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Minutes into a Bank of America recruiting session for Harvard College students on Monday, a group of students ran to the front of the room and pulled out a banner that read: “We Won’t Work for Climate Chaos.”
The protesters were escorted out by Cambridge police shortly after their demonstration began.
The protest was part of a campaign by the Rainforest Action Network to persuade banks to divest from the fossil fuel industry, which the group says is the driver of climate change.
The demonstration is one of 56 recruiting event disruptions that have been staged across a number of university campuses including the University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, and Columbia University, according to Todd Zimmer, a campaigner for the action network.
Bank of America was specifically targeted since it is the largest underwriter of the coal industry, according to the action network’s website. The website says the corporation has invested over $8.8 billion in the industry over the past two years.
“I think there’s also an element of Bank of America being a leader here. They are the largest coal investor, but they could change the game by divesting from the coal industry and leading other banks,” said Alli J. Welton ’15, one of the protest organizers.
According to Zimmer, banks listen to these student protests since they rely on employing the “best and brightest” graduates.
“When they have such widespread pushback from campuses where they’re traditionally recruiting, that’s a signal to the banks that there’s something wrong with their policies,” he said.
The student protesters showed up to the recruiting event without any sign of disruption, and attendee Alexander J. Spencer ’15 said he was surprised by the sudden outburst.
“Bank of America handled it well by not being overly aggressive with the protestors, and I was surprised how quickly the information session went back to normal,” Spencer said.
Though student protesters were ready to be thrown out of the event by private security, Welton was surprised that Bank of America had called the Cambridge police beforehand to sit in plain clothes during the event.
“The fact that Bank of America was worried enough to call the actual Cambridge police shows that...clearly they’re feeling the pressure,” Welton said.
Zimmer said he believes the pressure from students across a number of campuses played a role in Bank of America’s recent decision to participate in a new accounting mechanism that will allow the bank to measure the climate emissions from their lending and investment portfolios. But Zimmer added that he believes that the move is only a baby-step towards progress. Eventually, these banks “must develop plans to reduce their financed emissions on the timeline stipulated by climate science,” he said.
Gabriel H. Bayard ’15, one of the protestors, said he saw many familiar faces and friends at the recruiting event. Although the primary purpose of the protest was to send a message to Bank of America, according to Bayard, the act was also meant to provoke students to look further into the issue.
“I’m hopeful that students looking for jobs in consulting, banking, or elsewhere…[will look] for companies that exemplify the best of environmental sustainability, and I don’t think that Bank of America does,” Bayard said.
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