March 14, 2002

Greens React to Citigroup Practices

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If you happened to pass through Ho Plaza yesterday, you would have seen a 35-foot-tall Earth-shaped balloon with “Citi Lives Richly and the Earth Pays!” plastered on its green-and-blue front.

A joint effort by the Cornell Greens and the San Francisco-based Rainforest Action Network (RAN), a nonprofit environmental human rights group, helped produce a day’s worth of earthy events as part of a national campaign protesting Citigroup’s funding of what RAN calls environmentally destructive practices.


“Citigroup is the number one funder of the fossil fuel industry, the mining industry, and the forest destruction industry,” said Rob Fish, a member of the RAN. “We’re demanding that they stop the destruction — stop funding fossil fuel research and development and reinvest that [money] into more sustainable solar energy, wind power and tree-free paper.”

The national theme of “The Planet is Not For Sale” started off the day at 10 a.m. with the rally at Ho Plaza, where demonstrators handed out literature about their mission statement to Cornell students. At 3 p.m., a peaceful demonstration took place in Collegetown outside the Salomon Smith Barney office, which is a subsidiary of Citigroup. Students held signs that read “not with our money” and distributed informational flyers to passers-by. Salomon Smith Barney employees refused to comment on the demonstration.

“Students are Citigroup’s number one target, and credit cards are Citigroup’s ‘trojan horse’ to get into your wallet or your pocketbook,” Fish said.

“When students say they’re not going to take a credit card from Citigroup, [Citigroup] can go back and calculate how much money they’re losing over the lifetime of that person. So students have the power.”

Cornell is only one stop on the RAN’s nationwide college tour to educate students about some of the practices funded by Citigroup, such as the clearing of rainforests and the dislocation of indigenous peoples, that are indirectly funded by the interest from their credit card payments, according to RAN. Yesterday’s protest denounced the funding of such projects, including the Camisea Gas Project in Peru, the OCP Pipeline in Ecuador and the palm oil plantations in critical Indonesian orangutan habitats.

“As consumers, it’s really important that we know what our money goes toward,” Dana Perls ’02 said. A member of the Cornell Greens, Perls hopes to gain more support from Cornellians for a national student boycott of Citibank credit cards.

“It’s a very difficult campaign to run because most people don’t make connections between a credit card and an amazon rain forest — or between a financial institution and anything destructive,” she said.

Cornell has a personal connection to Citigroup, as its CEO is Sanford Weill ’55. Though Weill is aware of the current efforts undertaken by the Cornell Greens, he has not given it his support, according to Perls.

“There hasn’t yet been a lot of discussion with the University,” she said. “Before we open discussion with the administration, we need to have a strong support base of students. That’s where the pressure is going to come from.”

The day ended with a lecture, “CITIGROUP — The World’s Most Destructive Bank: A Campaign for a Sane Economy,” given by RAN organizers in Goldwin Smith Hall.

Cornell students showed interest in the environmental issues raised by the demonstration. “The destruction of rainforests is something that you don’t think about when you let cashiers swipe your card at the mall,” Eliza Crane ’05 said.

“I guess there are a lot of things that banks tend to keep hidden from the public,” she added

The Cornell Greens hope to continue their corporate campaign to raise student awareness of the connections between corporations and how they interact with their environment, according to Perls.

“It’s about getting people to know that these issues even exist,” Perls said.

“Just because you wear a Gap T-shirt doesn’t mean you support sweat shop labor. … The companies don’t want you to know, but it’s something that we need to know because we pay for it.”

Archived article by Meghan Barr