Protesters target PNC at Philly Flower Show

Members of the Earth Quaker Action Team choose a well-trafficked forum to accuse PNC Bank, main corporate sponsor of the Flower Show, of "environmental crimes" in Appalachia.
Members of the Earth Quaker Action Team choose a well-trafficked forum to accuse PNC Bank, main corporate sponsor of the Flower Show, of "environmental crimes" in Appalachia.
Posted: March 10, 2011

The cancan music and French torch songs didn't quite drown out the chants of protest at the Philadelphia International Flower Show on Wednesday.

Nine protesters from a group calling itself the Earth Quaker Action Team held hands and formed a human chain in front of the PNC Bank exhibit to protest what they called the bank's "environmental crimes" in Appalachia. The group contends that PNC invests in mountain removal, a method of coal extraction that has "destroyed over 500 mountains and buried 1,200 miles of rivers in toxic waste."

Visibly distressed bank officials on the scene and Fred Solomon, a bank spokesman in Pittsburgh, declined to comment.

PNC has been the Flower Show's presenting sponsor - its main corporate support - for two decades, contributing more than $7 million toward the nation's largest indoor flower show. The 2011 production runs through Sunday at the Convention Center and has been drawing sizable crowds all week.

At 1:45 p.m., after a two-hour demonstration, the protesters left. They vowed to return to PNC's display Thursday.

Police and show officials, as well as observers from the National Lawyers Guild who were there to support the protesters, indicated that the protest was legal. Police would not intervene unless there was some kind of physical struggle.

Zachary Hershman, protester spokesman, said the group had purchased tickets to the show, and "if they let us stay, we'll just stay and keep coming back every day."

Convention Center security guards stood in a line in front of the protesters, who shouted out, "Tell the truth, PNC!" They said they wanted J. William Mills III, PNC's regional president, to come to the show and sign a confession admitting that the bank is "deceiving the people at the Flower Show, promoting itself as a 'green bank.' "

PNC said that would not happen.

The bank's exhibit, a tall green wall festooned with birdhouses, is a popular one, near the front of the show just to the left of the Eiffel Tower, its centerpiece attraction.

The protest drew a bit of attention and a variety of reactions. Some visitors walked on by, intent on seeing the show. Many took pictures. There was some supportive clapping, and quite a few expressions of disapproval. The scene was unlike anything the Flower Show had ever seen.

Erin Donovan of Washington said she comes to the show every year and had never imagined she would witness a protest. "But I think it's great we live in a country where people have the freedom to express themselves and to protest," she said.

Janet Solomon of Northampton, Pa., disagreed. "There is a place and time for everything, and this is not the place for them here," she said. "They should be outside."

The group protested outside the show last year. It said it had recently been in contact with PNC but was dissatisfied with the response. "It's clear PNC is refusing to even discuss the issues," Hershman said.

The protest created a surreal experience at the show, which typically spawns an abundance of "happy news" and generates little, if any, controversy. Security guards were heard on walkie-talkies telling other security to "make a left at the Eiffel Tower." The show's theme is "Springtime in Paris."


Contact staff writer Virginia A. Smith at 215-854-5720 or vsmith@phillynews.com.

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