Phila.-Pittsburgh march conducted by Quaker activists
May 17, 2012 8:00 AM
John Haer of the East End holds a flag with the Earth on it as part of a rally with the Earth Quaker Action Team. The group was protesting PNC's financing of mountaintop removal mining.
Robin Harper of Wallingford tapes a invitation to PNC's CEO, James Rohr, onto the revolving door at the corporate headquarters, Downtown.
By Taryn Luna Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A group of mostly elderly Quaker activists swelled to 75 on Wednesday as the final leg of their 200-mile, 17-day foot journey from Philadelphia approached its destination at PNC headquarters.
Admittedly sore and achy, George Lakey -- the 74-year-old brainchild of the Earth Quaker Action Team's quest to confront PNC about its financing of mountaintop removal mining and one of two people to walk the entire trek -- was all smiles.
Protesters complete trek from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh
A group called Earth Quaker Action Team iconcluded a
200-mile walk from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to protest PNC's
financing of mountain top removal mining. (Video by Brian Batko; 5/16/2012)
"A very big part of this march was to gather people to join us and remove their money from PNC Bank," he said as trod along Fifth Avenue. "It was an enormous project for a very small group."
Along highways, back roads, and through peaceful battles with PNC branches at every stop, the Philadelphia-based group's message to the bank remained: Agree to stop financing companies that conduct mountaintop removal coal mining by May 31 or more than $2 million will be removed from supporter accounts.
When the journey finally ended, it was no surprise to EQAT that an invitation to James Rohr, chairman and CEO of PNC Financial Services Group, and William Demchak, president of PNC, to meet with the group and speak with residents affected by mountaintop removal wasn't accepted.
Nor was PNC's decision to continue to decline to address the issue publicly.
"There's nothing they can say, because they know they're wrong," said Amy Ward Brimmer, executive director-elect of EQAT. "My sense of it is that until we become such a risk that they have to respond, they are probably going to try to keep burying their heads in the sand. They are going to have to respond, eventually."
The group's stated connection to the bank stems from a 1983 merger, when Pittsburgh National, which later became PNC, acquired Provident National, a Quaker bank. PNC spokesman Fred Solomon said the bank no longer has ties to any Quaker values or traditions.
Mountaintop removal mining, a practice that often involves blowing up the top of a mountain with dynamite to expose coal seams and filling adjacent valleys with sediment, is not practiced in Pennsylvania and is most common in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.
But local environmental groups came out to support the movement, acknowledging the practice's similarities to fracking.
"This is a very powerful protest," said Terri Supowitz of Marcellus Protest. "All the issues are the same. Corporations making money by destroying the community -- that's the message."
Dustin White of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition said mountaintop removal has devastated his home in Boone County, W.Va.
"It's hard to describe it to people, but its like being homesick and never leaving home," he said. "They've destroyed the mountain, destroyed the water quality and the people pretty much live in poverty."
Mr. White didn't expect PNC to respond to the demands, and said as a West Virginian he's accustomed to coal companies ignoring the voice of the people.
"That's the pessimism of the region," he explained of his attitude. "People think we're ignorant hillbillies that don't deserve to live so that others can have a paycheck and turn on a light bulb."
He hopes the walk will spread awareness of the environmental impacts on Appalachian residents.
"We are the people who live in this region," he said. "This isn't depopulated backwoods. There are people who've been here for generations, and we're just trying to live."