Report back from #StormSkanska: Swarm New York:
We have been campaigning against Skanska for over a year. On January 1, 2015, Richard Cavallaro took the position of CEO and President of Skanska USA, succeeding company veteran Michael McNally. The campaign to stop the Animal Research & Care Facility had recently been consolidated under the banner No New Animal Lab, and we made the point to inaugurate Richard with a simple letter, which urged him to cancel Skanska’s contract with the University of Washington and all plans to build an underground torture chamber for animals. Unfortunately, we had no hope that Richard would be diverted from his profit-seeking motives, and so we began efforts to #StormSkanska.
Fast-forward to today, in the wake of an amazing and inspiring weekend of action in New York, and we can see an important contrast.
#StormSkanska: Swarm New York started early with an impressive banner drop off of the Manhattan Bridge on Tuesday, setting the tone for the weekend’s approaching actions.
On Friday, almost 200 protesters converged on the Empire State Building, which houses Skanska’s U.S. headquarters. Despite midtown Manhattan’s bustling streets, the chants of the mass of protesters could be heard up the skyscraper’s towering face. The crowd was joined by actor James Cromwell, whose staunch and vocal support of grassroots campaigns led to him passing out leaflets and talking with passersby.
That evening the crowd gathered at the NYU School of Law for the opening night of the weekend. Unfortunately, police presence also followed. Although NYU is a private school, they host many public events. Yet when the line of attendees gathered outside, NYU security demanded to know the names of everyone in attendance and required them to sign in and produce identification. Then the NYPD arrived, claiming that they received a call from their captain about a gathering of animal rights demonstrators. After some debate, eventually attendees were allowed entry without being coerced into identifying themselves to law enforcement and security.
The opening event started with a welcome from NYC Animal Defense League and No New Animal Lab before turning to a powerful Know Your Rights workshop presented by Bina Ahmad, public defender with the Legal Aid Society. James Cromwell decided to speak about his personal history of challenging the status quo and his eventual involvement in animal advocacy. He urged the crowd to continue to challenge power like that embodied in Skanska. NYC ADL finished off the night with a call to take action the following day.
At around noon on Saturday, people began converging in Heckscher Park near Huntington Village. By 1pm, over 100 protesters were prepared to set off for the home of Richard Cavallaro. Police were surrounding the park with the looming threat of moving in on the crowd. Galvanized by the energy of the mass convergence and inspired by the thought of the individual animals for whom we are fighting, the protest immediately stormed onto Main Street in downtown Huntington. Police soon surrounded and tried to force the protest onto the sidewalk.
The Suffolk County police presence seemed constant and overwhelming, yet everyone pushed forward the nearly 2 miles to the home of Cavallaro, at 6 Castle Harbor Rd., Huntington Bay, NY. His house was swarming with police and private security, inside and out. In spite of these attempts to build his home into an impervious fortress, two activists were arrested as they boldly attempted to scale Richard’s roof with a ladder and unfurl a banner from the top. Private security tackled and assaulted these two activists and detained them until police arrived on site. Much to everyone’s surprise, Richard Cavallaro rushed outside to revile the crowd of protesters. Apparently the thought of protesters crossing police and security lines to climb onto his roof was just too much for him. He threw the ladder away from his roof and then, acting like an embarassment to his company’s reputation, he could be heard screaming, “fuck you!” and other obscenities to the protesters with his face flushed red. He had to be forced inside by his hired security and someone who seemed to be a Skanska PR representative, but we will never forget the look of Richard Cavallaro’s horrified face staring down the mass protest outside his house. It is all the indication we needed to know that we stirred the hornet’s nest.
The two arrested were taken into custody down the road, so the protest followed as a jail solidarity rally before returning to the park. Police were still everywhere, flocking to the protest with blaring sirens and horns from all sides. The entire spectacle effectively disrupted the affluent doldrums of downtown Huntington and Huntington Bay. After an eventful day, participants congregated in Brooklyn for a Punk Rock Karoake benefit.
After storming Skanska at their homes and offices, protesters trekked to the Malvern, PA area, headquarters of Vanguard Group. Through its nearly 7 million held shares, totaling 1.7% of shares outstanding or $1.12 billion, Vanguard Group is the fifth largest institutional investor in Skanska AB. Vanguard holds more shares in Skanska than any other U.S. financial institution. They took the protest literally to the front doors of Frederick William McNabb, Chairman and CEO, at his home at 421 Timber Lane, Devon, PA, and Mortimer Joseph Buckley, Chief Investment Officer, at his home at 420 Meadowbrook Ave., Wayne, PA. Vanguard is financing Skanska to build this lab and is entangled with animal cruelty. They have come to the attention of the No New Animal Lab campaign.
This weekend was a success! Thanks to all who came out to #StormSkanska and #SwarmNY! We took it to the streets, their headquarters, the CEO’s front yard, and to some of their largest investors. Today stands in stark contrast to one year ago, when the campaign against Skanska was just starting to blossom. We know we are getting to them like we never have before. We are having an impact. The effectiveness of the grassroots was captured in Richard Cavallaro’s bitter grimace–we can storm Skanska, we can swarm their most important US figures, we can threaten their finances, and we can and will stop this lab.
This weekend was only possible because of grassroots organizing and grassroots support. Thanks to everyone who came together to make it happen. This took a lot of resources, so please make a donation to the campaign to sustain this pressure!