By Jim Thompson
For many of the folks who have taken the Effective Climate Conversations (ECC) course offered by THIS! Is What We Did, climate conversations have become more frequent and enjoyable. We recently had an idea to take these conversations to the next level and combine this action with our other main initiative: putting pressure on climate-bad banks.
Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan’s research suggests that successful movements are able to shift the loyalties of people who initially support the status quo, so we decided to focus on employees at Chase Bank, the number one financier of fossil fuel projects worldwide. If some Chase employees decide they don’t want to work for a bank that is doing so much damage, or if they start questioning their supervisors about Chase’s behavior, those would be great outcomes.
We decided to try a non-dancing equivalent of a “flash mob.” Friday, December 9, 2022 was our C-Day. Seven of us (3 from San Jose, 2 from Santa Cruz and 2 from Sacramento) converged in San Jose that morning. All of us were graduates of our ECC class and had had numerous climate conversations. Yet…we were nervous.
I realized that a lot of my fear came from my previous experience demonstrating at Wells Fargo (WF) branches back in 2021. At that time, we demonstrated outside branches and handed out flyers encouraging WF customers to switch to a bank or credit union that wasn’t financing the destruction of our biosphere.
When we went inside the branches during those demonstrations, chanting and singing songs and making speeches, the branch managers got angry. Some customers also were upset that we were disrupting their ability to do their business. Suffice it to say, not much conversation ensued in those confrontations. This new type of action would be different.
The morning of our “flash mob” action, we chatted about how we all felt a little nervous. As we share in our ECC classes, former Los Angeles Lakers star James Worthy said, “I like a little fear. It conjures up some good energy.” Worthy earned the nickname “Big Game James” because he often came through with his best play when the stakes were highest, so it was intriguing that he experienced fear but played well anyway. Maybe we, too, could conjure up some good energy.
A couple hours later, it was game time.
Four of us went in one car, three in another. Our goal was to visit at least one bank branch during the noon hour with a “stretch goal” of visiting two each. We’d checked out 16 branches to find four where there would likely be enough bank employees for three or four of us to have a conversation with. We went in individually and got in line to see a teller.
- It was very low-key. Bank employees were exceedingly courteous and polite, even when they discovered that we were not there to conduct typical bank business. The fact that we were not in any way threatening to them certainly helped.
- None of the employees had any idea of the destructive financing Chase was doing.
- All of them took our literature and agreed with our request to pass it on to their supervisors.
- They did not respond to questions such as, “Are you concerned about climate change?” One employee volunteered that she was, but that she couldn’t talk about it in that situation. So it was more of low-key sharing information with them than a conversation.
- Afterwards, we shared our excitement at having done something hard and a little scary. Working together as a team doing something important was exhilarating.
- Because this action was so powerful and connections-making, I have no doubt we will do more like it. If you want to join in, email Leigh Evans at Leigh@thisiswhatwedid.org.