Portland, Oregon is taking divestment to a whole other level—with a decision by the city council to remove the city’s investment from all corporations.
Until now, campaigners have been lobbying Portland’s council to divest from particular companies that they see as doing damage, principally to human rights and the environment. The campaigners’ most recent targets were US bank Wells Fargo, because of its investments in the Dakota Access Pipeline, and Caterpillar, which they say make some of the bulldozers that have harmed Palestinians in the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Oregonian reports.
On April 5, the long-running campaign by local people culminated in sung testimony (fast forward to 48:36) by a group of older ladies called themselves the Raging Grannies, all of whom wore eye-catching hats.
Like all good protest songs, the piece they’d composed returned repeatedly to a chorus that had other people in the room joining in:
Which side are you on? Which side are you on?
The people or the profiteers, which side are you on?
Divesting from all corporations, and not only those with questionable ethics, will definitely lose the city money. It will likely see a drop in revenue of $4.5 million a year when the $539 million now invested in companies is moved to federal bonds and other places, according to Jennifer Cooperman, the city treasurer.
But it will make life simpler. The commissioners decided that simply selling out of all companies would be easier than repeatedly scrutinizing every individual case.
In possibly an even more Portlandia-esque moment, Ted Wheeler, Portland’s mayor, voted in favor of the move—but said he was doing so to support the consensus, not because he believed it was the right course of action. He said he worried that the hit to the city’s budget was “too hard.”
Diana Richardson, a member of the Raging Grannies, said their group played only a small part in a three-year campaign that involved a coalition of justice, faith, and environmental groups, as well as indigenous rights organizations. She said many of those campaigners had worked “tirelessly, putting in hundreds of hours in research, organizing, meeting, writing, showing up to testify,” before the council decision was reached.
The divestment movement began in earnest back in 2012, with students demanding that their universities sell out of fossil fuels. Churches, environmental groups, and other ethical investors have continued to spearhead the movement, and pressure from residents mean towns and cities have been at its forefront. Portland remains unusual for its blanket corporate ban and is setting a bold example.
“What we do here affects the world, of this you must be clear,” the grannies sang. In a small way it does.