At 10AM last Thursday, three people affiliated with the FANG Collective, an activist group dedicated to environmental justice, locked themselves to the doors of the Citizens Bank global headquarters in Downtown Providence. Using bike locks attached around their necks and door stoppers to block entry to the building, Eleanor Meshnick, Mayo Saji, and Trina Powers sat silently holding signs that read No Bayou Bridge, No Mariner East, and No DAPL. The lockdown targeted Citizens Bank to protest the corporation’s $72.5 million line of credit to Sunoco Logistics, a main backer of the Dakota Access pipeline and other pipeline projects. Half an hour later, Powers, the only one of the three who was not physically locked to the building’s doors, was arrested. As several police officers walked her away from the building, she held her No DAPL sign in her teeth. By 11AM, an hour after the lockdown began, both Saji and Meshnick had also been arrested.
All three protesters were arrested on misdemeanors and released the same day with a filing (meaning their records will be clean after one year). As the protestors emphasized to the Independent, this legal stipulation is a privilege not afforded to those carrying out similar actions against the Bayou Bridge pipeline in Louisiana, Mariner East pipeline in Pennsylvania, and Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota. “Those activists are working so much harder every day and have to plan so much more last minute than we did,” said Saji. “It was more important that we were trying to support people on the front lines doing it every day.” Meshnick emphasized this disparity, “Currently people in North Dakota are getting felonies for the same crime, and some of them are spending years in prison for it.” As the lockdown was executed, FANG spread word of the protest on social media, asking people who had money in Citizens Bank to close their accounts. By midday, a Facebook Live video of the lockdown had already garnered thousands of views. As of a week after the protest, the video had garnered over 1,000 shares and 41,000 views.
Formed in 2014 as a coalition of groups fighting hydraulic fracturing (fracking) across the Northeast and Midatlantic, the FANG collective quickly gained a prominent role in local and regional environmental justice activism. While the FANG was originally an acronym for Fighting Against Natural Gas, the collective changed its name to simply FANG last year to reflect the broader scope of their activism. Since 2014, FANG has lead several local campaigns in Rhode Island. The group has recently been working with the Mashapaug Narragansett tribe to lead the #NoLNGinPVD campaign, a push to prevent National Grid from constructing a natural gas liquefaction facility on the South Side of Providence. As a result of FANG’s actions, including a sit-in at National Grid’s headquarters in Waltham, Massachusetts, construction on the plant has already been delayed months from its intended start date.
FANG is also working to prevent the construction of a fracked-gas pipeline and a new power plant in Burrillville, Rhode Island. While protests have failed to prevent the pipeline’s construction, the fight against the power plant is ongoing. Since late 2015, over 30 cities and towns across the state have passed resolutions opposing the Burrillville plant. While these resolutions are largely meant to pressure Governor Raimondo to block construction, others are fighting the Burrillville plant in the courts. The Conservation Law Foundation filed a lawsuit last week opposing the power plant on behalf of Burrillville residents. The fate of the lawsuit and the plant as a whole remains unknown.
For the past several months, the FANG Collective has been working with indigenous activists and others on the “Shame on Citizens” protest campaign, which is meant to financially target Citizens Bank for its funding of Sunoco Logistics. FANG’s direct action on March 2 was just the most recent push of the Shame on Citizens campaign. On February 8, activists at the Red Warrior camp, one of the camps resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, called for a national day of #NoDAPL action in response to the Army Corps of Engineers’ granting of the final easement for the pipeline. Responding to the call, FANG held a demonstration of over 100 people outside of the Citizens Bank headquarters to protest the bank’s financial involvement in the pipeline. Randy Noka, a Narragansett Tribal Councilman, delivered a speech to protesters, indicting Citizens Bank, saying “corporate greed can’t come at the expense of the environment, and certainly can’t come at the expense of aboriginal people.” Noka continued, “as a native person, a Narragansett, we know all too well some of the travesties that have been done to our ancestors; we’re talking more than that now, we’re talking about the environment, our rights being trampled on.”
Julie Richards, an indigenous activist with the Mothers Against Meth Alliance—a group fighting meth addiction on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota—attended the demonstration Downtown. Richards was enthused by the energy she saw: “It was really awesome, I was really happy for the turnout there… [I] thought it was really important.” At the demonstration Richards, alongside FANG member Nick Katkevich, attempted to enter the Citizens Bank headquarters to discuss their grievances with company executives. But police officers blocked Richards and Katkevich from entry. A week later, representatives from FANG were allowed to enter the bank’s headquarters to deliver a letter expressing their grievances to company executives. When representatives from Citizens Bank remained silent, organizers felt the need to escalate to direct action. “We really tried to have conversations with them and we’re still open to having a conversation,” Katkevich told the Independent, “but these issues are such an immediate thing that we needed to escalate and we needed to take action.”
