Grassroots organizers opposed to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline gathered outside Seattle City Hall again Wednesday as the City Council Finance Committee finalized an ordinance to divest $3 billion from pipeline financier Wells Fargo bank and clarify policies on city partnerships with private entities that engage in fair business practices.
The Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods & Finance Committee voted unanimously to send the so-called Socially Responsible Banking Ordinance to the full City Council on Monday, Feb. 6.
If approved, Seattle will be the first major metropolitan city to withdraw its relationship with a business that supports the proposed 1,200-mile oil pipeline, which has attracted highly public opposition due to environmental concerns from potential leaks and the pipe’s route through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North and South Dakota. Sioux leaders have spoken out on the pipeline’s potential impact to sacred and culturally significant sites in Standing Rock.
The protest, organized by the #DefundDAPL Seattle Action Coalition, gathered half an hour before the meeting to set up in the pedestrian mall outside city hall and sent associates up to the committee meeting to speak in support of the bill.
Outside, local #DefundDAPL organizers Millie Kennedy and Paul Cheyok’ten Wagner rallied a crowd that included members of Black Lives Matter, Socialist Alternative and other allies.
“We are not a ‘land of immigrants,’” said Kennedy, an attorney for the Northwest Justice Project and member of the Muckleshoot tribe. “[Indigenous Americans] are still here.”
Kennedy asked every rallier descended from immigrants to America to raise their hands.
“In order to stay in our country, North America, you must stand with Standing Rock,” she said, before leading the crowd in a chant of “I stand with Standing Rock.”
Earlier in her speech, Kennedy had demurred to share her personal opinion of President Donald Trump, who on Jan. 24 signed an executive order directing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move ahead with the issuance of a permit to move the pipeline forward as currently routed. The order contradicted former President Barack Obama’s direction to the Corps in November to look at the possibility of rerouting the project.
As Kennedy’s speech, she offered more and more criticisms of the Trump administration.
“We have a crazy president right now who doesn’t understand we have something called separation of powers,” she said. “That’s what I think about Trump. And if they keep doing what they’re doing we’ll [have grounds for the president] to be impeached.”
Trump’s order on the pipeline came days before his Jan. 27 executive order on immigration, which blocked citizens of the Muslim-majority countries Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the country for 90 days. Refugees from any country were blocked for 120 days and Syrian refugees were blocked indefinitely. The order went into effect immediately, leading to the detention of at least 109 people attempting to enter the United States and protests in major airports across the country, including Sea-Tac International.
In light of the ban, it had become vital for Standing Rock allies to align themselves with every group that could be harmed by the Trump administration, said Wagner, a member of the Saanich First Nations.
“We are doing this together because we are the human family, and no one will tear us apart,” Wagner said. “... They want us to struggle, they want us to be ill, because they don’t want us to have the strength to challenge their corruption and destruction.”
Muslim musician and filmmaker Jamil Sulemon told the crowd that the ascendancy of the Trump Administration was nothing less than a “white supremacist fascist coup in our government.” Despite being born in Minneapolis and raised in Washington, he said he had recently had worried talks with his immigrant mother about the possibility of being removed from the country.
Seattleites’ efforts to organize and demand a major city refuse business with a pipeline supporter would be able to “set the tone for the resistance,” Sulemon said.
“This is a war that's going on,” he said. “This is not a game. This isn’t something we should be taking lightly at all.”
The news that the Finance Committee had referred the Socially Responsible Banking Ordinance to the full council elicited cheers from the crowd.
“I am proud of the City Council,” Raymond Kingfisher said. “I’m proud they stand behind the native movement.”
Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who co-authored the bill with Tim Burgess, addressed the crowd and urged ralliers to also support Socialist Students, which plans a boycott of Wells Fargo on noon Feb. 11. Sawant called for a “united massive social movement of the 99 percent” to combat the interests of “the ruling class.”
“We cannot limit our movement to what is acceptable to the corporate interests of politicians of either party,” she said.
The rally, flanked by Seattle police, finished with a march to the main Seattle Wells Fargo branch at 999 Third Ave., where protestors stood outside the doors as security personnel and employees watched them from inside.
Wells Fargo is one of 17 financial institutions lending $2.5 billion to Dakota Access LLC for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Wells Fargo’s share is $120 million of lending, less than 5 percent, according to a statement from the company issued Jan. 30.
The Socially Responsible Banking Ordinance would remove Wells Fargo from management of the city’s $3 billion operating account. The mayor and city finance director would be directed not to renew the city’s contract for deposit services and refrain from making investments in Wells Fargo securities for three years.