Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Last Friday, December 7th, a committee of the Board of Managers decided to consider divestment as one possible action that the College can take to address climate change.
Members of Swarthmore Mountain Justice met with President Chopp, Maurice Eldridge, and five members of the Board of Managers to continue dialogue about divestment and to make progress toward an ultimate decision. The Managers recognized Mountain Justice’s impressive efforts and acknowledged that the Board needed to address the issue of divestment more seriously. With the recent New York Times article, a growing national movement for divestment, and an upcoming student divestment conference next semester, Swarthmore Mountain Justice’s campaign for fossil fuel divestment warranted formal discussion.
The Managers suggested that the Social Responsibility Committee of the Board should tackle the issue of climate change. In a meeting later that day, the Social Responsibility Committee decided that they would investigate ways that the College could make an impact on climate change, which will include consideration of divestment among other actions. This committee will begin meeting in February of next year and will present recommendations to the Board in May.
With these future meetings still months away, Swarthmore Mountain Justice is excited by the Board’s formal focus on climate change and a discussion of divestment, having advocated for as much student involvement in this committee as possible. Given the growing urgency of climate injustice due to thirty years of societal inaction, we fully expect a recommendation for divestment at the May meeting
However, as this process goes forward, we will not stand idly by. Swarthmore Mountain Justice and student, faculty and alumni allies will continue to work on building the divestment campaign on campus. As the Board deliberates on the issue of divestment, we need members of the community to lend their voices and support. At this critical time in the fossil fuel divestment movement, it is more important than ever that our allies are becoming engaged and vocal.
And it isn’t hard to find examples of this engagement. At the same time that Board Members were meeting with members of MJ, a crowd of students, faculty, community members and reporters filled the foyer beneath Parrish’s double staircase to witness a creative direct action: a chain of dominoes cascading down the stairs, symbolizing the chain reaction that will lead from fossil fuel divestment to climate justice.
The purpose of the action was to communicate how Mountain Justice’s strategy of fossil fuel divestment will lead to a healthier and more just world. Divestment, when done in conjunction with hundreds of other schools and pension funds, has the potential to delegitimize fossil fuel companies in the social and political realm. If a mass of institutions publicly divest from fossil fuels, they show that it is unacceptable to support this industry. Divestment also provides a concrete goal through which stakeholders from across the climate justice movement can create alliances and coalitions. Social movements must give people an empowering entry-point through which to act, and for many of us, a direct entry-point is where our colleges, our churches, and our pension funds invest their money. This energy can build into a lasting and powerful movement to push for legislation that would shift our energy economy away from fossil fuels and toward renewable sources.
More than anything, fossil fuel divestment is about sending a clear, loud message. Swarthmore may already advocate for sustainability and climate action, but our investments say otherwise. Through divestment, Swarthmore denounces the fossil fuel industry, and it communicates that message to potential students, to peer institutions, and to the country. Swarthmore can put its money where its mouth is, strengthening its commitment to social justice.
Swarthmore can say, “Enough is enough. For too long our governments have failed to enact legislation that would cull our dependence on fossil fuels. For too long we’ve been supporting an industry that worsens global inequality and accelerates climate change. We call on others to join us in divesting from the fossil fuel industry, and we call on our governments to stand up to climate injustice and make real change happen.”
Mountain Justice believes that this kind of Swarthmore is possible. We believe in a Swarthmore that recognizes that change often comes not from those who hold official power, but from those who are denied it.
We invite all those who share this vision to join with us in calling for a serious consideration of fossil fuel divestment.