Vanguard, It’s Time for an Intervention: Escalating the Vanguard Campaign

The morning felt chilly and fresh as I boarded the 6:19am train for the long ride from Somerton to Paoli. I was on my way to a bold, four-pronged action planned by EQAT and our partners in the struggle to get Vanguard to steer away from fossil fuel investments. This action was a major escalation at a strategic time in our campaign, and I felt motivated to be a part of it.

Why Bother?

A Message from the Future with Vanguard sign

After the 2016 election, I started hearing more new EQAT volunteers asking questions like, “What will this action accomplish?” People seemed to have an increased sense of what was at stake and wanted to use their time well. My answer was, “By itself, this action will accomplish nothing, but in our first campaign, 125 actions together moved a bank that netted $4 billion-a-year.”

Vanguard, Which Future Will You Choose?

Vanguard recently withdrew from its biggest climate commitment, the Net Zero Asset Managers initiative. EQAT showed up in action at a Vanguard office last week to remind company leadership of the real-life stakes of their decision. The choice to continue to invest in fossil fuels or transition to a clean energy economy shouldn’t be about politics or short-term profits; it’s a choice with long-term consequences for our lives and the people and places we love.

Connecting the Dots: Vanguard's Toxic Investments

It was chilly and damp when we left the house for an action at Vanguard’s headquarters in Malvern. Having my wife Amy as company helped ease my nervousness that everything would go well. I had signed on as action lead only a few weeks before. The planning team had done most of the hard advance work and my role as action lead was like that of a director of a play, making sure that all the people played their roles and that the props, signs, and PA system functioned as intended. 

We Went to Tim Buckley’s Home and We Prayed for Him

In hope, in prayer, we find ourselves here
In hope, in prayer, we’re right here

Our voices rise in song, bright and strong as we walk two-by-two to Vanguard CEO Tim Buckley’s house. Led by action lead Carolyn and guided by marshals Barb, Lee, and Linda, we traverse under the train bridge, past apartment buildings, across Route 30 and into the leafy suburban neighborhood of Wayne, Pennsylvania. Our cherry-red “Vanguard Invests in Climate Destruction” t-shirts create a stark contrast against the greenery. There are about 50 of us, ranging in age from twenty something to seventy something, and representing a variety of faith traditions. We are a small and mighty group. Our song leader, Jo, keeps us pumping.

They Chose to Arrest Us Rather than Meet with Us

I woke up at 6am on Wednesday September 21st with my mind, as the old song says, stayed on freedom—freedom from fossil fuels that is.

In an action organized by EQAT, I and seven others planned to go to Vanguard’s Malvern headquarters and ask for a meeting with John Galloway, head of Vanguard’s stewardship team. After a year and a half of denied requests for meetings, EQAT was ready to ramp things up, and the eight of us were prepared to risk arrest if that’s what it took to get Vanguard’s attention.

civil disobedience at Vanguard headquarters 
Photo Rachael Warriner

Eight arrested, and more bold action going forward

This fall, EQAT and other members of the Vanguard S.O.S. campaign are taking action to challenge Vanguard on its stewardship hypocrisy, highlighting the ways the asset manager has failed to act on its own stated values.

Photo by Rachael Warriner

Campaign Partners, Near and Far

One of the many reasons that working on the Vanguard S.O.S. campaign keeps us feeling excited and empowered is that we know that we're doing this work alongside many partners, near and far.

Locally, EQAT had the privilege of collaborating with local land justice groups to offer a training on some of the roles that make a successful nonviolent direct action. While gathered under tall trees in a beautiful park in South Philadelphia, we focused on learning about four action roles: action lead, police liaison, marshal, and grounding anchor. It was a powerful training, with lots of roleplaying, discussion, and cross-group connection. 

Connecting and Training

EQAT's response to the heat. Credit Rachael Warriner.

I confess I was feeling pretty low recently. The combination of the heat and the complete failure of our government to deal with the climate crisis felt like too much to face. But I dragged myself to a Zoom call with other groups around Philly who are excited about training in nonviolent direct action. Then I got on another Zoom call with folks across the US working to get money out of fossil fuels. Both made me feel more connected and reminded me that our way of making change doesn’t rely on the whims of Washington. 

Stewardship is Active, Not Passive

What does the term "stewardship" mean to you? We discussed that during our recent general meeting, and here are a few things folks said:

  • A sacred task in the Biblical tradition, including care of the Earth.
  • Encompassing, long-term, sustainable care, so that something doesn't disappear and can thrive to its fullest.
  • Making sure you take care of resources sustainably and ethically.

In contrast, Vanguard's definition of stewardship is very narrow. Its continued investment in industries that are already destabilizing our climate--and therefore threatening our whole economy--show a real lack of long-term thinking. Its narrow focus only on the value of its shareholders' investments will ultimately hurt, not only the portfolios of those investors, but the web of life on which all of us depend.