By Rev Paul Dordal
On Friday, November 17, 2017 more than two dozen Pittsburgh area anti-war activists gathered in front of the headquarters building of PNC Financial Services Group in downtown Pittsburgh to protest the nation’s seventh largest bank’s loans and investments in corporations that manufacture U.S. nuclear weapons.
Our loud and raucous yet peaceful and non-violent picket was the first action of the Stop Banking The Bomb campaign, which was started in September by a handful of volunteer activists from the Pittsburgh chapters of Veterans For Peace, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), the Thomas Merton Center’s Anti-War Committee, and members of the Pittsburgh Peace Roundtable. Our Stop Banking The Bomb coalition of local and regional organizations now stands at ten strong just a few weeks after beginning, and we are growing.
According to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), PNC Bank has loaned $1.186 billion dollars to eight nuclear arms manufacturers since 2013. The eight companies include some of the most notorious corporations representing the U.S. Military Industrial Complex: General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Bechtel, Moog, Orbital, Textron, BWX, and Huntington Ingalls.
Our Stop Banking The Bomb coalition was born from the realization that the U.S. government refuses to acknowledge its complicity in starting and fueling the global nuclear arms race. On July 7, 2017, 122 nations of the world voted at the U.N. in overwhelming solidarity against the presence of nuclear arms on our planet. Only one nation voted against the ban (the Netherlands) and one abstained (Singapore). The U.S. government did not even participate in the negotiations and refused to cast a vote. The U.S. government and its politicians are not listening to the people of the U.S. who also want to ban the bomb. That’s why we decided to target the financiers of U.S. nuclear weapons.
On November 3, 2017 a team from the Stop Banking The Bomb steering committee met with senior executives from PNC Bank and presented our demands: Sell off the loans and create a formal binding corporate policy never to finance, loan, or invest in any corporation involved in the manufacture or sale of nuclear weapons. The meeting ended without a commitment from PNC Bank, so our growing coalition decided to make our demands known to the people of Pittsburgh.
The day before our picket one of the Vice-Presidents of PNC called to accuse our coalition of acting in bad faith for going public and threatened to call off our negotiations if we continued with our picket. In response, our coalition told the PNC VP that the public needs to know about these immoral loans and investments, and the only way to do that is to take our message to the streets. We assured the PNC VP that we were a non-violent, peaceful coalition and that we simply wanted to inform the public about our campaign.
Even though we had been civil and respectful in our meetings and communication with PNC Bank representatives, when we showed up at the front of PNC Tower Building we were met with a significant contingent of Pittsburgh Police, private security, and several PNC executives who immediately began berating us for our protest. The police were both inside the PNC building and outside the building, protecting the finance-capitalists and demanding that we move off their so-called private property. Our group included not a few women and men in their seventies— peaceful protestors who would not harm anyone. The police and security kept pushing us around, telling us where we could and could not be. Several of us noted that the police, instead of protecting corporations, should be protecting the people from the capitalist bankers who finance death and destruction all around the world.
Nevertheless, we continued to persist and protest, meet with and talk to the people on the streets, and hand out our flyers, despite being harassed by the police and private security. At one point one of the PNC executives cursed at me in full view of the police; I had to de-escalate the situation due to the intimidating behavior of the banker. That same bank executive then began to take pictures of all of the non-violent, peaceful picketers.
As we began to wrap-up our picket, we spontaneously began to chant “We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back!” A PNC worker who was reading one of our information flyers around the corner from the PNC Tower, remarked quietly to me as we were leaving, “I agree with what you are doing. Keep it up!”
On December 9, 2017 the Stop Banking The Bomb campaign coalition hosted a strategy meeting at the Thomas Merton Center. We know we need to be in this for the long haul and that our initial protest was just the first salvo across the bow of the finance-capitalist’s flagship.
But there’s another thing we know.
We will win!
Rev. Dordal is member of the Thomas Merton Center’s Anti-War Committee and a volunteer organizer for Veterans For Peace, Chapter 47.