Targets Matter—Why a Small Action Group Took on a Mighty Bank (and Won)


After writing about Earth Quaker Action Team’s recent success in forcing PNC Bank to stop financing mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia, I received a number of strong reactions.

Mingled with the congratulations, based on my involvement in the campaign, was a tone of surprise: How can a small group take on the seventh-largest bank in the country and win? Underneath that, I sensed the despair that unconsciously dims people’s sense of power in the United States. Americans can express rage or righteousness by protesting, but most don’t really expect to change anything.

The reactions made me realize I left out an important part of the story that proves the victory was no fluke and that U.S. activists can actually be producing far more victories in the current political landscape. The part I left out came at the beginning, in a Philadelphia living room, where Earth Quaker Action Team, or EQAT (pronounced “equate”) chose the goal and target for our campaign.

We knew from Quaker experience and that of the U.S. civil rights movement that small groups can organize nonviolent direct action campaigns that become bigger than the group itself. The Congress of Racial Equality, or CORE, while still small, launched campaigns that attracted others who together made a difference. That was one example of many in which the direct action campaign grew larger than the group that organized it. The historical moment invited a multiplication. Growing activity generated a movement, a mass movement that had a far larger impact than the sum of its parts.

Like the civil rights movement, we knew in that living room that we were up against enormous odds in our fight for climate justice. To meet that challenge we realized that simple protest goes nowhere. We needed to design an ongoing campaign, to focus our energy and give us a chance to win something.

Each of us knew groups that had scattered their energy by trying to work on multiple issues at the same time. Without focus, small groups have no power and satisfy only their members’ wish to be righteous. We decided to focus our collective attention on one issue, and soon found that becoming focused assisted us in our personal lives to set clearer priorities and boundaries, and become individually more powerful as well. As it turned out, focused individuals bring more power and energy to a group. EQAT could therefore attract others and organize the 125 actions that pushed PNC Bank out of financing mountaintop removal.

Read more at NationofChange.

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