On October 27 of last year, Jackie Fielder, 23, was living in the Bay Area, working her first job out of college and watching in helpless shock as a militarized police force raided the Standing Rock encampment more than 1,500 miles away. Almost exactly a year later, Fielder, a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes, has quit her day job and her lease to focus exclusively on protecting tribal land.
To the ends, a few weeks ago she found herself sitting across from representatives at some of the world’s biggest banks, delivering what she describes as an ultimatum.
“We go there with the facts, the documents,” she says: The UN’s special report on Standing Rock, the futility of tar sands projects, the amount activists have divested from major pipeline investor Wells Fargo over the last year ($4 billion). “We’re not begging the banks,” says Fielder. It sounds a little more like a threat. As Matt Remle, the founder of the Seattle divestment movement and a conspirator of Fielder’s recently said: “They’re capitalists and they are persuaded by one thing: money.”
The municipal divestment movement, which began around the time of the North Dakota camp’s destruction, has divested billions from Wells Fargo between the cities of Seattle, WA and Davis and Santa Monica, CA. Over the last few months, thanks in part to public pressure, the German Bank BayernLB agreed to end its $120 million investment with DAPL, while the Dutch investment firm ING let go of its partial stake in loans assisting the project.
These divestments are tiny compared to such massive financial institutions’ bottom lines, but they do at least appear to be making things inconvenient for the companies: In late August, Energy Transfer sued Greenpeace and other partners, citing as part of its lawsuit the “substantial” damage to “our relationship with the capital markets.” Divestment efforts, the company wrote, are “impairing access to financing and increasing their cost of capital and ability to fund future projects.”
Fielder was born in California; her grandparents were among the families relocated by the Army Corps of Engineers when Congress approved a series of dams along the Missouri River in the 1940s. And she’s a paper-chaser, by her own admission: She first became interested in following money in school, where working with Black Lives Matter activists led her to research prison funding. Her favorite movie is 13th, Ava DuVernay’s documentary on the school-to-prison pipeline. “It so clearly outlines how organizations like ALEC...directly and literally rewrite policy in our country,” she says. “And that’s exactly what happened at Standing Rock.”
So in February, inspired by Seattle’s divestment from Wells Fargo and unable to leave the Bay, she founded the San Francisco Depend DAPL Chapter to similarly cut the financial institution out of the city’s budget.
“It’s a borderline obsession,” says Fields, who over the last few months has learned quite a bit about filing public information requests and tracking down SECs. “Every single activist should know how to do those things. Googling is incredibly underestimated as a powerful way to demystify the process of governance and money.”
Fielder now works more or less full-time with Mazaska Talks, an umbrella organization for indigenous divestment campaigns. She and her partner have been living in a van, recently spending time in North Dakota and in Minnesota. This week, Fielder was in Seattle: In conjunction with a conference of 91 banks in Brazil, Mazaska Talks helped organize more than 100 bank branch shutdowns across the city. Next she’ll return to Camp Mawkwa, where native activists are protesting Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline. Tara Houska, a tribal rights attorney, became like a “sister in the movement” during the European delegation, says Fielder. And Houska “came out for my people,” she says, “so I’m going to return the favor.”
Fielder was the youngest member of the delegation, a coalition of well-known activists brought together during the Standing Rock encampment. It included LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, the historian whose property became the site of one of the first Standing Rock encampments; human rights lawyer Michelle Cook; and Tara Houska, a tribal rights attorney. The coalition visited Norway, Germany, and Switzerland, and, according to Fielder, it’s no accident it was an all-female group. “We’re on the front lines,” she says. “I like to refer to the story of women standing in front of the bulldozers, defending the sacred sites” during Standing Rock.
“There’s this stereotype of indigenous women that we’re docile, passive,” Fielder says And maybe her age makes these massive financial institutions underestimate her, too, which she thinks works in her favor. But “there’s a direct link between these companies and women’s rights,” she says, mentioning the North Dakotan tribes who opened their reservations to drilling along the Bakken Shale Formation: “The rate of violence, drug use, and especially human trafficking have skyrocketed there,” she says. (When the crime rate tripled on the reservations there in the years after Big Oil came, it was referred to as a “tidal wave.” The area has not recovered.)
But going after Wells Fargo and Wall Street institutions isn’t even just about women’s rights or indigenous rights, as far as Fielder is concerned. Next Mazaska Talks is working on its own public banking initiative—a way to develop an institution as much as tear others down. “We don’t want our money in Wall Street,” she says. “They’re not behind just pipelines. It’s about prisons, immigration detention centers, surveillance directed against indigenous people abroad. Every extractive economy you can imagine.”