As Chase Bank celebrates opening in Northampton, climate change activists urge boycott of company

By MADDIE FABIAN

Staff Writer

Published: 07-25-2023 4:47 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As Chase Bank celebrated at a grand opening event for its Northampton branch Tuesday morning, more than 50 demonstrators held signs and banners outside the building calling out the bank’s investments in the fossil fuel industry and urging people to boycott the company.

“We realize that Chase Bank is now here in Northampton. We don’t have any expectations that we’re going to be able to kick it out right now,” said Kevin Young, a member of Climate Action Now, one of the organizations that sponsored the protest. “But we do want to raise people’s awareness… that Chase is just as guilty as the fossil fuel companies that it is lending money to.”

In addition to Climate Action Now, other groups participating in the protest included Mothers Out Front and Extinction Rebellion, as well as representatives from other organizations such as the Wendell State Forest Alliance and Trees As a Public Good. Protesters had demonstrated at the same bank in March, as well as at a Springfield branch a month earlier.

Chase Bank is a subsidiary of the banking and financial giant JPMorgan Chase, which invested $434 billion in fossil fuel companies between 2016 and 2022, according to an annual report by Banking on Climate Chaos endorsed by 624 organizations across the globe. Protesters refer to the bank as a “financial accomplice” of climate change, a term used by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.

Chase’s new Northampton branch is near the intersection of King Street and Main Street, and during each four-way red light, demonstrators moved into the road to display their banners, which read such phrases as “Chase funds climate change” and “there is no wealth on a dead planet.”

“For me, being here starts with love — love for this beautiful planet we live in, live on, and all its features and peoples all over the world,” said Russ Vernon-Jones, a member of the Steering Committee of Climate Action Now. “Recently we’ve seen how bad it can be locally… and it’s very clear what needs to happen. We need to stop extracting, selling and burning fossil fuels, and Chase Bank is the biggest funder in the world of fossil fuels.”

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Chase Bank officials have a counter argument on the bank’s environmental impact.

“In 2021 and 2022, we facilitated more than $175 billion for green activities like renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable transportation,” Briana Curran, the bank’s vice president of regional communications wrote in an email statement. “These efforts help put us well on our way to our target of $1 trillion for green initiatives over 10 years, including for technology that will tackle climate change but does not even exist yet.”

At the bank’s celebration Tuesday, Curran said that, “With the protesters, we understand that they’re out there and they have a perspective on the bank and what we do. We’re still here celebrating that we are driving economic opportunity in Northampton, hiring locally… and trying to give back and be a good neighbor.”

Chase Bank hired a team of 10 local employees for its Northampton branch.

Outside the bank, the sounds of honking cars, a saxophonist and the chattering crowd stood in stark contrast to the corporate atmosphere inside the newly opened bank, where representatives from Chase Bank and employees at the Northampton branch gathered to shake hands and celebrate the bank’s opening, the work of its employees, and its economic and community impact.

The bank’s Northampton branch, which opened to customers last week, is in the historic building that formerly housed the jewelry store Silverscape Designs. The building’s history and impact on the community was highlighted during Tuesday’s grand opening ceremony by speakers including JPMorgan Chase Regional Director Roxann Cooke and Executive Director Ali Zaidi, along with Branch Manager Darryl Diamond.

During the ceremony, a customer entered the branch and expressed her awe at the building and gratitude for the service she received. Cooke pointed out that customers will be drawn to the building for its grandeur, but they will return for the service they receive from employees.

Cooke referred to the old clock hanging on the entrance wall, which is stuck at 1:15 p.m., and noted the symbolism of “what was and what will be.” She said the clock should serve as a reminder of the history of the building, and Chase’s blue octagon logo on the wall to the left should remind employees of the opportunities that lie ahead.

“The goal when we open in any community is to be a part of the community, to hire locally, to make sure that our staff is diverse, that they reflect the community that they’re working in,” Curran said.

In addition to the Northampton branch, Chase Bank recently opened a Springfield branch in March, and has plans to expand into Hadley and Westfield.

“We’re thrilled to be continuing to grow our presence here in the Pioneer Valley and offering more convenience to our customers throughout the region,” said Cooke when the bank first announced its expansion into the region. “Our branches serve as community anchors, connecting our neighbors and local businesses to critical resources that meet their needs and help them build secure financial futures.”

Meanwhile, outside the building, Young, the Climate Action Now member, said that “for Chase to tell us that it’s funding renewables, that’s good, but it’s a distraction from what it’s also doing, which is funding continued climate destruction… It’s greenwashing.”

Young said the demonstrators encourage people — as well as institutions like universities and businesses — to put their money in alternative banking institutions such as local credit unions and local banks.

One protester, Molly Aronson, did just that. Aronson is currently in the process of switching from Bank of America to the UMassFive College Credit Union, a decision that was years in the making but ultimately acted on after the Chase Bank protests back in March.

“Getting back to this summer, we don’t have to look very far to see the impacts of climate destruction,” Young said. “All that climate destruction is happening as a result of the carbon pollution from banks like JPMorgan Chase.”

Maddie Fabian can be reached at mfabian@gazettenet.com or on Twitter @MaddieFabian.]]>