Climate Activists Blockade Citigroup’s Doors with Model Pipeline and Protest Bank’s Ties to Israel

NEW YORK—Tensions were high outside of Citigroup’s global headquarters on Friday morning as climate activists blockaded the doors for an hour and hundreds of employees waited in the plaza to get to work.

The demonstration marked the end of the second week of the “Summer of Heat on Wall Street,” a sustained, direct-action campaign targeting financial institutions, with a particular emphasis on Citi for its robust financing of fossil fuel projects, despite stated commitments to a clean energy transition. According to the Banking on Climate Chaos report from the Rainforest Action Network, an advocacy group, Citigroup is the largest financier of companies that expanded fossil fuel projects last year. 

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This week, youth activists from the Summer of Heat campaign took center stage to critique both the bank’s financing of fossil fuels and its business dealings in Israel during the country’s assault on Gaza, which has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians and displaced nearly 2 million over the past eight months. The activists demand that Citi end all operations in Israel, stop financing arms sales as well as oil, gas and coal projects, and “exponentially” increase financing for renewable energy.

The demonstrators arrived just after 7 a.m. Friday and blockaded the doors using four sections of a model pipeline that read “Citibank Stop Funding Death.” Within 20 minutes, a crowd of Citi employees began to form outside the doors, trying to get inside. Over the next hour, the crowd of employees grew to more than 200. 

The New York Police Department took 23 demonstrators into custody by 8:30 a.m., and the protest dispersed. Charges are pending for the arrested protesters.

More than 200 workers were delayed about an hour getting into their building on Friday morning. Credit: Keerti Gopal/Inside Climate News

More than 200 workers were delayed about an hour getting into their building on Friday morning. Credit: Keerti Gopal/Inside Climate News

The New York Police Department arrested 23 activists on Friday morning with charges pending. Credit: Keerti Gopal/Inside Climate News

The New York Police Department arrested 23 activists on Friday morning with charges pending. Credit: Keerti Gopal/Inside Climate News

During the demonstration, activists referenced the severe heat wave impacting millions of people this week across the Northeast, including New York City, where temperatures were slated to hit 98 degrees later in the day. Approximately 350 people, disproportionately Black residents, die each summer in the city due to heat. 

“This is Citi’s heat dome—stop burning our home,” chanted the group, holding signs that read “heat wave, sponsored by Citi.”

Friday’s action followed a demonstration Tuesday night. Climate organizers and the pro-Palestine collective PAL-Awda NY—the Palestinian Assembly for Liberation-Awda—rallied outside of Citi’s headquarters for nearly two hours before attempting to launch a sit-in and overnight encampment. Less than an hour into the sit-in, officers from the New York Police Department’s Strategic Response Group ordered the group to disperse and arrested 18 people who remained seated in the plaza area outside of Citi’s headquarters. 

Organizers promise to return to Citi throughout the summer. 

As the NYPD issued a dispersal order on Tuesday, 18 activists linked arms on the ground. Credit: Keerti Gopal/Inside Climate News

As the NYPD issued a dispersal order on Tuesday, 18 activists linked arms on the ground. Credit: Keerti Gopal/Inside Climate News

“We’ll be back all summer long, causing chaos for Citi until they stop creating climate chaos for our communities around the globe,” said Isabella Guinigundo, a campaigner with the Youth Climate Finance Alliance and co-organizer of the week’s actions. “We’ll definitely continue to take youth-led action to end fossil fuel financing as well as military financing.” 

The Summer of Heat campaign is organized by New York Communities for Change, Planet Over Profit, Stop the Money Pipeline, Climate Defenders and the Climate Organizing Hub and endorsed by more than 100 other climate and environmental groups. 

“We do not want to be here, but we feel we have to,” said New York Communities for Change campaigner Alice Hu at Friday’s rally, amidst boos and heckles from the onlooking crowd. “The fires, the floods, the famines and the mass, forced migration from the climate crisis are because of the $396 billion that Citibank has poured into fossil fuels since the Paris Agreement.”

Alice Hu of New York Communities for Change, spoke to the crowd of employees waiting to get in the building about the campaign's demands for Citi. Credit: Keerti Gopal/Inside Climate News

Alice Hu of New York Communities for Change, spoke to the crowd of employees waiting to get in the building about the campaign’s demands for Citi. Credit: Keerti Gopal/Inside Climate News

The effort kicked off in April with two days of nonviolent blockades of the bank’s Manhattan headquarters and a mock environmental justice hearing accusing Citi of bankrolling environmental racism. Last week, activists racked up more than 140 arrests in five days of protests and actions at Citi’s headquarters with orca costumes, elders in rocking chairs blocking the doors and presentations by climate scientists, and promises to continue turning up the heat on financial institutions tied to the fossil fuel industry. 

Next week, the group will feature organizers from the Gulf South calling on national insurance companies to stop providing coverage to oil, gas, and coal infrastructure. They aim to end the week with one of the largest domestic climate civil disobedience actions in several years. 

The regular protests at Citi’s headquarters seem to be increasingly hitting a nerve among Citi employees delayed in going to work.

“This is ridiculous,” one employee said to the demonstrators. “Go bother JPMorgan, go bother Goldman [Sachs].”

“This is happening every day—how are we not prepared for this,” one employee complained to another.

Some onlookers expressed frustration to the demonstrators on Friday and tried to engage in debate. Credit: Keerti Gopal/Inside Climate News

Some onlookers expressed frustration to the demonstrators on Friday and tried to engage in debate. Credit: Keerti Gopal/Inside Climate News

Some employees pulled out laptops and began working outside in the plaza, while others took phone calls. Some chatted cheerfully, joking about the impromptu time off. One threw their hands in the air and said, “I have an important conference call at 8:30 with people overseas.”

