Protesters detained during climate rally in Wilmington

By Rachel Sawicki
Posted 6/28/21

WILMINGTON — At least 14 people were detained by police Monday morning as activists from several climate action groups gathered on the front steps of Chase Bank in Wilmington to protest the organization's funding for the fossil fuel industry and to demand action from President Joe Biden. 

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Protesters detained during climate rally in Wilmington

Rachel Wyon comments on the day’s events after Wilmington police finish making arrests.
Delaware State News/Rachel Sawicki
Grandparents and bystanders cheer in support of their fellow activist as she is handcuffed and led away from the middle of the street by police.
Delaware State News/Rachel Sawicki
A group of women sit in their rocking chairs in the middle of the intersection at 2nd and Walnut Street in Wilmington. Their signs say “Chase, #1 Financer of Fossil Fuels” and “Cha$e Equals Ecocide.”
Delaware State News/Rachel Sawicki

WILMINGTON — Activists from several climate action groups gathered on the front steps of Chase Bank in Wilmington Monday to protest JPMorgan Chase’s funding for the fossil fuel industry and demand bold action from President Joe Biden.

This was no ordinary group of activists however; the majority of leaders and organizers are grandparents.

Around 40 activists arrived around 9:30 a.m. to the corner of 2nd and Walnut street. Many brought rocking chairs to sit in at the top of the staircase to the Chase building, while organizer Steve Norris brought a ladder to stand at the top of an eagle statue with a canvas banner that read, “Biden be Bold, Stop Chase and ALL Oil & Gas Financing.” Several others paraded along the sidewalks, holding signs and chanting through megaphones.

Just before 11 a.m., approximately 20 people moved to the middle of the intersection to block traffic with their rocking chairs and signs. Police moved in to control the group and attempted to keep at least one lane open and direct traffic around the demonstrators. Within 30 minutes, at least 14 nonviolent arrests were made and the intersection was cleared.

Michael Badges-Canning was the first to be placed in handcuffs on Monday. He lives in Butler County, Pennsylvania, one of the most heavily fracked counties in the state. He said he became actively involved with climate action once he discovered that fracking was starting to affect his grandchildren’s health. He said living close to well pads can cause heart issues, low birth weight, problem pregnancies, asthma and more, and his two grandkids live 500 feet away from one.

“But then the other problem is they also go to a school where there’s a well pad and a compressor station nearby,” Mr. Badges-Canning said. “They’re exposed all day, every day, to these toxins.”

Last week, Mr. Badges-Canning and other activists walked a path from Scranton, Pennsylvania to Wilmington to back President Biden’s climate plans and demand bolder action in switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy across the country.

Monday’s demonstration was the final day in the weeklong plan to bring attention to climate change.

“The willingness to get arrested in doing something is a way to dramatize a commitment to what we’re doing and to get people’s attention,” said Mr. Norris. “It’s dramatic and it’s out of the ordinary, so the willingness to be arrested is a great part of our strategy.”

Mr. Norris, 78, is from North Carolina and organized the first Walk for Our Grandchildren in 2013. It started out as a birthday wish, and turned into a movement.

“My wife kept asking me, ‘What do you want to do for your 70th birthday?’ Finally I said, ‘I think we should do a walk that challenges that Keystone pipeline,’” Mr. Norris said. “So about 25 of us set out from Camp David, Maryland up on the Pennsylvania border to the White House and we took a week to raise the issue of the Keystone pipeline. And when we got to DC, 54 of us got arrested.”

President Biden recently shut down the Keystone Pipeline, which would have stretched from Alberta, Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast had the extension by TC Energy been completed.

This year, Mr. Norris started planning their second walk this year in January.

The group stopped at several towns and met with different groups on their journey to Wilmington, including Dunmore, Pennsylvania; the Delaware and Lehigh Canal; and Tinicum Park in Bucks County, where activists are fighting the Adelphia Gateway Pipeline.

Padma Dyvine, 71, walked the path from Scranton to Wilmington every day in her pink Birkenstock sandals, and said she was not tired, but inspired.

“So I’m getting inspired by what I’m learning, and individuals in this group are helping me to be able to see a bigger picture because so many of the walkers come from different backgrounds too and are impacted differently,” she said.

Ms. Dyvine is from Bat Cave, North Carolina and has been a life-long activist for many social justice issues. She was the last activist to climb into the police van at the end of the rally Monday.

“I have a daughter who is 35 and another one is about to turn 32, and they’re not sure they’re going to have kids,” Ms. Dyvine said earlier Monday.

“I want them to be able to make a decision about having kids based on whether they want to have kids, not whether there’s going to be a safe environment to raise them. So that’s what has me going.”

Ms. Dyvine met Mr. Norris in 2018 when they were arrested together at a rally outside the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She is also involved with Extinction Rebellion Delaware, which was started by Karen Igou, 50, who was also placed in handcuffs by police on Monday.

“These elders in their 70s and 80s have walked across Pennsylvania, on Lenni Lenape lands, in the hot sun to fight for the future of their grandchildren,” Ms. Igou said. “If they can do it, we can all do it.”

Ms. Igou said the government has broken its social contract to keep constituents safe, and is protecting big money businesses instead.

“We know [fossil fuels] are killing life on Earth,” Ms. Igou said. “That is not disputed. That is agreed upon globally.”

Although the grandparents led the rally, youths like Pier Paulo, 16, and Austin Sacker, 17, came to show their support too. Both go to Wilmington Friends High School and head the Wilmington Friends Eco-Team and are part of the Delaware Youth Environmental Summit.

“It is so great to see so many of the older generations backing us,” Pier said. “I’d like to have seen more from my generation, just to show them that the older generations are fighting for something tangible.”

“We wish that the parents and grandparents in Washington would support us too,” Austin added.

Gene Bruskin is another parent worried for his child and the condition of the world she will face in the future.

“It’s just so outrageous, that we have to beg and protest to get a bank to put their money somewhere else,” Mr. Bruskin said. “The whole country goes up in smoke, but their stock prices go up.”

He sat with lifelong activist Rachel Wyon on the steps of Chase Bank, who also emphasized the pressure that she and her fellow activists are trying to put on President Biden to crack down on fossil fuels.

“I think we really have to show him that the people want this,” Ms. Wyon said. “Then maybe he’ll be able to stand up against the fossil fuel industry.”

“JPMorgan Chase is helping facilitate the transition to a low-carbon world by implementing a Paris Agreement-aligned financing strategy, and by aiming to finance and facilitate $1 trillion for green initiatives, such as renewable energy and clean technologies - part of a $2.5 trillion target to advance climate action and sustainable development,” a JPMorgan Chase spokesperson said in an email Monday.

The company said that beginning in 2020, they are also carbon neutral in their operations.

According to the 2020 Banking on Climate Change Fossil Fuel Finance Report, JPMorgan Chase became the first and only bank to blow past the quarter-trillion dollar mark with almost $269 billion in 2016-2019.

“We’re also asking President Biden to up his game,” Mr. Badges-Canning said. “Maybe he’ll notice that we’re in his hometown and we walked from his birthplace. We’re calling him out. He’s proposing some pretty good stuff but he needs to do better. The climate is in distress and it needs to be acted on right now.”