by Mary Schellentrager, Divestment Campaign Coordinator, Energy Action Coalition
Students on 30 campuses across the country took bold action last week, pressuring their universities to divest from fossil fuels with creative tactics that included rallies, concerts, and street theater.
From California to Maine, Wisconsin to Tennessee, students last week showed that we have the power. We have the power to leverage higher education's $400 billion endowment dollars to solve this climate crisis. We have the power to reinvest in wind, solar, the green economy, and socially responsible companies. And collectively we have the power to bring the fossil fuel industry to it's knees.
This unprecedented momentum comes after 350.org's Do The Math tour, where Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, Rev. Lennox Yearwood, and local student leaders spoke to sold-out auditoriums in 21 cities.
Student leaders on over 150 campuses have collectively mobilized thousands of their fellow students, faculty, alumni, and administrators in support of divestment. The New York Times took notice last Tuesday when they featured divestment on the front page, profiling Do The Math and the first divestment campaign launched two years ago by Swarthmore Colleges' Mountain Justice. Campaign organizers at the Responsible Endowments Coalition posted a response for administrators and Time Magazine quickly followed suit in their coverage.
Our bold actions, the culmination of more than a year and a half of campus organizing, prove the fossil fuel divestment is not only growing stronger but that we will win. Swarthmore Mountain Justice's dominoes action demonstrates that divestment is the first step on the path to climate justice and livable communities. Our movement will demonize fossil fuel corporations in the market and remove the industry's political licence to operate, leading to the strong national and international legislation we need to address the climate crisis.
Incredible rallies at Brown University, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the University of Vermont, and the Five Colleges drew hundreds of student supporters.
Brown's Divest Coal Campaign organized a 3-hour rally outside of their University Hall that was attended by 150 students and covered by both campus and local news.
University of Illinois
The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign made the front page of their campus newspaper with a rally calling upon their administration to divest from the industry that students were instrumental in kicking off campus when their coal plant was retired in 2010. The rally featured student speakers and local farmer Charles Goodall who spoke about the impacts of coal on his land and livelihood. Check out all the photos here.
University of Vermont
University of Vermont students rallied outside the Davis Center, dropped a banner, and mobilized over 1,000 of their supporters to mark a banner with their handprints in black oil.
Over 300 students from Five Colleges Against Fossil Fuels, a coalition of students from Amherst, Hampshire, Mt. Holyoke, Smith, and UMass, encircled the entire Amherst Common, calling on their universities to divest and Senator Elizabeth Warren to end industry subsidies. The rally concluded with a rousing speech from Jill Stein, 2012 Green Party presidential candidate.
Students at Earlham College, University of New Hampshire, UW-Madison, and Bowdoin College collectively delivered thousands of petition signatures to their presidents and board members during the week of action, calling on university leaders to invest in our future instead of climate catastrophe.
University of New Hampshire
Over 40 University of New Hampshire students marched into President Mark Huddleston's office to deliver a petition signed by over 1,000 student supporters.
University of Wisconsin
University of Wisconsin-Madison students and community members marched 1,200 student signatures on their letter of endorsement to the UW Foundation and Board of Directors. Student Emmy Burns was intervewd for NPR about the impact divestment will have on the industry. Check out more of the photos here!
Students with REInvestment, Responsible Energy Investment at Earlham College, delivered a card signed by 100 students to the Socially Responsible Investment Advisory Committee (SRIAC) that read "We Don't Want Coal in our STOCK-ing." Notable Earlham alum Francis Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet and founder of the Small Planet Institute, recently joined with student leaders in calling for her alma mater to divest.
Bowdoin College students met with President Barry Mills to discuss how to move the university beyond fossil fuels. When they met resistance, despite being backed by petition signatures from 25% of the student population, they pledged to work even harder for the just and sustainable future we are all fighting for.
Divest Ithaca College rallied their campus to join our growing movement with an incredibly powerful video explaining the impact divestment will have on the industry and calling on students to join their fight for climate justice. Days later, President Rochon pledged to collaborate with students to more closely align the college's portfolio with its mission and values.
