Climate Activists, Artists Take Over San Francisco's 'Wall Street West'

Activists gather at Market and Montgomery Streets in Downtown San Francisco for Wednesday's Strike for Climate Justice. (Peter Arcuni/KQED)

Wielding banners and paintbrushes, activists from around the Bay Area shut down four blocks in San Francisco's Financial District Wednesday in a protest over failure to address climate change.

Today's rally, dubbed the Strike for Climate Justice, was organized by a coalition of local environmental groups in an effort to petition big banks to pull their investments out of the fossil fuel industry.

"Our message to Wall Street West is that we really need climate action right now, no more delays," said Nancy Roberts, who helped plan the demonstrations for Extinction Rebellion SF Bay. The area Roberts referred to is a stretch of Montgomery Street north of Market Street occupied by financial institutions like Wells Fargo and Bank of America, as well as consulates from around the world.

Roberts called Wednesday's action a nonviolent way to spread the vision of a sustainable future, using art, music and street theater.

Members of Idle No More SF Bay leading the march up Montgomery Street. (Peter Arcuni/KQED)

Demonstrators started at just after 7 a.m. Wednesday, marching up Montgomery Street and blocking traffic between Pine and Sacramento streets.

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The march opened with a blessing by members of Idle No More SF Bay, a group focused on the environmental rights of indigenous people. Founding member Pennie Opal Plant says native people around the world are often left out of important discussions about the climate despite having insight about "how to move forward so that the sacred system of life continues."

"It's time for the climate profiteers to stop trying to make money off climate destruction," she said.

The centerpiece of Wednesday's action was more than a dozen circular murals painted directly onto Montgomery Street in front of financial institutions. These included a walkable labyrinth, created by the Bay Area Spiritual Communities group to help the public cope with their frustration and anxiety over climate change.

Meg Duff from Bay Area Spiritual Communities group painting a labyrinth on Montgomery Street. (Peter Arcuni/KQED)

The Brasil Solidarity Network painted outside of the Consulate General of Brazil, calling for an end to the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, which absorbs carbon emission from fossil fuels.

While artists painted, a clown troupe calling themselves the Climate Clown Brigade enlightened onlookers about wildfires while dressed as trees.

Members of the Climate Clown Brigade (L-R: Thumper, Hannah, Nick, Putt) performing for the forests. (Peter Arcuni/KQED)

A stretch of California Street between Kearny and Sansome was also blocked by demonstrators holding signs that read, "Leave the oil in the soil!" and "100 percent renewable energy."

Some of Wednesday's action was directed toward Wells Fargo, where protesters blocked an entrance to the branch at 420 Montgomery Street that hosts the bank's museum exhibits.

Protestors block the entrance of the Wells Fargo at 420 Montgomery Street. (Peter Arcuni/KQED)

In a statement, representatives from Wells Fargo said, "We recognize the growing concerns about climate change and environmental sustainability, and we're working to find solutions. Wells Fargo is committed to accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy."

Beth Mills, a spokesperson for the California Bankers Association, said in an email that financial institutions "absolutely understand the importance of, and support initiatives, that protect and preserve our environment. Many of them lead by example in taking efforts to reduce their own carbon footprint, as well as supporting and financing projects that support that goal."

But, she said, addressing the demand for divestment from fossil fuel companies, "Our industry is generally concerned about government and elected officials trying to dictate who a commercial bank can and cannot do business with, particularly with a lawful business."

Climate demonstrations in downtown San Francisco are expected to continue until 5 p.m. Wednesday.

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