Our loud and raucous picket was the first action of the Stop Banking The Bomb campaign which was started in September by a handful of volunteer activists from the Pittsburgh chapter of Veterans For Peace, Party for Socialism and Liberation-Pittsburgh Branch, and the Thomas Merton Center’s Anti-War Committee. Our Stop Banking The Bomb coalition of local and regional progressive and leftist organizations now stands at ten strong just a few weeks after beginning — and we are growing every day.
According to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, PNC Bank has loaned $1.186 billion dollars to eight nuclear arms manufacturers since 2013. The eight companies include some of the most notorious corporations representing the U.S. Military Industrial Complex: General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Bechtel, Moog, Orbital, Textron, BWX and Huntington Ingalls.
Our Stop Banking The Bomb coalition was born from the realization that the U.S. government refuses to acknowledge its complicity in starting and fueling the global nuclear arms race. On July 7, 122 nations of the world voted at the UN in overwhelming solidarity against the presence of nuclear arms on our planet. Only one nation voted against the ban (the Netherlands) and one abstained (Singapore). The U.S. government did not even participate in the negotiations and refused to cast a vote. The U.S. government and its politicians are not listening to the people who also want to ban the bomb. That’s why we decided to go after the imperialist financeers of U.S. nuclear weapons.
On Nov. 3, a team from the Stop Banking The Bomb steering committee met with senior executives from PNC Bank and presented our demands: Sell off the loans and create a formal binding corporate policy never to finance, loan, or invest in any corporation involved in the manufacture or sale of nuclear weapons. The civil meeting ended without any commitment from PNC Bank, so our growing coalition decided to make our demands known to the people of Pittsburgh.
The day before our picket, one of the vice-presidents of PNC called to accuse our coalition of acting in bad faith for going public and threatened to call off our negotiations if we continued with our picket. In response, our coalition told the PNC VP that the public needs to know about these immoral loans and investments, and the only way to do that is to take our message to the streets.
When we showed up at the front of PNC Tower Building, we were met with a large contingent of Pittsburgh police, private security thugs, and several PNC executives who immediately began berating us for our protest. The police were both inside the PNC building and outside protecting the finance-capitalists and demanding that we move off their so-called private property.
Our group included a few women and men in their seventies — peaceful protesters who would not harm anyone. Yet, the police and security kept “pushing” us around, potentially trying to provoke us: a clear indication of the role of the police in a capitalist society: to protect the interests of the capitalist class and repress the poor and working people any time they organize against the rule of capital.
Nevertheless, we continued to persist and protest, meet with and talk to the people on the streets, and hand out our flyers, despite being harassed by the police and private security. At one point, one of the PNC executives cursed at me in full view of the police and I had to de-escalate the provocative behavior of the banker. The same PNC executive then began to take pictures of all of the non-violent, peaceful picketers.
As we began to wrap up our picket, we spontaneously began to chant, “We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back!” for several minutes. A PNC worker who was reading one of our informational flyers around the corner from the PNC Tower, remarked quietly to me as we were leaving, “I agree with what you are doing. Keep it up!”
On Dec. 9, the Stop Banking The Bomb coalition will host a lengthy strategy meeting in Pittsburgh. We know we are in this for the long haul and that our initial protest was just the first salvo across the bow of the finance-capitalist’s flagship.
But there’s another thing we know.
We will win!
The author is the coordinator of the Pittsburgh-based Stop Banking The Bomb campaign.