Jury Acquits Women Who Broke Windows of Fossil Giant HSBC
As war spreads and fossil toxins kill everything from bacteria to clouds…. Peace between nations and peaceful relations with the Earth - are threatened now as big money runs everything. We don’t need a hero. We need something we always had, Democracy.
The common sense of people talking, arguing, dancing and coming to agreements - the democratic ideal is diluted into advertising slogans. Corporate power has pulled individuals apart, our conversations reduced to shrieking pixels and traffic jams. We have to re-invent loving families and neighborhoods, where we make decisions about how to proceed as friends who don’t have to weaponize their talk.
Corporations march through society like towering monsters. Maybe the Pentagon is the world’s biggest institution, or the oil industry and their fossil banks which make so much money in this time of war. The nation states and corporations blend into each other in shifting coalitions. Their whole thing is based on extraction and the burning of fossil fuel. This makes war much more likely, and the Earth, humans and other living things - have become part of the extraction.
These mega-institutions act like they have won their battle against the Earth and those among us who keep trying to make democracy real, those pesky environmentalists. Now we have fossil toxins and bullets flying everywhere, spreading from country to country, from forests to teenage dances, from coral reefs to hospitals to the ancient glaciers. Nothing is worse for people and the Earth than war.
Is this scenario of violent institutions running everything - inevitable?
Once in a while something happens where we see daylight, the power of individuals and communities suddenly returns. Such a thing happened in London, when a couple years ago 9 women walked up to the headquarters of one of the principle climate criminals, the HSBC bank, and being careful not hurt anyone - they smashed the windows of the front of the company skyscraper.
HSBC immediately claimed that the damage would cost a half million pounds sterling. The government threw the book at the women, limiting their movement, etc. But now, after a six week trial, the jury has found these women Not Guilty! Their straightforward case was a “Necessity Defense”. The women demonstrated that a small amount of property damage compares dramatically with the worldwide violence of HSBC’s fossil fuel emissions. The women argued that their simple demonstration is a necessary moral lesson in a political world where people cannot defend themselves against suffering and early death.
The jury acted as an island of actual democracy. The jurors asked for materials to help them understand the fine print in the Paris Climate Agreement. They studied the toxins being financed by the bank. They started things off with an open mind, and built the details into a big picture. They put what was before them to the “common sense test.” After listening to the women passionately defend humanity and the planet Earth, the jury took only 2 hours of deliberation to set them free.
I am writing these words exactly 24 hours after the judgement was made public. How is this decision made by “regular folks” passionately engaging a second set of “regular folks” - how is it playing out inside the glassy towers of the fossil fuel empire, where they must have always talked about ways to save their children? But they don't have to hide that talk anymore.
And the people behind the dark glass must be asking, who are these women, and what did they say in open court, with the old-fashioned judges in wigs sitting there above them?
In her closing speech to the jury, Clare Farrell, a co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, said:
“The prosecutor explained yesterday how important it is that you bring your wisdom and experience into the courtroom. And then she told you to put aside your personal thoughts. She told you to disengage emotionally. Maybe that’s what the Board of HSBC tell their staff to do, too?
There are many people I have known over the years who work somewhere that is not living up to the ethics they would like to see in the world but they stay, to keep their salary and pay the rent or mortgage and continue to wish that the organization will change.
We are trying to live honestly in a corrupted world. This is a trial of women who are not perfect, but we are all here because we are dedicated to peace and non violence, willing to make great sacrifices on behalf of others. So when you heard our character references, from mayors, bankers, teachers and the former executive director of Greenpeace and Amnesty, you can see that we have loving goals, not selfish goals.
I believe that the staff, shareholders and customers of this corporation want the economy to continue, they’re not in business to intentionally destroy capitalism. And I have to believe that they can’t know the extent to the deadliness of the projects they fund. As one of my co defendants said, to believe that all the people in that building support killing and displacing people, would mean an awful lot of people are sociopaths and that can’t be true.
Ultimately my guess is that the people who work for HSBC aren’t so different from me and from you. And I don’t think any of us would do something if we knew it would cause so much death and human suffering.”
Eleanor Bujak, a 30 year-old community organizer based in Hull, said in her closing arguments:
“There is evidence, plenty of evidence, that ‘consent’ exists within the very systems and structures we are trying to change. Of course it does. Because everyone, including the shareholders of banks, need a livable planet. When these are the stakes, of course I believed they would consent to a sum of damage that, when put into context, equates to less than a penny of an average person’s salary.
I believe in people doing the right thing. In a world in which buildings and corporations can’t feel pain, they can’t bleed or mourn. But people can. A world where it shouldn’t just be up to a handful of rich and powerful people to decide the future, it should be up to all of us.”
Environmentalists, especially the young, are realistic about the situation. We are losing. We need new ways to defend the Earth. The bombs, the pollution, the slaughter of innocents - how do we push back this age of heightened violence?
Breaking windows of the most deadly corporations doesn’t seem like such an invention. But this may be a tradition like the banging of pots and pans by the mothers who can’t feed their children in Buenos Aires. The common touch can be the most eloquent.
Glass is for transparency, for looking through. The fashion of the richest people was at one time the stone of a castle. In the 40 years since corporate executives began to understand that fossil fuel based economy would hurt people, in those 40 years the glass power-buildings have multiplied across the sky-line. But the glass is usually shaded, reflecting our gaze back at ourselves.
By caving in the front of the the office building of a fossil fuel giant, these women have forced honest language into the foreground. The kinds of thoughts that we have printed above - are startling in their simplicity, their creative nonviolence. We wonder, as we read, how we could go so long ignoring our best selves.
Watching this trial unfold, we watched the women bypass the barristers and formalities passed down from the powerful. The women chose to represent themselves and go directly to straight talk with their fellow citizens. They asked, “Do we want this violence of the money-makers to rule us any longer? …or will we take care of one another?
William Talen is "Reverend Billy", the preacher of the climate apocalypse. He currently appears with the Stop Shopping Choir, at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater in New York The show is directed by Savitri D.
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