April 28, 2014

Beyond Earth Day at Syracuse University

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April has been a month of action toward climate justice at Syracuse University. After delivering a formal request for fossil fuel divestment to University administration on March 7th, Divest SU used April to build support and energy. 

#UP4Climate Justice

If you don’t do politics, politics does you. - Joan Mandle, director of Democracy Matters

On April 10th, students and faculty organized an all night teach-in inspired by the US Senate's "talkathon" on March 10th. From 6pm to 1am, students and faculty discussed global warming and worked to build the local movement toward divestment. Several student groups co-sponsored the event and invited speakers like Joan Mandle. Her encouragement to own and deepen the political work we do in response to climate change resonated with us. Politics are obviously doing us -- and doing us all in -- if we don't organize a response. As Jason Ashley, a member of Students of Sustainability, argued at the event: “Every other issue on Earth will be moot if we don’t address this one.” University endowments and the status quo of the fossil fuel industry are already deeply political, and we won't sit on the sidelines. We need to organize and make some demands.  

Faculty and community organizations presented on the overwhelming evidence of global warming and on very practical and much needed policy options like carbon taxes. This raises an important question: if the science is clear and indisputable, and if reasonable policy options exist, why has there been so little progress?

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The answer is that the country's leaders don't have the political will and that we—the grassroots—need to build it. That’s why we spent much of the night talking about our work as part of the international movement to divest from fossil fuels. Putting together the event, and getting dozens of students and faculty to stay for over five hours was difficult. But we can only hope to address climate change if we match the enormity of the problem with the strength of our conviction to fight it. #Up4Climate Justice allowed us to lean on each other, learn from one another, and to plan a social movement for the future we deserve. We reached across many student groups and academic departments, creating a space for a necessary discussion and to plan for necessary action. This was more than a talkathon. 

Successful University Senate Motion

April 16th brought a major victory for the divestment campaign. After months of organizing, Paul Hagenloh, Associate Professor of History, introduced a motion in support of fossil fuel divestment to the University Senate. Describing a history in which SU had admitted Japanese students during WW2 and had been ahead of its time in admitting people of color and women, Hagenloh stated: “I’m proud to be part of a university that so many times has done the right thing and put itself on the right side of history.” Many faculty spoke in support of the motion and when it came time for a voice vote there was a single nay followed by a chorus of voices affirming fossil fuel divestment. We want the University to know that to divest from fossil fuels is to make a historic decision to stand up for the long-term interests of the University's students and against the short-sighted practices and politics of the fossil fuel industry. 

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The University Senate vote further established what we had been experiencing the last 18 months of organizing on campus: when we get the chance to lay out the argument for divestment, students and faculty support it. (The Student Association passed a nearly unanimous resolution supporting fossil fuel divestment in April of 2013.) The campus community understands that an investment in climate change is no investment at all.

Rally and Letter Delivery to the Chancellor

With successful resolutions at the University Senate and the Student Association, it is up to the university administration and board of trustees to make a decision. On April 21st, we reminded the administration of the wide campus support, delivering hundreds of student petitions, 75 letters of support, and over 90 faculty signatures along with resolutions from the two democratic bodies on campus. Before dropping these letters at the Chancellor’s office, we held a rally in the quad where faculty and students spoke about divestment and the political roots of Earth Day.

Earth Day was the most physical symbol of 1970s’ environmental awakening. People led, politicians and university chancellors followed. -Bob Wilson, Associate Professor of Geography

Divest SU Light Brigade

In order for a campaign to be successful, it needs to be seen. So we took that quite literally. Inspired by The Overpass Light Brigade’s display at XL Dissent in DC this past March, we paraded around our campus with battery-operated light up signs that spelled out ‘DIVEST SU.’ We were photographed holding up these signs in front of iconic Syracuse University buildings and are now working on making the photos go viral on our campus and in the greater community.

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With no funding and measly college-kid incomes, we “passed the hat” around to supportive faculty to fund the project. There were a good number of passersby that stopped to take their own pictures and approached us to find out more, while others yelled from across the street, “What does divest mean?” It was a great opportunity to give a divestment “elevator speech” and rally their support right then and there.

Next Steps

We refuse to allow fossil fuel companies to pollute our atmosphere with C02, pollute our democratic process with millions in lobbying dollars, and pollute the education of this country with their pseudo science. We will do our part to make sure that Syracuse University is a catalyst for climate justice by divesting from fossil fuels. 

We have one world, one habitable climate, and at the same time we have fossil fuel companies determined to burn more than 5 times the C02 that is safe for us. That's why students and faculty at Syracuse University will be fighting tooth and nail to stop them.  

Ben Kuebrich and Christine Edgeworth 

Divest SU and Students of Sustainability 

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