University of North Carolina
UNC Beyond Coal has been busy this past week - after hosting an Endowment 101 Forum where students were dismissed by UNC Management Company CEO Jon King and Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Karol Gray, the editorial board of the Daily Tar Heel called for more administrative collaboration with the campaigners. With the campus on their side, students hosted a semester-debreif and cookie baking party where they quite literally took a bite out of the industry's biggest polluters.
Students at Vassar College organized a fun bout of street theater - unsuspecting students were met in the dining hall by four Dick Cheneys searching for oil and handing out "dirty dollars" their school collected from fossil fuel industry stock. Vassar Green students chased the Dicks down, crumpled the dirty money, and reclaimed Vassar's commitment to sustainability by divesting dirty energy. The Fossil Fools event ended with a call to action with chants of "Divest Now" closing the performance and students circulating petitions through the excited crowd.
Students from all 5 Claremont Colleges organized a candlelight march trough the campus to deliver a letter for the presidents of all five Claremont Colleges demanding that they divest.
Bold action taken by students recently inspired by the Do The Math tour clearly illustrates the growing momentum of the divestment movement - new campaigns are launching almost daily! Check out some of the fun and exciting ways students are announcing the call for divestment to their campus communities.
Bryn Mawr College
Bryn Mawr College's Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign officially "came out" last week - and built so much momentum that now they're loud and proud on campus! Students chalked the call to "Divest", stuffed every student mailbox with dirty money inviting them to join the movement, tabled their student center for petition signatures, met with a Board of Trustees liaison, and held an open Q&A for the campus about the campaign. And Bryn Mawr's incredible actions were soon noticed by the Bi-College newspaper who ran a featured story on divestment that very same week.
Bates Energy Action Movement (BEAM) kicked off their new divestment campaign with a strongly coordinated rally calling on their school to divest from coal and invest in responsible alternatives.
Williams College organized an exciting kick-off featuring student musicians, a presentation on divestment, a special video message from Bill Mckibben, and a concert from local artists Darlingside! Check out how pumped students were for divestment and the performance photos here.
Barnard College, Columbia University
Barnard-Columbia Fossil Free hosted their first kick-off meeting with 45 student and community attendees passionate about putting the universities' money where its values are. Here are some of the student organizers proudly holding up the New York Times divestment article!
American University students also held their first divestment meeting, organized by a broad coalition including Eco-Sense, Student-Worker Alliance, College Democrats, AU United Methodists, Green Eagles, and Public Relations Student Society. Over 50 student attendees left charged to bring the movement to AU.
Stanford University students organized a kickoff rally at White Plaza where attendees marched to President Hennessy's office and declared their intent to pursue divestment, garnering student support and press in the campus paper.
Among the other national highlights are Franklin & Marshall and Johns Hopkins University students tabling and dorm-storming to gather petition signatures, New York University's first meeting just last night, and both Yale and Harvard's campaigns building power in the media. Sewanee, the University of the South, launched a new campaign website and obtained an endorsement from professor and author David Haskell. Boston University showed the bredth of their coalition of supporters with an endorsement from noted professor and Co-Chair of the University Committee on Sustainability Cutler J. Cleveland.
Campaigns also recently launched at Syracuse University, garnering positive campus and local press, and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry where students in the Green Campus Initiative held a screening of Carbon Nation and discussion about divestment. Most exciting of all, Middlebury College's president Ronald Liebowitz endorsed students' calls to divest and pledged to work with the Board of Trustees to divest and reinvest responsibly.
With each passing day, students organizing for divestment are shifting their endowments to fund a livable future for all of us. All of the incredible action taken this past week shows that our divestment movement is growing exponentially stronger.
As fall semester draws to a close, students are already planning to ramp up the pressure once school resumes in the spring. Are you one of them - or would you like to be? Like the Students Divest Fossil Fuels Facebook group to stay connected to movement and keep sharing your inspiring stories with the entire youth climate movement on We Are Power Shift. And register today for our next huge movement moment: the Power Up! Student Divestment Convergence next February. See you there!