by Eileen Flanagan.
In response to right-wing pressure, Vanguard, one of the world’s biggest investors in fossil fuels-, announced in December 2022 that it was backing away from one its few public climate commitments, the Net Zero Asset Managers initiative. This was disappointing for Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT), which has been trying to push Vanguard in the opposite direction for well over a year. In addition to persistent nonviolent direct action—including civil disobedience and worshiping outside the CEO’s home—our initial campaign strategy involved asking customers to join some of our global campaign partners by calling and emailing Vanguard to share their climate concerns. Now, after watching Vanguard backslide, we feel led to take the next logical step: mobilizing Vanguard customers to move their money in a way that Vanguard will feel pressured to act.
With over $7 trillion under management, Vanguard executives won’t care if a few Quakers quietly start moving their life savings, even if some of the accounts seem large to us. What Vanguard executives do care about is the company reputation built by its founder John Bogle, a man who praised Quaker values like simplicity and prioritized helping average investors save for the future. By moving our money and publicizing our collective total, we will send a message that the Vanguard of today is clearly putting the short-term profit of the few above all else. While we took on this campaign out of a deep concern for climate justice, we have become convinced that Vanguard is not even acting in the long-term interests of its own clients, since climate catastrophe will hurt the economy, as well as the lives of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people.
There is another reason that acting together will make a bigger impact. From our collaboration with the global Vanguard S.O.S. campaign, we know that other organizations, including faith-based groups, are also considering divesting from Vanguard. Our decision could encourage them. That’s why we are describing this Quaker-led effort as “the tip of the iceberg.” We hope that Friends across the country will join us! While we are not equipped or legally able to give people financial advice, we’re working on compiling resources to help people seek out investment options in alignment with their values.
While getting our savings out of companies like Exxon, Chevron, and Enbridge will be satisfying, we also want our witness to be as effective as possible. Some people may choose to begin the money-moving process while standing in Vanguard’s driveway with a sign, explaining to employees why they are taking this action. Others may write an op-ed for a local paper about why they are moving away from Vanguard. When possible, we plan to publicize batches of money-movers to the press (totaling the amount moved by a group to protect everyone’s privacy).
We also have strategies for those who are not Vanguard customers. We know that Vanguard recruits many employees from Philadelphia-area colleges, where students will pledge not to work for a company ignoring climate risk. Some may also pressure their schools to stop making Vanguard the default choice for faculty retirement. Likewise, Vanguard customers whose employer gives them no other option can start pushing for their institution to leave Vanguard. Friends across the United States may show up to support frontline struggles against the companies in Vanguard’s portfolio, sending photos and letters to Vanguard leadership about the pipelines, oil refineries, and other dangerous projects the asset manager is enabling.
Follow these developments and help us be more impactful together at eqat.org.
Eileen Flanagan was a longtime volunteer with Earth Quaker Action Team before becoming the Director of Strategy and Partnerships. An award-winning author, she is a member of Chestnut Hill Meeting where she carries a minute of religious service related to her work for environmental and climate justice.