Editorial: We support our neighbors
The reverberations arising from Bank of the West’s recent social media post are still echoing across Moffat County, and with each passing day, it appears more and more likely that the future may not be all that bright for the institution, at least not in Moffat County.
Readers will no doubt recall that, last week, Bank of the West proclaimed in a Facebook post it will no longer do business with industries that support tobacco, coal, fracking, or Arctic drilling.
Beneath the heading “REAL CHANGE” (and it was not lost on us that the word “REAL” was set down in stark, black letters, while the word “CHANGE” was rendered in a soothing shade of green) the post read: “We’ve made the decision to take action; we will no longer fund tobacco, coal, fracking, or Arctic drilling.”
Moffat County’s response to the post was swift, decisive, and, in certain cases, brutal. Many residents — some of whom acknowledged having been Bank of the West customers for years — said they would immediately close their accounts; one respondent even vowed he’d put his money in a jar and bury it in the backyard before he’d do business with the beleaguered bank.
The original post was later edited, perhaps in the hope of rendering the message less offensive to communities such as ours, communities that rely on coal and the energy sector for their continued existence.
If that was the hope, it was a vain one.
Following are examples of what we’ve observed so far.
- The original Facebook declaration prompted Bank of the West Craig Branch Manager and Vice President Stacy Razzano to announce she would resign her position of 27 years, effective Aug. 17.
- During the subsequent weekend, we heard several reports that other local banks had been deluged with people last Friday, all clambering to open new accounts.
- On Tuesday, the Moffat County Board of County Commissioners announced the county — doubtless among the branch’s largest depositors — is taking steps to close its accounts and do its business elsewhere.
These are pretty extreme reactions — and we wholeheartedly support every one of them.
The coal industry built this community, and the coal industry is what allows this community to continue. Our family members, our friends, and our neighbors are coal miners, and in most Moffat County households, coal is what puts food on the table and gasoline in the tank.
What’s more, coal is a way of life here in Northwest Colorado. It’s a time-honored and noble line of work, and in many families, working in the mines is a proud tradition that’s been passed from father to son for generations.
And that last part is perhaps at the crux of what we find so offensive about the message. Honestly, we’ve had just about enough of being told by corporate interests that coal is somehow evil and that, by extracting it from the ground, we are also evil — that we’re a bunch of greedy, morally bankrupt ingrates who care nothing for the environment or the future of our planet.
Well, that’s simply not true, and, frankly, we resent the implication.
Furthermore, we find Bank of the West’s pronouncement a little on the hypocritical side. We wonder if the bank’s France-based parent company — BNP Paribas — plans to put its wallet where its lofty convictions are and outfit all its branches with solar panels or wind turbines, so as not to have to purchase electricity produced by coal-fired power plants.
Somehow, we doubt that, and it’s really not even the point.
The point is, Bank of the West has publicly proclaimed it will no longer support us, so we see no reason for us to continue supporting Bank of the West.
That said, we neither encourage nor discourage residents and businesses from pulling their Bank of the West accounts. That’s a personal decision everyone must make for him or herself.
But to those who choose to respond by closing their accounts, please remember two things:
First, this is a protest of conscience; it will have little — if any — effect on the institution as a whole. Bank of the West operates some 600 banking offices in 23 states and boasts more than $80.7 billion in assets. The loss of all its Moffat County accounts would be akin to one of us losing a quarter on the sidewalk.
But again, the money isn’t the point: The principle is.
And, second, if you do decide to pull your account, please remember that the personnel manning our local branch have nothing to do with the company’s policies or social media posts. They are also our friends and neighbors, ordinary folks who are only trying to earn an honest living and support their families. As righteous as our anger may be, it is misplaced if directed toward local employees.
Against the expansive backdrop of the worldwide banking industry, Moffat County is less than insignificant, and we’re sure BNP Paribas did the math before publishing its post.
We can’t seriously harm it financially, but we can send a message, and we can do it just as effectively as an international banking institution.
And our message is this: Banks can support — or refuse to support — whomever and whatever they please.
As for us, we’ll go on supporting our friends and neighbors.
Editor’s note: Publisher Renee Campbell and Community Representative Tom Kleinschnitz were unable to attend this week’s meeting of the Editorial Board. In their absence, Office Manager KayCee Goncalves joined the board in developing this position.