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May 4, 2017

Protesters gather to demand banks to divest from Dakota Access Pipeline

Collegian File Photo

(Collegian File Photo)

A group of activists protested the Bank of America and TD Bank, demanding the banks divest from the Dakota Access Pipeline, in downtown Amherst on Saturday morning.

Protesters gathered in front of the Bank of America branch in downtown Amherst on South Pleasant Street to deliver a letter urging for the bank to divest and halt finances to the DAPL.

At around 10 a.m., people made signs against the DAPL by the Bank of America. Some of the signs read “Water is life” and “You’re on native land.” Blue sheets were held up by protesters to mimic water waves on the corner in front of the intersection of North Pleasant Street and Main Street. Members of Divest UMass was also present to sell T-shirts in support of the protesters at Standing Rock.

At 10:26 a.m., a few protesters entered the Bank of America branch to deliver the letter. Two children personally delivered the letter to the bank manager.

“He was sympathetic,” said Deb Tyler. Tyler is one of the members of the coalition that organized the event, which includes Climate Action Now and Sugar Shack Alliance. Tyler said that the manager was receptive and would send the letter “to the right people.”

After delivering the letter to the bank manager, the group of around 150 people walked down Main Street to Sweetser Park located across the Amherst Police Department. The group formed a circle for a shared prayer session for the activists, known as water protectors, at Standing Rock.

At 11:20 a.m., the protesters arrived to the TD Bank branch on Triangle Street after marching up north of North Pleasant Street to deliver the letter to the TD Bank manager.

According to Tyler, the security of TD Bank said to the group that protesters cannot enter the bank. Following a confrontation that involved Amherst Police, the bank manager emerged to address a smaller group of protesters. According to Tyler, the manager was more exasperated than the previous bank manager.

“I think because the little girl gave (the letter) to him, he softened and he was smiling by the time it was done,” said Tyler. “I think he got the message.”

The previous day, the Native American Student Association and Divest UMass held a solidarity fundraiser against the DAPL, at the University of Massachusetts Student Farmer’s Market. According to Sarah Jacqz of Divest UMass, the event raised over $3,700 dollars.

“It was an amazing community effort,” said Jacqz to the crowd gathered in front of the TD Bank branch, “but we’re not done yet.”

The group hopes to raise $10,000 dollars this month in support of members of the Standing Rock Sioux protesting the DAPL.

Tyler said he felt happy about the turnout and confident that the efforts of the protesters will cause an effect contributing to halting the pipeline.

“I think we just need to keep showing up,” said Tyler. “I’m hoping that this will grow and be another drop that sends more ripples out and we’ll just growing this until we stop that pipeline.”

Melissa Bonaccorso, a sophomore natural resources conservation major, and Antonia Mok, a sophomore sustainable food and farming major, wanted to support and raise awareness of the DAPL protests in Standing Rock.

“This is a situation that has been going for far too long and the media is just shutting it out and pretending as if it’s not happening,” said Mok.

“This is the least I can do,” said Bonaccorso. “I think it’s important to stand in front of the Bank of America, so that we don’t support banks that are supporting this pipeline.”

Sophia Nelson, a junior history major, was inspired by the event. She said she wanted to be involved with the resistance against the DAPL.

“It’s really important to actually get your body out there to protest,” said Nelson. “So, once I heard about it, I thought it was important for me to be here.”

Nelson also mentioned a history of abuse toward Native Americans carried out by the United States government.

“It’s gotten to the point where it’s really inexcusable to be putting the water in jeopardy,” said Nelson. “And in addition completely disrespecting Native American land, Native American rituals. I think environmental justice and racial justice go hand to hand.”

Danny Cordova can be reached at dcordova@umass.edu, and followed on Twitter @DannyJCordova.

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