It’s difficult to see how Chase Bank thought its soft opening in St. Paul would go. Crisp employees were waiting inside its new Grand Avenue branch on Tuesday morning, eagerly awaiting the first few customers.
Instead, it was surrounded by people holding signs, barking into megaphones, and chanting, among other things, “fuck Chase.”
The crowd of about 40 included students from the University of Minnesota and nearby Macalester College—both groups Chase would love to recruit as new clients. But these students were here to chastise the bank for being “the world’s worst funder of climate change.”
According to a study by the Rainforest Action Network, in the years since the Paris Climate Agreement, Chase has been the premiere banker of fossil fuel companies. At a whopping $196 billion, it tops the closest contender (Wells Fargo) by nearly 30 percent. It also backs Enbridge’s Line 3 tar sands pipeline, which cuts through indigenous lands and the Mississippi River. Opponents worry a leak would be catastrophic to Native populations and the countless other communities that rely on the river.
Student activists like Andrew Vrabel Miles feel there’s a heightened sense of indifference from a company that wants their business but isn’t terribly concerned about their future. For him and many other members of his generation, the looming threat of climate change is real and terrifying.
“For a long time, I was really concerned about doing little climate change prevention things at home,” he says, referring to stuff like taking shorter showers, composting, changing the lightbulbs. Whatever he does, he says, is dwarfed by Chase’s outsized impact on the world.
“Being here is the most effective thing I can do,” he says.
That is, if Chase is interested in listening to him. Ethan Nuss with the Rainforest Action Network, who was bundled up alongside the crowd, says earlier that morning, a manager refused to accept a letter from a student detailing their grievances.
As the crowd chanted “tar sands; bloody hands,” their only attentive audience were nearby police officers keeping a close eye on things. Chase employees behind the glass kept their earbuds in or spared sidelong glances and grimaces.
“I don’t think they hear us,” University of Minnesota student Annunziata Feldis says. And it’s not for lack of trying. This protest started with multiple requests for dialogue, and she’s already organized a similar demonstration in Minneapolis. But as soon as they show up, she says the bank shuts them out.
A Chase spokesperson said in a statement that sustainability was "an important part" of the bank's M.O.
"We are committed to use renewable energy for 100 percent of our global power needs by the end of next year and to facilitate $200 billion in clean financing by 2025," it said. "Also, we recognize the complexity of climate change issues and actively engage with a diverse set of stakeholders to understand their views."
Whatever Chase is doing, as far as the activists are concerned, it's not enough.
“I want to have kids someday,” Feldis says. She believes their future rests on what she and her colleagues can change now. She also believes—or at least hopes—that eventually, Chase will hear and understand.
“I believe everyone has good in them,” she says. “If folks take the time to see the consequences of their actions and have empathy, I believe they can change.”