Mountain Justice Asks BoM to Divest from Fossil Fuels in a Street Theater Rewrite

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.


On Saturday, December 3rd at 11:00 AM, crowds gathered as members of Swarthmore Mountain Justice performed their own rendition of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. As the College’s Board of Managers met in a building just a short walk away, the group asked for full divestment of the college’s endowment from fossil fuel industries via creative performance.

In the 5 minute play, E.B. Neezer-Scrooge — standing in for the Board — is shown the way to a healthy endowment by the Ghosts of Investments Past, Present and Future. By working in solidarity with those communities already most affected by the extractive industry, Swarthmore students and the Board of Managers work together, as they did with South African Apartheid, to end the College’s financial complicity in unjust practices. Fossil fuel divestment, as stated by the play’s fictional Board Member, would represent a concrete way for the College to “bring its practices in line with its stated values of social justice.”

Mountain Justice also prepared Christmas stockings for each member of the Board, including a piece of coal and a letter directly asking them to support divestment. When group members arrived at the Managers’ scheduled meeting place, however, they found that the Managers had already disbanded for the weekend. MJ is now working on a public art installation and holiday greeting to make sure that the Managers receive the call to divest in time for the holidays.

Mountain Justice’s Campaign would be the first in the nation to call for divestment from not just coal, but from the entire fossil fuel industry.

Mountain Justice is a student direct action group at Swarthmore College addressing climate injustices through creative, strategic campaigns that target exploitative mountaintop removal coal mining and natural gas hydrofracking industries and their corporate financiers.


  1. I honestly think that the sheer goofeyness of this so-called play shows either that you don’t actually care about making a difference on this issue or that the bubble has completely atrophied your abilities to put your passion and education into practice. This isn’t a game, and this charade makes it look like you have nothing at stake.

    Please be open minded about this criticism. I’d like to see your goals here come to fruition, but that video was embarrassing.

    • Sorry but, thanks for your support of our goals, and for your honest criticism. Different tactics are targeted at different audiences, and I guess this one didn’t resonate with you. We’re hoping that the goofiness of the video gives it some entertainment value, and enables us to connect with students who might be less interested in reading an op-ed or another more “serious” mode of communication.

      Even as we do fun things like this, we are also engaging in conversations with the administration, student groups working on similar campaigns at other campuses, and frontline communities who have the most at stake. You’re right that this isn’t a game–we take it extremely seriously. We also recognize that our goals will not come easily, and we need to be working all the angles.

      If this action didn’t connect with you personally, I’m also interested in hearing your suggestions for other avenues of communication.

      • The problem in my mind is not whether the play resonates with me. The problem is that in my opinion the Swarthmore community tends to attack problems from the goofy angle way too often, and it calls our credibility into question. While you may have intended this video for a select audience, you put it on a public forum where someone randomly searching for information on hydrofracking might find it. I worry that that person will look at us and say “okay, this is obviously no more than a hobby for these people, an activism game they like to play”. The goofy angle is probably fine sometimes when handled with care, take colbert/stewart for example. But this video is not that. More importantly, I find something perverse about imagining someone who’s actually suffered from side effects surrounding hydrofracking actually taking such a careless goofy angle, which is what I mean by “it look[s] like you have nothing at stake”.

        I’m happy to take your word for it on your second paragraph. That’s exactly the other avenues of communication I’d suggest. And that would definitely count as evidence for your seriousness and sincerity. My point is that this video makes it look like you’re using (misusing, in my opinion) a serious issue as a springboard from which to express your silliness. Looks can be deceiving (read: I believe your intentions are good), but in this case, and when it comes to politics in general, how you look to people is going to be a significant factor in the efficacy of your activism. Don’t take this too personally. I think this is a broader problem in Swarthmore culture. But take it a little personally because I am saying this video is one instance of that problem.

        • Hi Sorry But, thanks for the feedback. I second “MJ Member” in emphasizing that we are using a variety of tactics in this campaign, and decided to start out with something lighter because swatties so often jump on those taking themselves “too seriously”, or just ignore them. There is a long history of communities on the frontlines themselves using theatrical (and sometimes slightly silly) approaches at times to gain attention and to diversify tactics (Otpor in Serbia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otpor!, Unite Here in Philadelphia http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2011/11/14/aramark-union-workers-rally-with-occupy-philadelphia/, and others: http://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/search_methods?field_alltactics_value_op=contains&field_alltactics_value=035.%20Humorous%20skits%20and%20pranks)

          That being said, it’s also really important not to portray these issues as goofy or light, particularly as people not on the frontlines. If you feel comfortable, I’d love to continue this conversation! Email me at hjones4 if you wish!

