MARKETPLACE

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About $ + <3

by Natalie Abdou

I am beginning to really think about how to put my money where my heart is.

It was late November and I was watching and witnessing the increasing momentum, media presence and conflict rising at Standing Rock Sioux Nation in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). A beautiful, artful activist friend who had been in solidarity with the Sioux water defenders on site for many months posted one of his daily updates, except this time asking for support from those witnessing from afar and wanting to do our part. I replied and he offered a number of ways to engage and raise awareness. One suggestion was to divest from any bank that is invested in the pipeline. I’d had rumbling thoughts of closing both my Royal Bank and TD Canada Trust accounts, both banks being invested in the pipeline by the hundreds of millions: RBC – $341 million and TD Securities – $365 million. Scotiabank is similarly invested in DAPL – $100 million (source). For some reason, this particular call for support was a pivotal catalyst. It was no longer time to think and reflect. It was time to take action.

It seems to make all too much sense. Of course I do not want to put my money into any corporation that is invested in projects that might pollute community drinking water and that are not honouring the land and the rights and traditions of First Nations, or of any community for that matter. I know the reality: in so many ways the intertwined world that we live in means that I am continuously in contact with products and organizations that in some way devalue the sacredness of nature and the peoples (e.g., the First Nations of Turtle Island) who are seeking to protect and restore right relations with the land and all creation. I also drive a car that runs on oil, no doubt sourced by one of these very corporations and supported by banks such RBC, TD and Scotiabank.

Do these conflicting values and realities make me a hypocrite? It’s an important question to ask and reflect on, as is the realization that I am a fibre of this larger web of life amidst a globalized context that is very much oil-related and -dependent. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I do not deeply believe in our creative and innovative capacity as humans to generate energy in sustainable, earth-affirming ways. And so, it feels like an empowering and ecologically respectful first step to put my money closer to where my heart is. That is, to place the funds I earn (doing work that feeds harmonious co-existence on this planet) into organizations and institutions whose views are more closely aligned with my own and who are diligently working toward creating and providing more sustainable and life-honouring ways of being in the world. In this case, it means seeking financial product choices that are more environmentally and socially conscious.

Enter credit unions. I have long had an appreciation for credit unions, having learned about them and their critical role as a part of the Antigonish Movement, a fascinating and largely unknown part of Canada’s cooperative and community organization history (a critical piece of our history to explore if you have not yet come across it). Yet here in Toronto I had never considered it an option. I don’t recall seeing a credit union when I was a teenager looking to save my cents. The big banks just always seemed to be the easier, common sense choice.

Well, I am grateful that there are alternatives! In collaboration with a small and mighty group of collaborators who were called to this action like myself, we have been diligently doing our research to understand more about credit union options in Toronto: where and how they invest, what their values and principles are, and how this expresses itself throughout their policies and practices.

What we can share from our experience so far is… wow, it’s really hard to get away from oil and gas! While many credit unions may not be involved in DAPL, they are often still connected to corporations who are, or are linked to the oil and gas industry here in Canada—with the hope of pushing these industries to change by having a seat at the table. That is certainly one approach to change and yet it feels questionable. How might a credit union alter the ways of large industry? I suppose on occasion a cluster of raccoons can take on a bear…

And so it has all been an interesting journey thus far. Do I or the others from our research trio know which credit union we would go with? Not yet. Do we know we are committed to this shift? Absolutely. And with that has come tremendous insight and the realization that if you start to poke in one spot an entire universe of questions and considerations can arise. Some of the key learning and questions that have arisen:

  • There are plenty of great organizations in Toronto and across the country working hard to create awareness and change around environmental policy and practices (I can appreciate this is not new news!) and who have been very supportive of our research and grassroots organizing;
  • There are a multitude of credit unions across Toronto, often niche and specific to particular ethic communities;
  • There are many people keen to make a similar shift to credit unions, though our cultural norms are such that the big banks rule—at least for the time being. I imagine this will continue to shift slowly, as it has over the past decades.
  • This one is shocking: the Canadian pension plan is invested heavily in the oil industry, fertile ground for a national identity crisis. Trudeau’s recent talk of shutting down the tar sands appears contradictory in the face of the major investment of our collective retirement pensions in oil.

One step at a time. Divest from big bank then engage in national campaign to have our pension plans divested from oil? We shall see.

In either case, I am understanding, bit by bit, what it means to make a choice around where my money sits and who or what it supports. I realize that my choices carry both power and impact and as such are a vital form of activism along the social justice journey. I am grateful for the friend who asked if I was keen to support #noDAPL, and for the leadership and determination of the Sioux Tribe in their ongoing protection of the waters, land and air; and for my friends Paul and Michiko, who have been committed and diligent in our efforts to gather, share and scratch beneath the surface together.

We are now ready to share what we have found, ready to collaborate with others who want to take action—both in divesting and in making our choice publicly spoken and known; and for putting our funds into credit unions that are sensitive to our beliefs and values.

Are you ready to put your money where your heart is? Please join us! There will be an Information Sharing and Creative Brainstorm Session on Friday, February 3rd 2017 at 6:15 PM at Greenpeace Canada’s main office, located at 33 Cecil Street. We would love to have a larger presence and gathering of passionate souls to share our learning around divestment and credit union options and to imagine together how to use our bodies and voices to raise greater awareness around this issue in the community of Toronto.

Please find us on Facebook to connect or access resources: putyour$whereyou<3is

You can also email natalie.abdou@gmail.com.

In addition, Sioux tribe water protectors and allies are continuing to defend the waters and land throughout the winter. To support the All Nations Camp or to learn more about #noDAPL and ways to engage, please visit nodaplsolidarity.org

In peace, gratitude & solidarity

Natalie Abdou

 

1 Comment on "MARKETPLACE"

  1. Great initiative and writing. Thank you for your soulful service and heartful activism

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