What Is Divestment?

To divest is to do the opposite of invest. When we invest in a project—the growth of a business, the construction of a house—we loan our money to support that project. When we divest we withdraw our support from the project: we take back our loan. While we as individuals might invest in projects we care about—we might loan money to a family member opening a restaurant; we might lend to a friend recently laid off—corporations have no such sentimental motives. Corporations are legally required to maximize their profits; they do so by loaning their money to the projects they believe will have the highest pay-offs.
When we store our money in a particular type of corporation called a bank, we are investing in that corporation. The bank then invests our money itself: it loans our money to projects that it thinks will pay it back, with interest. Since the money the bank loaned out was our money, the bank gives us a little bit of that interest (more so if our money is in a savings account rather than a checking account). While a small bank may loan money on a local level—to finance construction of a neighbor’s house, for instance—larger banks loan money on a national and international level.
These larger banks support projects that we would never give our money to on our own—genocidal pipeline construction, weapons for neocolonial governments near and far, etc. Nevertheless, these projects pay interest to the bank, and the bank gives us part of that interest. When we store our money with Wells Fargo, Citibank, Bank of America, or any of the banks listed below, we are betting on the success of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The Dakota Access Pipeline

The Dakota Access Pipeline is a project by Energy Transfer Partners to build a pipeline that distributes oil through North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois. The project has garnered immense controversy as the proposed route would run under Lake Oahe, the main source of water for the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. An oil spill would mean catastrophic consequences for the Native people and the environment. It is imperative that we come together to oppose this defilement of Native lives – and a major way to do so is through divestment.

Who’s Funding DAPL?

This brings the question of how – and which – banks play a role in funding the Dakota Access Pipeline. Food and Water Watch writes, “Seventeen financial institutions have loaned Dakota Access LLC $2.5 billion to construct the pipeline. Banks have also committed substantial resources to the Energy Transfer Family of companies so it can build out more oil and gas infrastructure:
• Energy Transfer Partners has a revolving credit line of $3.75 billion toward expanding its oil and gas infrastructure holdings, with commitments from just 26 banks.
• Sunoco Logistics has a credit line with $2.5 billion in commitments from just 24 banks.
• Energy Transfer Equity has a credit line with another $1.5 billion in commitments from most of the same big international banks.
“All told, that’s $10.25 billion in loans and credit facilities from 35 banks directly supporting the companies building the pipeline. Beyond the Energy Transfer family of companies, many of the same banks have likewise given big credit lines to the other stakeholders in the pipeline–Phillips 66, Marathon and Enbridge.”
(“Who’s Banking on the Dakota Access Pipeline?” Food and Water Watch. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.)

Reasons to Divest Against DAPL

The building of DAPL speaks to the continued exploitation of Native people. Energy Transfer Partners is showing a flagrant disregard for Native land and Native lives for the purpose of corporate profit. A human rights violation of this caliber can not be tolerated.
The building of this oil pipeline will bring about inevitable damage to the environment. Life depends on the sacredness of water. On a broader level, the use of fossil fuels that this pipeline will utilize contributes to the ever-increasing danger of climate change. Fossil fuels emit greenhouse gasses that trap the Sun’s heat on earth, causing the planet to warm to unnatural levels. Severe air pollution, water contamination, the melting of glaciers, the rise of sea levels, and the disruption and destruction of entire ecosystems are just some of the issues that DAPL would propagate.
It’s time to take a stand against this pipeline in the ways that we can. Divesting is one such way to stop this project.

Has Divestment Seen Success at Standing Rock?

The push to defund DAPL continues to grow as the movement against the pipeline at large carries on. According to DeFund DAPL (http://www.defunddapl.org/), a total of – at the time of this writing – $55 million dollars has been divested from the project.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has also been reported as breaking off all of their financial ties to the banks supporting the project. Jeremiah Jones for Counter Current News writes:
“NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe stands united in our steadfast opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline and similar projects. As free, independent, and self-determining Original Nations, we pledge and commit that our national treasuries, financial holdings, bank accounts, and other financial interests will be divest and severed from any and all banks, mutual funds, securities companies, or other financial entities that invest in, or otherwise financially support any aspect of the Dakota Access Pipeline Project;” (Jones, Jeremiah. “Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Cuts All Ties To Banks Financing ILLEGAL Dakota Access Pipeline.” Countercurrentnews.com. 16 Nov. 2016. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.)
Additionally, here’s a very notable example of a bank divesting their support from the project completely. This is the result of work by the Sami people and attorneys from the Oceti Sakowin camp. Stefanie Spear for EcoWatch writes: “Odin Fund Management, one of Norway’s leading fund managers, announced Thursday that it sold $23.8 million (243 million NOK) worth of shares invested in the companies behind the Dakota Access Pipeline. SpareBank 1, one of the financial institutions that offers Odin Funds, said that they have strong ethical standards for their investments and ‘as a result of information in press recently Odin Management has undergone analyses of the companies heavier involved in the pipeline in question. We see then that this project in isolation is challenging with regard to social responsibility. For this reason we have chosen to divest the fund’s shares in Marathon Petroleum.’” (Spear, Stefanie. “Another Major Norwegian Investor Divests From Dakota Access Pipeline.” Ecowatch.com. 26 Nov. 2016. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.)
And last, but not least, the city of Seattle has recently voted to divest $3 billion dollars from Wells Fargo due to the bank’s ties to the funding of the pipeline. Seattle mayor Ed Murray has pledged to sign the ordinance, effective in 2018 when the city’s contract with the bank expires. We hope that cities all across the country take note of Seattle’s decision and decide to do the same.
Seattle’s choice to divest is the result of many activists rallying together to demand change from those in power. Clearly, there is strength in numbers. When we all become conscious of where our money is going, we gain the power to bring about the change we wish to see happen. Join Idle No More and countless others on the quest to stop the pipeline.