re all out here together as humans – but for a Black person out here, you need to understand this is personal to us, because these same banks – Bank of America and Chase and other banks – they have been in the industry of injustice for a very long time. And so when I stand here, I’m not only standing here to fight for existence, I’m also fighting for equality on the Black shoulders of my ancestors who stood in this park 160 years ago.

The banks back then would actually use slaves for collateral to use to create loans. So now we’re fast forwarding 160 years later, where these same banks are still investing in things that are killing us. And so these same banks are funding projects and they understand that back then, yes, funding slavery, but now they are funding fossil fuel projects that are literally putting us on a suicidal march to the ending of existence. Literally meaning that their business plan means a death sentence for our communities.

That is where they are. They are literally sitting in their board rooms, understanding that when they’re funding Willow, or when they’re funding the pipelines from Keystone to Mountain Valley to Atlantic Coast – when they’re doing that, when they’re putting their money to Conoco, to Chev-wrong, I mean Chevron, and Shell and Exxon, they understand the science better than we do. I don’t need to go find a scientist – even though I love scientists – but I don’t need to find a scientist to convince them. They already got the report; they understand the science better than we do; they understand what’s happening in our world and on our planet. But they are so hellbent on greed and on destruction, they are willing to mortgage the lives of our children. But we stand up and we say “No” to that right now!

You will not continue business as usual. We cannot allow for that to happen. I wish there was folks who understood that about the slave trade and they would have been like you in this park and say “We’re going to speak out against these banks for investing in the slave trade.” That didn’t happen. But you here, you are descendants of that generation that say, “We wasn’t there, but we here now.” And because we’re here now, we can speak out against the injustice of the fossil fuel industry that’s killing us in India, that’s killing us on the continent, that’s killing us in the Caribbean, that’s killing us in San Francisco and Sonoma County with wildfires, to where I’m from, Louisiana and the petrochemical industry and so much pollution and toxins to East Palestine with petrochemical facilities and trains that derail with vinyl chloride, and I could go on and on and on. But they’re killing us with their madness!

And so we come here today to say Enough is enough. But this is the difference, y’all. Let me say why this is different. Because we can put forth an Emancipation Proclamation. [cheers] Yes, you can cheer for that, please. We can put that forth. 160 years ago. Abraham Lincoln can sign that, and he can have the courage to sign that, understanding that even though we’re in a civil war at that time, he could have the courage to sign that.

So now, we got another president, and we need this president to be as courageous as that one was, to say that we are in a climate emergency and that despite what’s all going on, I need to be as courageous.

Don’t quote Abraham Lincoln, Joe Biden! Be like Abraham Lincoln, Joe Biden!

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