Protesters from Sammamish and the greater Seattle area flooded Sammamish City Hall on Tuesday urging City Council members to divest the city’s money from its banker, Wells Fargo, due to the bank investing in the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Roughly 30 protesters were in attendance, with nine addressing the council over the course of a half hour. While individual protesters spoke, those in the audience held up signs that read “Divest,” “Water is life” and “No DAPL.”
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“Washington state has become a leader for doing the right thing in the recent months … I think this is the perfect opportunity for Sammamish to do likewise. Divest yourselves from Wells Fargo,” Sammamish resident Anne Tuttle told the council.
Immediately following the public comment period, City Manager Lyman Howard addressed the speakers, explaining the city’s banking ties with Wells Fargo. He mentioned that the city was a longtime customer of Bank of America until the institution stopped providing municipal banking services. He noted the city’s municipal deposits were governed by different restrictions than regular business or personal accounts. He added that when the city put out its request for proposal, the city received three responses, with two being either of lower quality or lacking sufficient electronic banking capabilities.
“Given our limited choices and our fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of Sammamish to safeguard those funds, we did choose Wells Fargo,” Howard said.
The city manager added that the city has received good service from Wells Fargo and noted the city’s contract with the bank would be up for renewal in 2019. At that time, Howard said the city would consider all of its options moving forward.
“While it might be emotionally satisfying for some of our citizens, or many of you here, to cease doing business with Wells Fargo, I feel that if we were to divest at this particular point in time without options, we would be penalizing our citizens currently more than sending a message to Wells Fargo since we, at this particular point in time, don’t have choices,” Howard said.
Mayor Don Gerend, noting he drove to Tuesday’s council meeting in his electric car, commented that the city is committed to clean energy and is working with Puget Sound Energy in getting the energy provider to divest from working with coal-burning plants.
“I think that when this contract with the bank comes up for renewal, I would encourage the city manager and the then-sitting council to think strongly about social and environmental issues and include those in the consideration,” Gerend said.
Sammamish resident Brandon McIntosh, a local music teacher, spearheaded the organization of Tuesday’s protest. He said he was inspired after being present when the Seattle City Council voted to divest from Wells Fargo earlier this month.
“We sort of knew we weren’t going to come away with an instant win or anything, but we’re hoping to get the conversation started,” McIntosh said of Tuesday’s demonstration. “Right now, there’s sort of momentum going on with the divest movement. We’re hoping, because Sammamish is part of the overall west side of the state that’s more progressive, that we can eventually whittle away at a win here in Sammamish.”
Ted Virdone, a policy analyst with Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant, was one of the speakers to address the Sammamish City Council. He told council members that despite the logistical hurdles, “You absolutely have the power” to divest.
“Seattle also didn’t have that many choices. They had four choices the last time they put out the RFP,” Virdone told the Reporter. “By making that decision now, it puts pressure on the banks to do the right thing now when the decisions are being made.”
Seattle resident Matt Remle, a former resident of Standing Rock Indian Reservation, said he’s been directly impacted by the Dakota Access Pipeline. He said he hoped that shining a light on the issue and the practices of Wells Fargo to council members would cause them to take action at some point down the road.
“These questions [the council] is raising are the same questions [the city of Seattle] had, but you can work through it and figure out an alternative,” Remle said. “Maybe it planted a seed and can allow for some follow-through.”