68-Year-Old Grandmother Arrested by NYC Police

Nonviolent civil disobedience action

By Donna Baker-Hartwell
Donna Baker-Hartwell participates in a protest as part of Third Act New Hampshire.  Photo: Neil Shartar

What is a 68-year-old grandmother doing getting arrested by New York City police? The following is my account of how I found myself in what I can only describe as a personal “perfect storm.”

In early 2023, a close friend of mine sent me an article about “dirty banks” — banks that finance the fossil fuel industry. At the time, I knew very little about them. I understood the connection between burning coal, gas, and oil and global warming but I hadn’t yet made the connection to banking.

The article called out CitiBank, JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America, stating that since the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement — an international treaty signed by 196 countries to limit global warming by decreasing GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions and developing sustainable practices (2016) — these four banks had financed more than $1,363.7 billion in fossil fuel expansion. (frontiergroup.org>resources)

Donna Baker-Hartwell and her husband were arrested by New York City police while engaged in a peaceful, nonviolent protest regarding corporate investments related to climate change.

Written by Vermonter Bill McKibben, environmentalist, author, and a founder of 350.org * and 

ThirdAct.org**, the article suggested that credit card holders cease to do business with these banks unless the bank stops funding fossil fuels. A nation-wide campaign was launched to get Americans who care about the climate crisis to cut up their dirty bank credit cards in hopes of putting pressure on the banks to divest. There was an action set for March 21, 2023. The action was called 32123.

I pulled my Bank of America credit card out of my wallet. I had been banking with them since BofA bought out CREDO/ Working assets in 2021. I had had a Working Assets credit card (a socially responsible carrier) since 1991. I decided to meet with the bank’s public relations director at the Storrs Street branch in Concord to express my concerns. She was pleasant but had no answers. I gave her a heads-up about what was about to happen in the way of public protests at the bank. I joined the action on 32123 and cut up my BofA credit card. 

This action was the catalyst for organizing a Third Act New Hampshire Working Group. 

About a dozen people who were at the 32123 formed a coordinating committee. A few were already active in Third Act and led the way. For the past year and a half, we have been growing the TA movement in our state and building a network of other climate and democracy groups. There are now 27 states with active Third Act working groups.

                                                                                        The Perfect Storm

My daughter, Dr. Kayla Hartwell, is a wildlife conservationist and primatologist living in Belize, Central America. She is witnessing the climate exponentially change. Belize typically experiences 5–10 days of heat wave temperatures. This year they are predicting 30 heat wave days. Temperatures of 107+ F remained for three weeks in May. Most villagers do not have air conditioning. Kayla does not. The village water shuts down daily and electricity goes out regularly. Droughts are becoming more severe. 

She works on a nature preserve. The 6,000-plus acre savanna and rainforest preserve called Runaway Creek is home to more than 128 species of animals, including holler and spider monkeys, 315 species of birds, four species of cats. She and four others work full time for The Foundation for Wildlife Conservation (FWC), a nonprofit. They manage the reserve. They have ongoing research projects, monitor bird migration, reintroduce rehabilitated howler monkey groups, lead field school studies, and advocate for wildlife conservation on a national level. 

A few weeks ago, I was attending a three-day North-East Convergence gathering of Third Actors held on the campus of the University of UMASS in Amherst. At the same time, I was getting messages from Kayla about a wildfire that she was fighting on the reserve. Hundreds of acres were in flames. All of the FWC team have been trained in firefighting and all had been recruited to fight this one. She was on day five of 14-hour days. Exhausted and discouraged, she had not been able to locate a group of howler monkeys.

In the evenings, after discussing strategies for building a fossil free future and electing climate candidates with Third Actors, Kayla and I would Facetime. I could see the fear and exhaustion in her face. She sent photos of burned terrapins that she found in the aftermath of the fire. After more than a week of searching, she found the howlers. They were in a group of green trees surrounded by a burnt forest. She made a pulley so as to get buckets of water up to them. These efforts are continuing. The drought is relentless. The air quality in the villages and throughout Belize has been unhealthy for weeks.

On the last day of the TA conference, Bill McKibben surprised us and attended. We sat in a circle, about 50 of us, all over 60. Bill sat to my right and spoke for about 20 minutes. He emphasized the urgency of the climate crisis. He said that we have about four to five years to get global warming under control before it hits the tipping point. He suggested that we go after the dirty banks, the biggest investor being CITIBank, headquarters in New York City.

Bill ended with hope in the untapped potential of the sun. He said that all of our energy needs could be found in the sun if we chose to put technology and our human ingenuity into converting to solar and other green energy sources. 

The urgency of the crisis hit me hard. I thought of our three grandchildren and what their futures might be like as life on the planet collapses. I thought about the charred turtle on the savannah and the monkeys clinging for life. I thought about how our human activity and the burning of coal, oil, and gas has caused irreversible damage to the planet.

It was a “perfect storm.” I made up my mind. I would go to NYC and join the nonviolent civil disobedience action at the headquarters of CITIBank, with elders from across New England. 

On June 13, 60 elders were arrested for disorderly conduct and for blocking the entrance to the bank. My husband joined me. We were handcuffed and transported to the police station for booking and spent two and a half hours behind bars before being released. There will be a court hearing in the near future.

The experience was empowering. The NYC police were respectful toward us. CITI employees arriving for work appeared rattled and uncomfortable as they watched as we were escorted to police vans.  Perhaps we reminded them of their own grandparents. Surely, we gave them a lot to think about.

I believe that the climate crisis should be the #1 issue on everybody’s mind, especially in this election year. There is so much at stake! We must elect people committed to the planet before profit, a slogan that has been around since the first Earth Day in 1970. Let’s make it a national policy. Let’s demand of our government the promises made at the Paris Climate Accord. Let’s not leave this planet without putting up a good fight to protect it for future generations. My hope is that our grandchildren will remember this fight. Let’s not let democracy fail! VOTE! 

Join Third Act NH at  thirdact.org/new-hampshire. You may donate to Runaway Creek Nature Reserve, Belize runawaycreekbelize.org.

  *The 350 stands for the parts per million of carbon dioxide that is considered the maximum level for avoiding a climate collapse — the tipping point before irreversible and severe climate changes occur. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (www.noaa.gov) reported in 2022 that carbon dioxide levels had reached 421 ppm.

*Third Act, founded in 2021, is a national movement aimed at getting people over 60 to take action on climate change and defend our democracy.