In an emailed statement, Citi reaffirmed its 2030 and 2050 emissions reduction targets, and said, “while we respect the right to protest peacefully, activists do not have the right to prevent people from entering and exiting our building.”

“Citi has established 2030 emissions reduction targets for a number of carbon-intensive sectors in our loan portfolio, and we are engaging with our clients to help identify opportunities to decarbonize their businesses,” Citi wrote. “This includes an absolute emissions reduction target for the energy sector, which is benchmarked against the International Energy Agency’s Net Zero Emissions by 2050 scenario, and 1.5C aligned.” 

Citi also affirmed that it is “proud to support Israeli and multinational companies who do business there. In addition, any financing of military equipment must follow our environmental and social risk policy.”

At previous demonstrations, Citi’s security and NYPD’s Strategic Response Group were prepared to make swift arrests. But at Friday’s protest, which wasn’t publicly announced, SRG was not present and it seemed that Citi was not prepared for the disruption.

At one point, security ushered a swarm of employees to a side door, where a smaller group of activists quickly blocked the entrance. 

“It’s like whack-a-mole,” one Citi employee said, laughing, as they were shepherded back to the main entrance.

Drawing Parallels Between Palestine and Climate Justice

Each week, the campaign is spotlighting a different sub-group of its organizers. This week it focused on youth voices. Organizers called on Citi to stop financing “death and destruction,” drawing a parallel between the bank’s fossil fuel financing and its involvement in bonds financing Israel and support of weapons companies arming Israel.

In a press release preceding Tuesday’s action, activists said they were bringing together the two issues Generation Z is most passionate about: “the genocide in Gaza that is being live-streamed daily to our phones and the climate chaos that threatens our future.”

“The world we deserve does not center investment in death, it centers investment in life,” 22-year-old Adérìnsolá Babawale said Tuesday. “This action … is going to help us continue to build these solidarity bridges, because that is where our future lies,” said Babawale, an activist with Fridays for Future NYC and No North Brooklyn Pipeline—a local coalition opposing a National Grid depot in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Fridays for Future activist Adérìnsolá Babawale leads a chant at Tuesday's rally. Credit: Keerti Gopal/Inside Climate News

Fridays for Future activist Adérìnsolá Babawale leads a chant at Tuesday’s rally. Credit: Keerti Gopal/Inside Climate News

Citi was the first U.S. bank to enter the Israeli market in 1996 and is now the self-proclaimed largest foreign financial institution there. According to information compiled by MPower Change, a Muslim-led grassroots organizing collective, Citi has acted as the fiscal agent for multi-billion dollar bonds and loans to the state of Israel. 

The organizers of the week’s actions said they are inspired by the student-led encampments that, beginning in April at Columbia University, spread across the country to oppose Israel’s assault on Gaza and to call on universities to divest from Israel in condemnation of its continued human rights violations against Palestinians.

The organizers of the week’s actions are also inspired by the 1980s movement against South African apartheid. In 1987, following continued pressure from anti-apartheid activists, Citi became the last American bank to withdraw from South Africa, citing business concerns. Although Citi denied that activist pressure influenced its decision, the anti-apartheid movement claimed the retreat as a victory.

“There are a lot of strategies we can learn from apartheid protests from South Africa and apply to the current movement for a free Palestine,” said Planet Over Profit campaigner Liv Senghor.

Activists accusing Israel of enacting apartheid against Palestinians echo international human rights advocates and watchdogs including United Nations human rights experts, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, pointing to restrictions on movement, limitations on voting rights and unequal legal status.

Police and protesters clashed verbally after 18 demonstrators were arrested on Tuesday. Credit: Keerti Gopal/Inside Climate News

Police and protesters clashed verbally after 18 demonstrators were arrested on Tuesday. Credit: Keerti Gopal/Inside Climate News

The demonstrators’ support for Palestinians caused some tension among onlookers. About a dozen pro-Israel counterprotesters holding Israeli flags stood behind the Summer of Heat rally on Tuesday, chanting in opposition to the main group.

One counterprotester, who shared only his first name, Shai, said the Summer of Heat protesters were trying to make the situation in Gaza “look worse than it is.” 

“These people are from Black Lives Matter, they’re from Antifa, they’re from other groups that created the riots in 2020,” he said, referring to racial justice protests following the killing of George Floyd, echoing right wing critics of recent social movements. “They just move from cause to cause to cause.” 

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The Summer of Heat campaigners made explicit connections between the climate crisis and Israel’s occupation of Palestine, echoing growing solidarity between the U.S. climate movement—particularly its youth contingency—and the movement for Palestine. Participants this week cited accusations of Israeli greenwashing, resource extraction and environmental injustice. Israel has reportedly damaged nearly half of all the trees in Gaza, and a recent study published on the Social Science Research Network showed that the first two months of the Israeli bombardment and invasion of Gaza emitted more carbon dioxide than the annual carbon footprint of 26 of the world’s most climate-vulnerable nations.

According to a preliminary assessment released by the UN Environment Programme this week, the environmental impacts of the war on Gaza are “unprecedented.” The report says that water, sanitation and hygiene systems are almost completely defunct, heavy metals and chemicals from munitions have contaminated soil and water sources and the conflict has generated an estimated 39 million tonnes of debris. 

“It’s really important as a movement, the climate movement, for us to recognize that these systems of oppression like imperialism, colonialism and capitalism all feed into the climate crisis,” Senghor said. “We’re seeing that occupation is an environmental harm in addition to a harm to human life and human autonomy and liberation.”

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