Alec Connon, traveller and writer, NW Divest workgroup facilitator
In Alec’s novel, The Activist, a young working-class man from Scotland leaves home and falls in love with the ocean. He volunteers for Sea Shepherd, a marine wildlife conservation organization, and puts his life on the line to protect whales.
In real life, Alec, an educated young man from Scotland, left home to sheared sheep in New Zealand, planted trees in Canada, and otherwise earned his way through Southeast Asia, Nepal, Nicaragua, and other places, discovering on the way how severely and urgently climate change is affecting the oceans and planet.
Shortly after arriving in Seattle, he found out about the Gates Foundation’s $1.4 billion in fossil fuel investments. Finding that there was no divestment campaign targeting the Foundation, he sought out the local 350…and ramped one up. Responding to the heat, the Gates Foundation sold its stake in British Petroleum (BP).
After working on the Break Free campaign, he moved on to the campaign to pressure Wells Fargo to divest from the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which was being fought by the Standing Rock Sioux. “The banks have to take responsibility. The Paris climate targets were agreed to, but the banks haven’t changed their business practices to align with those commitments.”
Wells Fargo stayed mute, so Alec revved up the activists to approach the Seattle City Council, which was banking with Wells Fargo. He led an overflow crowd into City Council chambers, where the members unanimously voted to end the City’s relationship with Wells Fargo, in part because of its financing of DAPL. Since then, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Missoula, Providence and others have introduced ordinances to sever ties with Wells Fargo.
“I like people,” he says of his natural talent in organizing. “I’m curious about others and activism is nothing more than and nothing less than building community.”
He’s a bit of a wonder; seeming easygoing while hustling furiously. The goal, he said in one meeting, quoting a mentor, is to look like a swan gliding across the lake even though you’re paddling furiously under the water.
Inevitably there are downsides to the activist life. Shutting off is one. There’s the “severe lack of money.” But he shrugs these off. “I just have a lifestyle. It’s a blessing or a curse but I’m doing what I’m passionate about.”
“We live at a time when people need to expand what they’re comfortable with. We have to realize that the system is broken and if we don’t change the system, we’re wrecked. We need to be doing things that we were raised to be uncomfortable with: raising our voices in meetings, speaking in public, being in a space where a security doesn’t want you there…We have to learn to lean into our discomfort.
Check out the Voices of 350 blog!