Twelve members of EQAT gathered in Washington D.C. last week to attend the annual meeting of PNC Financial Services Group shareholders. Having purchased our own PNC shares in February, or representing Quaker Meetings with PNC shares, we intended to explaining our position on PNC’s MTR policies and support the testimony of Amber Whittington of Kayford Mountain, West Virginia, who came to share the reality of living in the coal fields next to an MTR site.
EQAT members were professional in both appearance and behavior, which supported our desire to be taken seriously by PNC and to engage them on a respectful and personal level. The bank was expecting us, in fact, and we were greeted kindly by some familiar members of security outside the building before presenting our shareholder papers to be let inside.
Once we proved to PNC’s security team our right to be admitted, we calmly took our places in a conference room in PNC’s brand new LEED Platinum-certified building, of which they are enormously proud. Like Friends Center in Philadelphia, it is the first commercial structure in DC to receive this highest rating. The meeting was brief and very much pro forma. James Rohr, CEO of PNC, gave a report on the state of business and some measures were voted on – within about 40 minutes the business was concluded and the floor was opened for questions and comments.
Each question that we asked received a personal response from the CEO in front of the assembled 70 person crowd of financial executives and board members. Amanda Starbuck of the Rainforest Action Network, who was an invaluable ally to us during the planning of this event, spoke first. She asked PNC to explain how their revised policy on MTR investment was being implemented, and what impact it was having on their profit from those investments. Next, Amber from the WV Keeper of the Mountains Foundation spoke. She described the devastation caused by MTR, especially to the running water in her community, which has become toxic and undrinkable. Amber has to drive 45 minutes in either direction to purchase clean drinking water.
EQAT clerk Carolyn McCoy spoke next, saying that as a Quaker, and knowing the Quaker heritage of PNC, that she could not condone any investments in companies that engage in MTR – she powerfully raised objections to the policy, speaking as a Quaker and as a shareholder on behalf of the bank itself. After her conclusion, in which she asked PNC to commit to a “sector exclusion” of all MTR mining., James Rohr responded that he is well aware of the history of PNC and proud of its Quaker foundations.
Several EQAT members had prepared short statements, but we didn’t want to overwhelm the audience. Lee Reinert addressed the meeting as a teacher with concerns for the health and well-being of the children of Appalachia, and member Walter Hjelt Sullivan was moved by the Spirit to forego what he had written to ask PNC whether there was any business they would not invest in, even if it was profitable, because it went against their conscience. After a moment, PNC CEO James Rohr said he thought there was, but he did not give an example. It was a powerful moment.
EQAT also brought gifts for each PNC board member, including a gift bag we were able to publically present to the CEO —a framed photographof Appalachian mountains and a packet of information about MTR. When the meeting adjourned, these were distributed to many PNC board members. Several interesting and possibly fruitful conversations took place between board members and EQAT folks, which served to bridge the gap and make us each more recognizable and more human to one another.
Our experience at the PNC Shareholders meeting was a great example of Quaker values in action.
Earth Quaker Action Team