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'When Did You Last Arrest A Banker?'
The Byline Times Podcast talks to Money Rebellion founder Gail Bradbrook about taking on the financial sector over the climate crisis
Environmental activists have been disrupting the AGMs of major banks over recent weeks, staging impromptu demonstrations against the continued funding of large-scale fossil fuel projects. Gail Bradbrook, founder of 'Money Rebellion (an offshoot of Extinction Rebellion targeting financial institutions) explains the politics behind the protests to Adrian Goldberg.
Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds….it reads like a list of blue chip financial institutions, but for Gail Bradbrook, these banking behemoths are eco villains, responsible for endangering the planet in pursuit of profit.
Speaking to the Byline Times podcast, she cited the trillions of pounds of investment by 60 of the world’s leading banks since the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, despite a commitment by world leaders to try to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5%.
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Bradbrook says decisions to back new oil, gas and coal projects are often taken against the wishes of many workers within the finance industry: “Those organisations have human beings in them - people who are held accountable by their families.
“Their staff don't want to be doing this, so the purpose of disrupting the AGMs is to send that ripple through and say ‘this is not what your brand wants to be behind.’”
Sustained pressure from Money Rebellion, along with other campaigners, may be having an impact, with Lloyds Bank pledging to end investment in new greenfield oil and gas projects.
Lloyds still offers general lending facilities to fossil fuel producers, though, and Bradbrook warns against ‘greenwashing’ – companies making commitments to sustainability, whilst continuing to fund schemes that generate additional Co2.
One example would be the UK’s biggest bank HSBC which last year announced it would no longer fund new oil and gas fields.
That didn’t prevent it from lending $340million to energy firm RWE to develop a coal mine at Garzweiler in Germany, a plan which involves the demolition of several nearby villages.
While the legal system seems powerless to prevent banks playing an active role in the destruction of the planet, those who protest to protect it – like Bradbrook – risk fines and imprisonment.
She recalls an incident in 2021, when she took a hammer to the windows of her local Barclays branch in her home town of Stroud in Gloucestershire – for which she was fined £575 plus £678 in court costs and victim surcharge.
Other female activists targeted Barclay’s HQ at Canary Wharf as well as HSBC and the insurer Lloyds of London, with Bradbrook explaining that they were acting, “in the spirit of the Suffragettes.
“We did it in a peaceful way at a time of day when nobody could get hurt.”
When like-minded individuals heard what was happening, they followed suit, leading to a spate of similar incidents around the country.
Bradbrook explains, “What happens in our movement is that people can take autonomous actions, and others sometimes feel called to do similar [things].
“The window breaking action spread rapidly, and I was accused of orchestrating the whole lot, because I had got Money Rebellion off the ground.”
She also participated in an action which saw protestors sign up for Barclays credit cards and divert funds to Survival International, an NGO that protects indigenous peoples.
“Then we wrote to Barclays and said, ‘we've got no intention of paying this money back’”
The aim was to secure a few thousand pounds worth of symbolic reparations for the damage caused by fossil fuel extraction.
“We said that if they would write off the debt, we would match it. So we gave them the opportunity to do the right thing.”
Instead, because she was perceived to be at the centre of these protests, Bradbrook was arrested at daybreak by four Met Police officers who’d been sent to her home in Gloucestershire.
“It was all a bit bizarre, thinking that these people stayed in a hotel overnight to come and get me.
“They followed me into the bathroom, followed me in my bedroom. I think it was designed to intimidate. They take you out in handcuffs, even though you're not a threatening person.
“They essentially accused me of trying to bring down the finance system. I said it was doing a sterling job itself, actually, given that banks had engaged in the mis-selling - otherwise known as fraud - of PPI.
“They’d rigged LIBOR. They'd participated in various offshore financial tax saving shenanigans and they nearly brought down the entire finance system with their casino banking.
“I said to these officers, ‘when did you last arrest a banker’?”
She was accused of fraud and conspiracy to cause criminal damage, and faced a maximum jail sentence of 10 years. The charges were recently dropped – but only after an anxious two year wait.
The experience is unlikely to deter Bradbrook, whose work at both Extinction Rebellion and Money Rebellion continues unabated - as was demonstrated by those recent peaceful AGM disruptions.
She said, “even a person who thinks capitalism is a good idea would look at the system as it is and say,’ this is not really a functional form of capitalism’.
“It's certainly very corrupted, and it's destroying life on Earth, so it's going to have to change.”
LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH GAIL BRADBROOK
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