At noon today, activists affiliated with the New York Action Network convened in midtown dressed in their finest business wear to apologize to the public on behalf of Citi for the bank's role in the funding of coal, the climate crisis and the financial turmoil worldwide. Citi recently received 25 billion dollars of US taxpayer money; we thought it was an appropriate moment to thank taxpayers and to apologize for not taking their future into consideration while we were carelessly making all those dirty investments.
Donning laminated name-tags signaling our official status as Citi representatives - Veronica Huffinpuff, Sally Smokestack, Nomar Mountains, Anita Inhaler, Ivanna Bailout, Seymour Solar, Vin Turbine and others- one team of activists entered through the building's side door looking for Mr. Vikram Pandit to sign a pledge which read: Dear Taxpayer, Thanks for the 700 billion dollars. We apologize for our history of irresponsible investment and promise to do better. We pledge to immediately cease all investment in coal and declare a moratorium on home foreclosures. It's time to change, the buck stops here!"
Unfortunately, Mr. Pandit was unavailable so we gathered at the front of the building where we apologized for "the mess we made!" to as many pedestrians as we could engage, handing them an open letter from the Citi family that outlined in detail the company's new commitments to a more sustainable and just future. We also had placards that read, "Sorry About Climate Change - Our Bad”, “Sorry about those foreclosures”, “We promise - no more dirty investments".
It was certainly a lighthearted and humorous approach to protest, with the public and the media reactions being incredibly positive; people were laughing and listening - not something one encounters every day on the sidewalks of New York City.
But here's the thing; the reason we were there in the first place, why twenty five of us committed our Friday afternoon to standing in the drizzle in suits, are incredibly serious. Our country is experiencing an economic crisis that is being compared to the 1920's; thousands of families are losing their homes while taxpayer money is being poured into financial institutions that refuse to acknowledge the error of their ways. The only thing this does is to avoid the more salient issue - a climate crisis whose risk involves the lives and communities of a billion displaced peoples. We have yet to see significant action that begins to remedy these issues in any real way. We are burning more coal than ever.
The irony of this gap between the facts and the reality was made all the more evident to me by the police presence we experienced today. Both the police and Citi's private security were out in full force (we locked down at the same site on Fossils Fools Day and discovered they were expecting a repeat ) and not looking to make friends with us. One security guard aggressively asked me to step back from the side walk and told me diminutively, "I know you think this is silly".
Actually, I don't think anything about this is silly. At all.
What I would like to say to him is - we know the system doesn't care about us, but the real question is, do we care about each other? He's is in no better shape than the rest of us who make up the majority of the population. Not amongst the upper echelon trying to buy their way out of this mess. We are out there for his future as well as our own, for his children as well as our own, and I live for the day when, instead of apologizing for standing six inches too far into their "zone", we can interact as human beings and treat each other with the respect that we both deserve in our united struggle for justice and future.