Protest at Citibank Headquarters Kicks Off ‘Summer of Heat’ Actions Targeting Wall Street Fossil Fuel Financiers

Interview with Alice Hu, senior climate campaigner at New York Communities for Change, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

On April 24 and 25, 52 climate activists were arrested blocking the doors to Citibank’s global headquarters in New York City, where 12,000 employees work. The action, called Spring Spark, was a dry run for what organizers are calling the Summer of Heat, will target banks and other institutions in New York City that enable the operation of fossil fuel companies whose projects are exacerbating the climate crisis.

The protests are being organized by local groups involving people of color, working families and youth, as well as a national coalition comprised of hundreds of member groups called Stop the Money Pipeline.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus, who participated in the action, spoke with Alice Hu, senior climate campaigner with New York Communities for Change, one of the member organizations of the coalition. Hu’s group had worked on bread-and-butter issues important to working families, like housing, immigration and labor rights, but after the destruction of Hurricane Sandy, they’ve made the climate fight a priority issue. Here she talks about the protest’s focus on Citibank and what’s ahead in their planned Summer of Heat climate actions.

ALICE HU: We put together two back-to-back shutdowns of the Citibank headquarters, where we shut down every single entrance, using non-violent civil disobedience, in order to call the bank, because Citibank is the world’s second largest funder of fossil fuels.

It’s poured over $330 billion into fossil fuels since the Paris agreements were signed in 2016, and it shows no sign of stopping. And the folks behind the effort – we have a campaign we’re launching called the Summer of Heat, where we actually want to sustain this level of non-violent civil disobedience for an entire summer – 12-plus weeks, day after day. As you can imagine this is a huge team effort, a huge movement effort.

As with any other business in the world, at the heart of it is the money, and when you have big banks pouring billions of dollars every single year into fossil fuels and you have large investors pouring billions or even trillions of dollars every year, and when you have insurance companies insuring pipelines, ensuring methane gas build-out, ensuring fossil fuel production and expansion and doing so in a way that is essentially ensuring mass death, right, because we know the impact of fossil fuels, we know what they’re causing on our communities. When you look at all that, you realize that the fossil fuel industry couldn’t exist without Wall Street.

MELINDA TUHUS: The focus last week was on one bank – Citibank – which, as you’ve said, is the second largest investor in fossil fuels. In the summer, you’re actually hoping to do actions every day? Or every week of the summer? What do you have in mind, exactly? And you’re not just going to be targeting Citibank, is that correct?

ALICE HU:  Yeah, we hope to be doing at least three to five mass civil disobedience protests every single week during the summer. We aren’t just targeting Citibank. We think that ultimately Wall Street as a whole has to answer and it’s not just Citibank or just banks in general. Of course, like I mentioned, there’s also big investors, like asset managers and private equity firms. We’re also looking at insurance companies, because, as I mentioned, without the insurance these companies provide, these projects couldn’t be built. That is actually a super viable and important arm to hit.

But we do have a focus on Citibank; the reasons are several. One is that ultimately we’re trying to get a company to be the first mover in the banking sector. We think Citibank could be that company. They try to position themselves – try to greenwash themselves, I should say – as a climate leader. Of course they’re not; the numbers don’t lie, actions speak louder than words, and when you’re pouring so much money into fossil fuels – the cause of climate change — you’re not a climate leader. But they position themselves as such. The CEO, Jane Frazier, makes statements that they care about sustainability, so on and so forth. So our internal analysis is that they could be poised to be the first mover of U.S. banks and actually take a really big step in terms of fossil fuel financing.

We also think that Citibank is a really bright target because Citi Bank isn’t only just responsible for climate change; Citibank was one of the chief architects of the 2008 financial meltdown and received a massive government bailout. I should mention that Citibank is the world’s largest foreign financial institution in Israel.

MELINDA TUHUS: Everybody who was blocking was removed pretty early on, I would say; it wasn’t very late in the work day. So, this is, I guess, a symbolic campaign, or at least these days were symbolic, rather than really keeping them from doing their work. Would you agree with that?

ALICE HU:  I see your perspective. I would say that this still represents a step up in terms of real disruption and what many of us were doing in past years, in the sense that we really did block every entrance. Of course, the police were ready and removed protesters relatively quickly. But our goal was actually to prevent workers from entering the building and create a real disruption internally. We know that afterwards we got our hands on a headquarters-wide email that the Citibank P.R. team had to send out to every single employee who worked out of that building. They had to explain what the protest was about; they had to explain to their workers in the future when they come, don’t agitate, don’t whatever. And so we do think that they have been forced to have to respond to us because we caused an amount of disruption that was non-trivial because if it was truly just symbolic – let’s say only the front doors were blocked and everyone went in through a side door – perhaps the company wouldn’t have felt that they needed to actually respond.

We’ve done many hears of petitioning. We’ve had climate and community leaders have pleading talks with the bank leadership and the bank’s chief sustainability officer and so on and none of it has budged them. So now what we want and need to do is to actually make them pay attention to us. Yeah, so I think sustained mass civil disobedience is such a powerful tool and that we really need to be scaling that up in the climate movement in the months and years to come, if we have any chance of having really ending fossil fuels and winning a safe and healthy future for all of us.

For more information on Summer of Heat Protest Actions 2024, visit

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