FANG had carried out similar lockdown actions in the past, including one at TD bank in October to protest a loan the bank made to finance the Dakota Access Pipeline. Other members of FANG had traveled to Standing Rock to protest on the front lines. Much of the urgency of last week’s action “came from the Trump administration pushing forward all of these new pipeline projects,” Saji, a first year Brown student, told the Independent. The action last Thursday also served to direct some of the attention garnered by #NoDAPL to publicize other anti-pipeline fights being fought by indigenous people and other front line communities. Katkevich described FANG’s work to expand awareness for additional fracking operations as “bringing the other pipelines into the narrative.” In particular FANG has been working with those fighting Louisiana and Pennsylvania to work and do trainings on the ground, and collaborating with local leaders to execute solidarity actions like last week’s. Several leaders of these frontline fights also released statements of support for last Thursday’s action outside Citizens Bank. Krystal Two Bull, an Oglala Lakota and Northern Cheyenne activist and the founder of the Red Warrior camp at Standing Rock, echoed Katkevich’s sentiment. “We still stand. We continue to fight. From the start, we have said this fight is larger than Standing Rock.”
Cherri Foytland, who works with Bold Louisiana, a group leading the fight against the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, also asserted that the fight against pipeline finance and construction will not end at Standing Rock. “If Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics thought that Standing Rock was something, wait till they come to the Bayou,” wrote Foytland in her statement. “We will fight their Bayou Bridge oil pipeline at every level. It’s time for institutions like Citizens Bank to wake up and cut their financing to these dangerous pipeline projects.” FANG has been working closely with Foytland, and several FANG members have flown to New Orleans to organize the Bayou Bridge resistance and train activists locally in nonviolent direct action tactics. Katkevich also explained FANG’s ties to the Mariner East fight, “we’ve got some personal friends who were there at the beginning when things formed 3 years ago. They’re fighting Mariner East out there and FANG is helping, with our limited capacity, to support them in that fight.”
Meshnick told the Independent that fighting pipelines both on the ground and through their financial ties is key to FANG’s mission, “It was important for [FANG] to get a wider scope, and hone in on the people who are perpetuating this violence rather than the violence itself.” Katkevich also emphasized the importance of waging battles against fossil-fuel infrastructure on both of these fronts. Public officials have begun taking up financial fight against pipelines alongside FANG. Providence City Councilman Seth Yurdin, a long time proponent of fossil-fuel divestment, has introduced a bill to the city council that would divest all city financial holdings from Citizens Bank, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase, in light of their connection to Sunoco Logistics. As Yurdin told EcoRI News, “Now more than ever, local governments need to support important issues like the opposition to DAPL.” Members of the Narragansett tribe are also leading this local divestment push. This Saturday, March 10, No DAPL RI, a group of activists coordinating local work to support Standing Rock, is organizing a “prayerful gathering and march” to advocate Providence divestment and in solidarity with the Native Nations Rise march on Washington D.C. In a statement to the Independent, No DAPL RI explained the motivation behind the march: “We fully support the sovereignty and rights of the indigenous community, at large and at home. We stand with them as they march on Washington, DC, and in cities across ‘America,’ to demand their rights be recognized, before the US government, and the world.”
As stories of the destruction of the Standing Rock camps spread across the country, and as images of burning shelters that once housed resistance spread through the media, indigenous people and frontline activists in Louisiana, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island are pushing the public to recognize that fights for indigenous sovereignty and environmental justice are present everywhere. “I think folks are realizing now more than before that these pipelines, this infrastructure, these fights are happening all across the continent,” said Katkevich. “And almost no matter where you live, there’s probably an extraction site or a pipeline site or another type of infrastructure site.” Richards emphasized Standing Rock’s place in a legacy of indigenous resistance, “We’re in the fight of our lives right now, and we have to do whatever we can to shut them down; remember the Battle of Little Bighorn, look how many people came together at standing rock, that’s only a small portion of all the native people on turtle islands.”
For indigenous activists and others on the front lines, the evacuation of Standing Rock does not mean defeat, but a greater commitment to dismantling a larger system. As Krystal Two Bull explained, “it is about more than this one pipeline. It is about protecting the Water for the future generations of all People. It is about dismantling and taking back power from a system that prioritizes profit over human lives. We must put an end to this.”
ZACK KLIGLER B’20 urges you to join the FANG collective and No DAPL RI at the State House at 10AM this Saturday.