        • Hey Sorry but… I’d second MJ Member and Hannah here, as yet another MJ member responding to your post. They probably said it better than I will, but I’ll say it again. 1) we are using a lot of tactics. Some of them are more visible than others. Street theater is kind of by definition more visible than meetings with the administration. Doesn’t mean we’re not doing both. 2) We actually put a lot of thought into the messaging of this action, and how we felt about doing a “goofy” public performance like this. You asked us to “please be open minded about this criticism.” I’d actually say that the way a more light-hearted action is perceived is something we thought about a LOT before doing it, and we agreed that it made sense based on where we are in our campaign. Apparently you disagree. That’s fair.

          Honestly, if this is an issue you care a lot about (you say it is), but think our tactics aren’t the best, then that’s a conversation I think many of us would be happy to have with you. If it’s an issue you care about that you don’t think is being handled well, have a meal with one of us, or come to one of our meetings or something. Just making comments on the DG tends not to be the most useful method of doing things, and I think generally reflects a desire to critique the work people are doing without doing any work yourself. If this is an issue you actually care about, please do get involved! It doesn’t look great for you to say that we’re not considering your criticism when you don’t actually know that much about our tactics or group conversations, but that doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t welcome you informing yourself.

          • Well you could look at just posting comments on the DG as way way of critiquing work of others without doing any work yourself. Or you could look at it as a way of expressing an opinion you believe is important but would be unacceptable in the community you actually live in. I just came out and called a part of the culture of our community into question. I really doubt it would be a good idea to let people attach that opinion to me personally since I have a pretty important interest in getting on with my social life. Interestingly, judging by the like/dislike button, there are almost as many people seem to think I have a point as there are those who were probably offended by my comment even though they didn’t feel the need to write a comment. That kind of lets me know I’m not crazy – so there’s another non-laziness related reason to post anonymously. So respectfully, I’m going to have to decline to let you guys know who I am.

  2. Suzanne Welsh’s comments on this issue are worth noting.

    Also, it’s one thing to petition the Board and voice your concerns with the administration, but stockings with coal goes a bit too far. This is insulting to those who devote their time to the necessary business-end of our College.

  3. MJ will not accomplish anything with this campaign to change investment practice.

    1. They have no legal ground to do so.

    2. They have no social ground to do so. Just because students attend this college does not mean they control where their money goes. Students give business money, once it changes hands the business does what they want with it.

    “Oh! but we’re part of the social community. We must have a say!”

    -And? just because a student goes to Starbucks and is friends with people that go there every day, and the barista’s love him/her does not mean they can ask the manager how Starbucks is investing their money. Sure, it’d be great for people to own/control their money forever, but that’s not how money works. Might not be a great analogy, but hopefully people get the gist.

    “But Swarthmore is all about about social justice! The committee’s practices don’t reflect this!”

    -The committee’s priority is money, not social justice, unfortunately/fortunately. Even though investing in certain companies is blatantly against the school’s stated practices, complaining about it will not accomplish anything, unless a couple things happen:
    A. The committee has a change of heart and decides to sell our assets in oil companies. (highly unlikely)
    B. The committee finds a more profitable solution than our current investments that MJ agrees with. (more likely, but still basically impossible at this point in time)
    Aka, being upset with the committee will not feasibly accomplish anything.

    This talk about investment practice is becoming very frustrating. I don’t even approve of certain investments, but I don’t delude myself into thinking they can be changed by making videos, empty gestures, and complaining.

    Mountain justice CAN feasibly accomplish changing the investment committee’s practice, but the current direction this “campaign” is headed is no where.


      • If someone wants to criticize my criticism, I’d love to read it.

        I’m not against MJ’s mission, I’d love for our school to invest in more morally friendly companies.
        This strategy right now, however, will not feasibly accomplish anything unless the committee decides to change our practices on a whim, which you can guess is probably not going to happen.

  4. Yes, MJ’s supposition that it understands Swarthmore ‘college values’ better than do current students (and given the long-term reach of its proposal) and future students, which is just ridiculous. First, MJ please enumerate the college values you believe are universal to the college (not just held among a few students) that are violated by current investment, and why rectifying these are worth endowment returns probably worse, but at best not better than current returns.

  5. Honestly, this is a half-baked commitment at best, and more likely just feel good, rich-kid posturing. Seriously: if you mean what you profess then FORCE the university to stop relying on any source of energy / power / heat from fossil fuels immediately! Only windmills, solar panels, and really big wool sweaters. Otherwise, you’re nothing but hypocrites.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The Phoenix

Discover more from The Phoenix

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading