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.
“Would you like to take some information about fossil fuel divestment?” Stephen O’Hanlon ‘17 asked.
“No, thanks,” his interlocutor said, and briskly walked away. People laughed.
“Let’s re-do that,” O’Hanlon said, and they re-did it. This was just role-play; the real thing was two days away.
Last Thursday, as the Inauguration Steering Committee anxiously tried to anticipate the weekend’s weather, a different preparation was going on in Kohlberg 116. Members of Mountain Justice (MJ) practiced how to deliver their pro-divestment message to hundreds of alumni, parents, and other visitors. They planned to stand near the ceremony and hand out flyers, as well as talk to passersby about divestment.
On Saturday, they reassembled in Kohlberg, stocked up on flyers, and went over their plan. MJ activists were joined by alum Peter B. Meyer ‘65.
“Maybe we’ll reach someone, and that strikes me as something well worth doing,” Meyer said.
In keeping with the inaugural theme, the flyers bore an excerpt from a Valerie Smith interview. In the quote, Smith thanks student activists worldwide for “asking [colleges] to pay attention to areas we may not have attended to sufficiently.” Then, the flyer asked for support in “[holding] Swarthmore’s Board accountable to these words.”
The Smith-themed flyers illustrated MJ’s tentative optimism about the new president. Smith hasn’t yet spoken on divestment, but O’Hanlon, who talked with her a few weeks ago, is hopeful that she will be receptive to the cause.
“We were really encouraged by our conversation with her. […] She has a lot of the same values [as us],” he said.
Last May, the Board of Managers reaffirmed its opposition to divestment. While the president’s personal stance on divestment remains unknown, Board chair Tom Spock ‘78 said that Smith respects the Board’s decision.
“She has made it clear she respects both the decision reached by the Board as well as the deliberative process used to make that decision,” Spock said in an e-mail.
As the inauguration’s attendees headed for the Fieldhouse Saturday afternoon, a dozen or so Mountain Justice members got into position around the building. They split between its entrance and the Sharples tunnel such that almost every visitor passed by them while entering the Fieldhouse.
Meyer, the alum who joined MJ members on Saturday, is no stranger to activism. When he was a student, he took part in the civil rights demonstrations in Chester. These days, he serves on Mountain Justice’s informal alumni network
“[Divestment] was a logical thing for me to get engaged in, given my commitments to my alma mater and the importance of the issue,” Meyer said.
For about 40 minutes, Meyer and several Mountain Justice members stood outside the Sharples tunnel, each clutching their stack of quarter-sheet flyers. Most passersby seemed receptive. Many said they already supported divestment; others silently took the flyers.
One inauguration attendee recognized Meyer.
“Still at it, huh?” She asked.
“I don’t stop,” Meyer responded. “It’s called staying alive.”