What made actions powerful?

The Powerful Combination of Planning & Nimbleness

By Chris Baker Evens and Ryan Leitner, 6/22/2015

After five years and more than 120 individual actions, EQAT has seen some direct actions that have adequately followed plans and others brought tactics, strategy and nonviolent spirit together in exceptional ways. Here are four stories where Earth Quakers stayed open to Spirit and responded nimbly as opportunities presented themselves to craft powerful direct actions that made for compelling stories in our organizing toolkit.

Judy and the Narberth PNC Branch Action

In Judy’s very first action with Earth Quaker Action Team, the Narberth PNC branch manager zeroed in on her. Judy had a lot of powerful resources to draw on. Her bold response followed an evening hearing stories of the impacts of MTR on Appalachian communities told by West Virginian activists Dustin White and Nada Cooke White, and a fast-but-comprehensive pre-action action training that morning.

Judy stood in circle of Earth Quakers holding her bright orange PNC cash card in the air, an unspoken statement of, “I am your customer and I demand change!” The red-faced bank manager stormed over and fumed, "why are you here in my bank disrupting business as usual? I DEMAND that you all leave immediately!" It was a tense moment where the group’s nonviolent power and the manager’s positional power clashed. Despite years of societal training to behave politely in bank lobbies Judy stood firm. Emboldened by the twenty-or-so Earth Quakers inside the branch she spoke in a calm but clear voice, "we’re here because PNC is paying companies to blow up mountains in Appalachia. Children are drinking and bathing in poisoned water. WE demand that YOU stop business as usual!" Confounded, the bank manager retreated to his office, and the action continued to fill the lobby with songs and street speaking.

Ryan, Nathan, and Judy Spotlight Mr. Demchak

In 2013, EQAT began “spotlighting” members of the PNC board - a tactic holding key decision makers inside PNC accountable for mountaintop removal by showing up wherever they did - at public events, award ceremonies, exclusive dinners and even at a hotel breakfast in the UK! After some time PNC, board members weren’t often showing up in public so we chose spotlighting locations where we knew they’d eventually be - their homes - putting us back in proactive mode.

The night before the “Clean Up Your Act” action in Pittsburgh, several Earth Quakers piled into a car, toting gift bags and handwritten notes for each of the three board members they intended to visit, including the CEO, Mr. William Demchak. At the first house, no one answered. At the next board member’s house, a woman answered the door and shut it as soon as they said the word “EQAT”! The last house belonged to William Demchak. The Earth Quakers tried the front door, then the side door, and after getting no answer, they left a sticker tucked under the windshield wiper of a car in the driveway. They called it a night and went on to join the action in Pittsburgh the next day.

The day after the action, on July 4th, three Earth Quakers, Judy, Nathan and Ryan, got up early. Their plan was to join others at the final day of a gathering of Quakers from across the country. However, each of them felt a very clear sense of unfinished business and a desire to return to Demchak’s house. With their spotlighting supplies exhausted from the first round of visits, someone grabbed a newspaper with coverage of the previous day’s action and the group headed to his house. The sticker was still under the windshield wiper—not a great sign. They knocked on the door anyway and waited for a very long time. A dog inside the house stared as the Earth Quakers waited. After a while, they started writing a note on the newspaper when, suddenly, a man dressed in running shorts opened the door. Mr. Demchak!

Right then Ryan, Judy and Nathan faced the CEO of the enormous bank EQAT had been targeting for years. He was dressed in athletic gear and was certainly not shutting the door in their faces, even after he heard who they were. The group talked with Demchak for nearly an hour. And while the conversation was interesting the most important part was that for the first time in four years someone from PNC was talking to us seriously. And not just anyone, the President, Chairman and CEO!

Ann Yasuhara and the NJ Arts Council Action

Ann Yasuhara, the late Mountain Woman and elder Earth Quaker, gathered a small group for a public challenge action, an action designed to call out PNC during an event where the bank was praising its own "good corporate citizenship" while poisoning communities hundreds of miles away. Ann planned for Earth Quakers to stand at the entrance to the event and hand out fliers about PNC's role in mountaintop destruction. Once there, the plan changed. Here is Ann’s reflection.

“We decided we wanted to try going inside to get the lay of the land and see if we could just do our flier hand-out in a kind of unobtrusive way. So we did. ... we handed people the flier, usually without saying much. A number of people were enthusiastic about what we were doing. Some were confused, some were indifferent, and very few annoyed. There was one man who looked like he was in charge and I was avoiding him. At some point, I tried to give one to a totally unfamiliar person. She said ‘No thank you, I’m the manager of the local PNC wealth management department!’”

When the PNC spokeswoman got up to address the guests the whole room knew what a sham this event was. Ann reports in her characteristic understatement, “She seemed somewhat flustered and there was a strange air in the room. I think we can take credit for that!“ The celebration rang hollow and Ann and her posse were politely, yet firmly, told to leave.

Jane Pepper Spotlighted in Fairmount Park

One of EQAT’s very first opportunities to spotlight a PNC board member happened when Jane Pepper, a well-known horticulturalist, was receiving an award in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia at a very fancy dinner. Without the budget to buy a ticket, the small action team devised several strategies that would allow them to get in and sing, “Which side are you on?” as Ms. Pepper was receiving her award. This included one member hiding up a tree in sight of the dinner. None of the ideas to get in worked, the group was split up, and park police told all but the person hidden in the tree to leave.

Certain they had failed, the group drove down the road a ways, parked their cars and sat down in the grass nearby. Feeling defeating, they weighed their options very mindful that one member of the group was still in the park, sending updates from up in a tree, only several feet from the party!

Chris and Ryan, the two action leads, decided to scout and see if there was another way in. They found one - through an opening in the back fence to the park! The group decided to try it. Slipping past police officers, all of a sudden the group was striding across the lawn toward the tent holding the fancy dinner party. The group pulled out banners stuffed down their pants, the Friend climbed down from his tree to join them, and the group felt magnetically pulled toward the ceremony. Once inside the massive tent they began singing, rendering the speaker speechless. By the time the seven were escorted out by 30 police officers the point had been made: PNC board member, Jane Pepper, could not ignore the effects of the bank’s investments even while receiving awards for her philanthropy.

Nimbleness an Essential Ingredient for Exceptional Actions

In EQAT’s relatively short experience, the hard work of designing actions that are well-targeted, well-planned and well-executed provides a spaciousness useful in looking for opportunities that are off-script but support both action and campaign goals. The conversation with Demchak became a touchstone for our strategy for the next several months, encouraging us to grow our base when it seemed like nothing in PNC was publically changing. Judy’s encounter with the branch manager has reminded us the importance of going into action with trusted others. The actions in Fairmount Park and the NJ Arts Council continue to inspire us to plan meticulously and then step courageously into the unknown.

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