This past weekend, an announcement was made at the end of the Meeting for Worship I was attending. After a series of ministry messages about love, authority and effectiveness, an elderly woman rose to say that the next day, Monday, she and another woman were going do camp themselves outside of a bank in town and hand out flyers denouncing this bank’s continued investment in coal companies that do mountain-top removal. Why were they choosing this bank in particular? Because the bank had just recently completed construction of a new, green building in town. I find it a bit ironic that this bank was being targeted not because it doesn’t care about the environment, but because it does, but perhaps not enough. When I related this story to my sister, she said that this bank has also been a big backer of a lot of community programs including support of affordable housing.
My gnawing question has been: Is this an effective strategy for change? Because this bank has taken action and gotten some good publicity on environmental issues, should they be in line for a protest because they lack full integrity by continuing to profit from mountain-top mining? Do we leave other banks and companies who have more integrity – they don’t care about the environment at all? And what about our own integrity? Really, don’t we all benefit from the destructive but cheap mining of coal that helps keep energy costs down? And what about the printing up and handing out of flyers – the majority of which would end up in the garbage?
All of this creates a dilemma for me. I definitely think that we need to address issues such as mountain-top removal for coal. It’s a horribly destructive way to get energy. But I’m not sure that alienating a company that has made some environmental strides and has been a fairly responsible community partner is effective. This also has me wondering about the effectiveness of protests in general. Perhaps early in movements, when no one seems to be caring or taking action, these are effective ways of getting people to just pay attention. But as we get to the root causes and the challenges of community transformation, the work of change becomes more complex.
One of the ministry messages in Meeting that morning had been that Love is our ultimate authority, and our effectiveness increases not when we use love to manipulate people to what we want, but when we engage in people and situations so that we can be more loving. With this bank, I wonder how we can be more loving in expressing our gratitude for what they have done and concerns for what they continue to do. I know we will also have to look at our own complicitness if we want to truly be effective.