Fossil Free VSC protests TD Bank

Fossil Free VSC protests outside of TD Bank earlier this year.

TD Bank is the seventh largest investor in the Dakota Access Pipeline.

            Why does that matter to Castleton students?

            Because Castleton, and all the Vermont State Colleges, use TD Bank for their accounts.

            Some Castleton students, faculty and staff, along with those from the rest of the Vermont State Colleges have started a group called Fossil Free VSC to try and convince the colleges to stop using banks invested in environmentally harmful endeavors.

            “We have two prongs of our response to the investment that TD Bank has in the Dakota Access Pipeline. The one that started first, in late January, was a protest that we’ve been holding every week on Saturday mornings in Rutland at the TD Bank at 89 Merchants Row…” said Brendan Lalor, a Castleton professor who is very involved in the Fossil Free VSC group.

            The protests are the first part of the group’s response. It helped get students involved.

            On January 28, the Rutland Herald ran a story on the first protest that said there were nine people outside the bank for three hours protesting.

            That’s dedication on a cold January day in Vermont.

            Jeffery Virge, a Castleton student who  part of Fossil Free VSC, said he got involved with the group after being a part of the protests.

            “When Professor Lalor told me that he wanted to try and get the VSC to divest funds from banks that are investing in fossil fuels I was immediately on board. I don't want any of my money going into places that are supporting the things that I've spent the last couple years completely admonishing,” he said.

            The second prong of the Fossil Free VSC plan is getting the Vermont State Colleges to divest funds from TD bank like Virge said.

            He also mentioned that he’s called senators, the Army Corps of Engineers anyone he could to tell the pipelines were the “wrong decision.”

            There are also two parts to why the people involved with Fossil Free VSC believe the Dakota Access Pipeline is wrong.

            The first is the potential environmental harm.     The second is that it’s going through Native American territory so it’s causing more mistreatment of them and more dishonored treaties.

            “Treaties haven’t always been honored and this is another case in 2017 that’s happened. TD Bank won’t tell you but they’re profiting from what we view as a racist decision to fail to consider the interests of non-white people who have historically been oppressed and continue to be oppressed,” Lalor said.

            Efforts to contact TD Bank have gone unreturned but in a statement made to the Bangor Daily News a spokeswoman for TD said, “We support efforts to ensure the sustainability and safety of the Dakota Access Pipeline site. And we respect the rights of those who wish to voice their opinions in peaceful protest.”

            Johnson State College has a group called Student Allies for Indigenous Rights who are a part of the Fossil Free VSC.

            On of the leaders of Student Allies for Indigenous Rights is Hannah Burnham and she’s actually been to Standing Rock.

            “I originally got interested in the divestment movement through interest in Standing Rock, and the protest and work happening against the Dakota Access Pipeline. In November, I went out there briefly with my sister and a group from Vermont 350. And when I got home I started going to events and protests set up by 350 both in solidarity with Standing Rock and in opposition to the Vermont Gas Pipeline,” Burnham said.

            After her time doing that she decided to look into organizing a group at Johnson. She met with a similar group to Fossil Free VSC that the University of Vermont has and found out that the VSC was invested in TD and got in touch with Lalor and Arielle Ferrell at Castleton.

            The Fossil Free VSC Facebook group now has 139 members.

            Marty McMahon, a veteran and Military Resource Advisor at CCV joined Fossil Free VSC because he found it to be critical to have at the colleges.

            “I also teach special operations military personnel… and it is clear to them that climate change is the root of our major security issues, but most of all because I have 2 young kids,” McMahon explained as his reasons for involvement.

            Fossil Free VSC is protesting the pipeline but they know it’s already started being built, and they can’t count on the federal government to make environmental harm stop.

            That’s why they’re going after investors.

            “If anyone’s going to address those issues, it’s going to have to be from some other angle so that’s why were focusing on funding. We would like to see a change in our culture. Ultimately one that, if we’re successful, we would like to see investing in harmful fuel development become not just unpopular but shameful,” Lalor said.

            Their hope is to have the Vermont State Colleges start investing their money into a bank that is a green investment company and “invest with banks that are a part of the solution,” according to Lalor.

            Lalor also said that the VSC Board has been “open, responsive and helpful” in the process and that their response has been “heartening,".

            They’ve made some presentations to them and have an appointment with the board on May 9 to present their proposals.

            “We see the Vermont State Colleges as having the chance to become a sort of beacon,” Lalor said. “We think that will ultimately attract the attention of other institutions in the area but also students who have the mind, heart for engagement.”

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