An open letter to Brown University President Christina Paxson. The signatures of all who signed on to this letter can be seen here.
Dear President Paxson,
We are members of the Brown University community. We write regarding Brown University’s payroll accounts with Citizens Bank.
Since March 2015, Citizens Bank has been participating in a revolving line of credit to Sunoco Logistics Partners, a company that recently entered a merger agreement with Energy Transfer Partners. Together, these companies are building the Dakota Access, Bayou Bridge, Mariner East, and Trans-Pecos pipelines. These projects are neither moral nor sustainable. Until Citizens Bank closes its line of credit for Sunoco Logistics Partners, we ask that this university move its accounts to another bank or credit union that is not funding environmental violence and indigenous genocide.
In the last two years, Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners have been responsible for 35 spills, releasing a total of 111,000 gallons of oil into the environment, including over 18,000 gallons into waterways. When pipelines spill, communities lose access to clean drinking water. Exposure to crude oil can cause pulmonary complications, miscarriages, leukemia, neurological damage, and skin disorders ranging from severe eczema to cancer. Clean up takes years. The environmental damage lasts decades. In other words, the risk is high, and the consequences are devastating.
In addition to posing immediate hazards to local communities, Citizens’ funding of the fossil fuel industry threatens human life across the globe. Overwhelming scientific evidence points to fossil fuel consumption as a significant cause of anthropogenic climate change. Already, we have seen massive flooding, drought, crop failure, forest fires, and an increase in natural disasters. In 2009—the year for which we have most recent data—over 20 million people were displaced by the symptoms of climate change. Multiple scientific studies estimate that at least 200 million people will be climate refugees by 2050. It is clear to anyone who is paying attention: investment in the fossil fuel industry is irresponsible and unsustainable.
Citizens is funding the Dakota Access pipeline, which crosses the Missouri River and threatens the drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux and 17 million others living downstream. The pipeline also desecrates Lakota burial grounds, in violation of treaty agreements. The tribes of the Great Sioux Nation and their allies camped near the construction site for nearly a year to defend their water and land. State police and private security firms hired by Energy Transfer Partners attacked water protectors with vicious dogs, shot them in the face and body at close range with rubber bullets, broke their bones with gas grenades, inflicted skin lesions and respiratory damage with repeated use of toxic tear gas, and blasted them with water cannons in below-freezing temperatures. In late January, the National Guard positioned two missile launchers near the construction site. Following President [Donald] Trump’s executive order, the camps were forcibly evacuated in February.
We, Brown community members, act in solidarity with the Great Sioux Nation and the people of Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Texas who are resisting the desecration of their land and water. We act in solidarity with indigenous members of our own community and Natives at Brown, who have supported the NoDAPL movement and Native and Indigenous rights. We act in alignment with the Providence-based #ShameonCitizens campaign, and with the understanding that Citizens Bank has declined multiple opportunities to engage and respond to these local and national concerns. In February, Citizens Bank physically barred Lakota activists from entering its headquarters in Providence; the following week, the #ShameonCitizens campaign delivered a letter to the bank headquarters requesting that they divest from Sunoco Logistics. In early March three activists, including two members of the Brown community, locked down at Citizens Bank in protest. Over the past month, the #ShameonCitizens campaign has organized Rhode Island residents and institutions in divesting from Citizens Bank. All have made statements to the bank explaining their reasons. Citizens Bank has yet to issue any response to these actions, although executives are fully aware of them and silently attended a March 22nd city council meeting discussing a proposed citywide divestment ordinance.
In 2013, Brown community members demanded that this university end its investments in fossil fuels. The Corporation refused. Today we are making a smaller ask: use your contracts as leverage in this fight for human rights. As members of this community, we call on the Corporation of Brown University to condemn the violence at Standing Rock and take immediate action. Inform Citizens Bank that you will end your contracts unless they divest from the companies behind the Dakota Access pipeline: Energy Transfer Partners, Sunoco Logistics, Enbridge, Marathon and Phillips 66.
In November 2017, you affirmed that the Brown community will continue to uphold “the treatment of all people with dignity.” Let’s act on these words.