Haverford students take action
Last Wednesday, I took a group of Haverford students to a non-violent direct action led by the Earth Quaker Action Team at the headquarters of PECO, the largest utility in Pennsylvania. We rose very early and took the train to the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia where we met up with the rest of the group before departing for the PECO building. Days before, several of us had attended a training where we learned about the goals of the action and prepared for the action to come. Now it was time to put all that we had learned to use.
The current EQAT campaign, Power Local Green Jobs, began in 2015 after the previous campaign successfully convinced PNC Bank to divest from corporations funding destructive mountaintop removal mining practices. EQAT acknowledges the intersection between social and economic inequality and environmental issues, and their campaigns reflect these connections by tackling these issues as one. In this vein, the Power Local Green Jobs campaign places pressure on PECO, the utility in Philadelphia, to source 20% of its energy from rooftop solar by 2025. Additionally, EQAT asks that these rooftop solar panels be built in the most just way possible by low-income people and placed in communities like North Philadelphia, a region of high poverty and low employment. The goal would be to offset energy costs for these residents and create employment opportunities through the placement and maintenance of the panels.
EQAT creates a form of moral pressure through its execution of a variety of creative non-violent direct actions targeted at the PECO, often at their downtown headquarters. Last Wednesday’s action was dubbed “Investigate PECO”, and was designed to mimic a crime scene investigation in which “The People’s Investigation Unit” demanded evidence, in the form of PECO’s planning documents describing PECO’s next investments in sustainable energy and local green jobs. Attendees, dressed in all black, walked to the PECO headquarters where they followed the instructions of “marshals” who read out PECO’s crimes: predatory delay, ecocide, and dirty air. Participants searched the plaza for clues, knocking on the windows and peering inside. The entrances to the building were closed by PECO security, barring entry to protesters and customers alike. When action organizers received their second warning from police, protesters left with a promise of return.
My group of Haverford students reflected on the action on the way back to campus. A couple of students had expected to leave early from the action but had opted to stay the whole time. Several remarked at how organized the action felt, and many said that they plan to return for future actions. It was a day of firsts for many: first non-violent direct action, first time engaging with EQAT, even the first time that many of us had taken the Norristown High Speed Line into Philadelphia. The action provided many of us the opportunity to engage in an intergenerational, interfaith event that promoted the well-being of residents in Philadelphia, the city not so far from campus as it seems. I am grateful for the experience and feel that it is the just beginning of a long partnership between Haverford students and the Earth Quaker Action Team.