In February 2017, Seattle became the first city to pass legislation to divest from a financial institution because of its role in funding the Dakota Access pipeline.
Months of rallies, public testimony at city council meetings, and protests at Wells Fargo branches across Seattle led to the unanimous vote to divest billions from the bank. Los Angeles and Philadelphia would follow. But when the time came to withdraw its money from the bank at the end of 2018, Seattle instead renewed its contract with Wells Fargo. The political decision to divest city money from one of the biggest banks funding DAPL was reversed because the city hadn’t found an alternative financial institution to house its money.
Pipeline Divestment Starts at Standing Rock
Throughout 2016 and after, indigenous activists (often referred to as water protectors) protested the DAPL at the Standing Rock camp in North Dakota. Despite opposition, the camp at Standing Rock was cleared in February 2017, and oil started flowing through the DAPL in June 2017.
But the camp wasn’t the only site of resistance. In October 2017, organizers — under the name Mazaska (“money” in Lakota) Talks — launched a campaign that urged individuals and larger entities, especially cities, to take money out of banks funding the DAPL and other pipeline projects transporting oil from Alberta’s tar sands, including Keystone XL, Trans Mountain, and Energy East.
The idea was that removing money from the banks could put a stop to the projects. The phrase “Kill the funding. Kill the pipelines” was commonly spoken by divest advocates.
Wells Fargo was one of 17 funders of the DAPL; others included Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase. In September 2017, Mazaska Talks reported that the divestment movement was responsible for over $5 billion being withdrawn from DAPL-funding banks. That figure included the billions divested by Seattle, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles and more than $80 million in individual accounts.