Climate Activists Arrested in Demonstration at Vanguard Headquarters

EQAT members and others arrested on April 19 at Vanguard headquarters in Media, Pa. Photo by Rachael Warriner.

On Wednesday, April 19, around 100 climate crisis demonstrators blocked four driveways at the Vanguard investment firm’s headquarters in Malvern, Pa., to protest the company’s continued fossil fuel holdings. Tredyffrin Township Police arrested 16 people, 11 of whom were members of Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) and five of whom belonged to allied organizations, such as Extinction Rebellion and POWER Interfaith, according to Eve Gutman, media and research coordinator for EQAT.

Authorities placed the arrestees in Chester County Prison, where they were processed and released after several hours. Charges against the activists include the misdemeanors defiant trespass and failure to disperse as well as the summary offense disorderly conduct. The arrestees are due in Chester County Magisterial District Court 15-4-01 on June 9. Activists object to Vanguard’s 2022 decision to withdraw from the Net Zero Asset Managers Initiative and to its refusal to divest from fossil fuel companies.

Photos from left: Longtime Quaker activist George Lakey talks to local news; retired Friends General Conference general secretary Bruce Birchard reads a statement; protesters hold signs and give speeches during action.

EQAT belongs to a local network of groups participating in an international campaign called Vanguard SOS. Vanguard customers and other concerned citizens are holding demonstrations, letter writing campaigns, and call-in days, Gutman said. Activists are targeting Vanguard because it is the largest mutual fund investor and second largest investment firm in the world. In support of the campaign so far an estimated 1,400 Vanguard customers have sent letters to the company, and 500 clients called on the day of the demonstration, arguing that it has a fiduciary duty to invest in a climate-safe manner, according to Gutman.

Vanguard has not publicly responded to the protest.

The Friday before the action, John Galloway, Vanguard’s global head of investment stewardship, released a report upholding the company’s current policies.

“All we get is these statements that the status quo is good enough,” Gutman said.

Vanguard offers index funds that allow investors to “limit exposure to carbon-intensive industries,” according to a company document provided by Alyssa Thornton of Vanguard’s media relations office. The publication states, “Vanguard has a set of corporate goals and initiatives to make progress toward reducing carbon emissions in our global operations and reaching carbon neutrality as a company by 2025.”

To prepare for the civil disobedience, EQAT activists met in person on Saturday, April 15, at First Unitarian Universalist Church in Philadelphia, Pa., where they grounded themselves in community and role-played various scenarios, according to EQAT board member Dana Robinson.

EQAT board member Carolyn McCoy, an arrestee, drew strength from Quakers’ long history of being arrested for civil disobedience. She joined the conversations in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting that led to the formation of EQAT. She served as the board clerk when the organization formed in 2010 and joined the board again in July 2022. Over the years, McCoy has attended a number of trainings to build her activism skills, including a street speaking workshop through Training for Change.

“I’ve been preparing for this kind of action for a long, long time,” said McCoy, a member of Central Philadelphia Meeting.

Robinson wants Vanguard employees to understand the activists’ reasons for protesting. Demonstrators intended to highlight the contrast between business as usual and a different way of approaching investing to curb climate change, according to Robinson.

“As a Quaker, one of the things that I can do is to hold out the important moral principles that we believe in,” said Robinson, who was arrested at the demonstration.

EQAT plans to call on potential investors and employees to pledge not to do business with Vanguard, according to Gutman. The group will also encourage existing customers to move their money to competing firms.

The Friend has more coverage of this event.

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