On a gray day in February, Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) gathered at Vanguard headquarters in Malvern, imagining it was the year 2033. We had a volunteer play the part of a news reporter named “Terri Fied”; he reported on climate disasters plaguing the country, and tied those outcomes to Vanguard’s failure to invest for a livable future. Our “reporter” also interviewed “Reg Ret,” an imagined plaintiff in a lawsuit against Vanguard for its failure to factor climate risk into its investment strategies.
This mix of comedy and tragedy was enacted as part of Vanguard S.O.S., a larger, international campaign focusing on Vanguard. Vanguard has a very big problem: it is a top global investor in fossil fuels, with $101 billion in coal, and hundreds of billions more in oil and gas. And, relative to other asset managers, it has one of the worst voting records on climate-related shareholder resolutions. As one of the top money managers in the world, with over $7 trillion worth of assets under management, Vanguard has tremendous power to influence how quickly our economy becomes carbon-free. So far, it has refused to make any kind of real commitment to move the thousands of companies it invests in toward a sustainable economy.
For a brief period, Vanguard had signed on to the Net Zero Asset Managers’ initiative (NZAM), an initiative that 301 other asset managers have signed onto, that commits signatories “to supporting the goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner, in line with global efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.” In December, Vanguard announced its withdrawal from this commitment.
Due to our proximity to Vanguard headquarters, folks in southeast Pennsylvania have a unique role to play in this international campaign. We are, literally, well positioned to bring the message of the need for climate-safe investing right to the office door of Vanguard CEO Tim Buckley. EQAT is just one of a local network of organizations that are active in the work.
EQAT was founded by Friends and is anchored in Quaker histories of speaking truth to power. While it was founded by Quakers, EQAT welcomes people of all faiths and backgrounds. It uses nonviolent direct action (NVDA) to resist injustice. NVDA can involve prayer, singing, speaking out, art displays, flyers, street theater, and sit-ins.
During the first few months of 2023, EQAT set a goal of having three, relatively small actions in rapid succession to keep the spotlight on Vanguard, and also to give more volunteers an opportunity to build their skills around NVDA. Soon after our February action, we showed up at Comcast in Philadelphia to remind Comcast employees that their pension funds with Vanguard are invested in climate destruction, and we will soon be back at Vanguard headquarters to critique Mr. Buckley’s rationalizations for NZAM withdrawal.
Part of building skills around NVDA involves giving more volunteers an opportunity to try new action roles, especially “police liaison” and “action lead” roles. The “police liaison” is responsible for interacting with police and security who respond to our presence; the “action lead” coordinates the entire action while it unfolds, often needing to make in-the-moment decisions about how to meet the goals of an action.
We are building our capacity in preparation for bolder actions targeting Vanguard in April. In general, greater capacity will enhance our efforts to bring Vanguard under the weight of its responsibility to its investors, and to the larger world, to do everything it can to limit climate-related catastrophes. The climate crisis is unjust: folks who do not have money to invest are predicted to suffer the worst effects of climate change (e.g., extreme heat, floods, and drought). Zeroing in on the money pipeline that props up fossil fuel industries is one way to combat this injustice.
Anyone in southeast Pennsylvania can join EQAT for an upcoming event. And no matter where you are, you can contact Vanguard directly to express your concerns about its investments in fossil fuels and other industries that pollute our communities. We each have more power than we imagine, especially if we join a network of folks who are committed to a sustainable future.