By Lauren Shotwell and Emma Husar
Anti-pipeline protesters occupied the lobbies of U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack’s office and the downtown Iowa City branches of Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank on Wednesday before hanging banners off the Burlington and Riverside pedestrian bridge in solidarity with protesters at Standing Rock.
The protests happened as the 2 p.m. deadline to clear the Standing Rock camp came and passed. The camp, which has at times held thousands of people, was estimated to host a couple hundred as the deadline drew nearer.
Christine Nobiss, who attended the traveling protest along with her two-year-old daughter, said she has good friends who were at the camp and were attempting to pack up before the deadline. She said she had concerns about the possibility of violence against protesters, especially from those who might feel more emboldened under the Trump administration.
“I’ve been praying all day now,” she said. “It might be that nothing happens. The people who leave before the deadline, I think they will be okay. It’s the people that stay and fight that I’m worried about.”
At one point, Nobiss walked out of the Wells Fargo protest, not because she disagreed with the stance against the pipeline, but due to the “colonial baggage” that she said created a strange space in which people were speaking about Native American people, but did not include a representative of a Native American tribe. Nobiss is Plains Cree-Salteaux from the George Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan.
“If we’re going to move forward with Trump as president, we need to have these conversations,” Nobiss said, adding that what the protesters were doing was amazing and it was good to have people speaking out against the pipeline.
Protesters chose the Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank branches due to the banks’ ties to the pipeline. The two banks contributed to a $2.5 billion loan to Dakota Access LLC for pipeline construction.
Protesters were warned by U.S. Bank employees that they needed to leave and that the police had been called, but they were able to read through the entirety of the letter urging the bank to pull funding. Press was kept out of the Wells Fargo branch, but protesters were able to go inside and address bank employees.
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Protesters also handed out slips of paper to passersby and bank customers, encouraging them to pull money out of banks backing the pipeline and shift it to other local banks. (A list was provided on the back of the flier of banks and credit unions that are not invested in the pipeline.)
Dawn Jones, of Wellman, Iowa, said she came out Wednesday in solidarity with Standing Rock.
“They have carried the burden of protesting the pipelines to protect our water, and they have powerful forces massed against them,” she said. “We are asking people to divest and visiting banks to urge them to divest and reinvest in renewable energies.”
She said some people she handed fliers would scan the sheet and say, “Oh, good. I’m with one of the good banks.” While she said she recognized that it could be challenging for people and businesses to move their assets out of banks involved in the pipeline, she said she hoped the protests and fliers would make them think about it.
As the protesters walked down to the Iowa River, they carried signs reading “No pipelines! Keep it in the ground!” and “Water is Sacred. No pipelines!” and chanted “No oil in our soil.” They hung banners from the rails of the pedestrian bridge crossing over Riverside Drive, with cars honking as they drove underneath.
Miriam Timmer-Hackert, a member of 100 Grannies who helped organize the event, said that she hoped some of the environmental challenges surrounding pipelines would solve themselves if the price of solar and wind energy drops down to be more affordable than coal or gas. In the meantime, she said she hoped the protests surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline discouraged future pipeline construction efforts.
“What I hope to see happen is that the pipelines don’t even get started; they just don’t get financing,” she said. “Hopefully this is the last one.”
Urging the city to divest
On Tuesday evening, members of the Mississippi Stand Solidarity Network attended the Iowa City Council meeting to urge the council to further divest from Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank. The city already announced earlier this month that it was pulling funds from Wells Fargo — although city officials stated that the move was due to the performance of those investments and did not represent a political statement.
City Manager Geoff Fruin said that the city still has approximately $1.1 million in holding with Wells Fargo and has no current plans to change how it evaluates investments with financial institutions.
Aaron Silander, who was also at the Wednesday protests, spoke at the Tuesday meeting and emphasized that the pipeline is both an “environmental and financial issue.” She said that complete divestment and reinvestment in local banks and credit unions could benefit small businesses and communities.
Matthew Peirce spoke at the city council meeting decked out in a blue t-shirt reading “STOP the PIPELINE.” He said he strongly believes in the Native American principle that “we must plan and care for seven generations from now.”
“The fossil fuel industry hasn’t thought about the next year let alone the next 200 years,” he said.
Peirce said he is fighting the pipeline, in part, so his family for generations to come will have a healthy and livable world.