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.
Mountain Justice (MJ) held a demonstration illustrating the potential impact of divestment on Friday, toppling a line of cardboard dominoes down the main stairwell in Parrish Hall. Each domino stood for a stage in MJ’s divestment campaign and, as the dominoes fell, audience members raised posters naming each of these stages.
The event was held in solidarity with 5 members of Mountain Justice who were meeting with the Board of Managers at a luncheon held at the same time as Friday’s demonstration.
Sachie Hopkins-Hayakawa ‘13, a member of MJ, said, “We're gaining so much momentum nationally that we wanted to have an action to celebrate that and the people who are working really hard because a lot of the work is writing emails, writing op-eds, meeting behind closed doors, and that doesn't get celebrated very often, so we wanted to do a community celebration for the work we've been putting in.” She also said that she hoped the demonstration would show that MJ has student support outside of the group’s membership.
Hannah Jones ‘12, who was a member of MJ while at Swat, called the demonstration “a concrete way” to show the divestment movement as it gains power. According to Jones, the “power of divestment is that it taints them [companies] in a political sphere.” In addition, Jones said that many investors look to college endowments when deciding where to invest and hoped that other investors would follow suit if Swarthmore were to divest.
The demonstration began with Sara Blazevic ‘15, an MJ member, saying, “Every day it becomes more obvious how necessary this is.” She was followed by English Professor Betsy Bolton, who discussed ideology, asking the audience “how we come to grip” when we participate in something that we know is wrong. Will Lawrence ‘13 then passed out posters that outlined the stages of MJ’s campaign to audience members who lined up on the staircase alongside the dominoes, which they raised as the dominoes fell.
Some steps written on the posters have already occurred, including the New York Times article about divestment that was published last week and MJ’s meeting with the Board of Managers. Others are being planned, such as the 150-school divestment convergence scheduled for February. The final posters described what MJ hopes to see in the future; for example, Swarthmore’s eventual divestment from the “Sordid Sixteen,” sixteen companies within the fossil fuel industry, and divestment on an international scale. The final link in the chain was “Climate Justice and Sustainable Communities.”
Audience members received the demonstration well. “I'm really happy to see all the momentum that's building and having public events in well-used spaces like Parrish. I'm really quite hopeful,” said Amelia Dornbush ‘15.
Kojo Osei ‘15, who became interested in MJ after reading last week’s Times article, said, “I’m definitely for the divestment. It is a necessary step if we’re going to make a difference.”
In order to invest in green technology that’s tenable (not just feel-good initiatives like Solyndra or Cape Wind), we need major capital investment. It seems that the firms that have this kind of capital and expertise are in fact the oil companies. Perhaps it’s a better idea for the College to leverage the companies as shareholder, rather than pull out, threaten Swat’s financial future, and leave no real climate solution in its place.
You can argue, “Well Exxon’s uninterested because oil is profitable in the short term.” But isn’t it in the firms’ best interest to have positive public relations and long term growth? If there’s green technology that can ACTUALLY usurp fossil fuels, I bet the companies will be all over it, with the right nudging.
“Why doesn’t Mountain Justice propose a shareholder resolution?
Shareholder resolutions are useful in cases where a company can reform its practices, principles, or procedures, but are virtually impossible when the reform undermines the economic purpose of the company in question. In other words, shareholder resolutions can pressure a fossil fuel company to “clean up its act,” but they still allow the company to continue to extract and use fossil fuels. Companies can, and frequently do, throw out shareholder resolutions that are “related to the company’s ordinary business operations.””
The link below will take you to documentation of a shareholder resolution calling on ExxonMobil to publish a health impact study of the tar sands. This had no mention of inhibiting their drilling whatsoever, and still got thrown out by the Security and Exchange Commission on the grounds that it would inhibit “the company’s ordinary business operations.” Now imagine what would happen if someone proposed a resolution to stop drilling for oil.
Fossil fuel companies have shown time and again their desperation to use outdated and destructive methods of extraction. Despite massive public outcry, fracking is continuing unabated, mountaintop removal is alive and well, coal exports are on the table, and construction on the keystone pipeline is moving right along. These companies are clearly not interested in moving to renewables. It will take a strong concrete showing up opposition in order to inhibit their destruction.
To Swarthmore Divestiture Movement
From: Howard Sachs M.D.
Dec 12 2012
I doubt you allow adults with possibly more knowledge and wisdom to comment
to your students. Ill try.
I have read many of your students wish to divest your college investments from
oil companies. They fear carbon dioxide gas emissions will lead to drowning of
millions of humans. I am a parent, a husband, a physician and a fairly well read
person. I don’t want to drown. I don’t want my children to drown. I am
concerned about the possibility that human activity may have effects on climate.
I also understand there are thousands of scientists who study this area who are
highly skeptical of the computer models predicting disaster decades ahead.
Fossil fuels are also what brings us daily almost everything we want and need
from our iphones to our laptops to the comfortable dorms you live in to our
great hospitals, cars and medicines and air conditioners and foods. And you
fear drowning in carbon dioxide emissions?
What drowning do I fear? What real drowning possibility I do know is that you young people are
about to be literally drowned financially. Our country is bankrupt. Each day the
United States government prints or borrows billions of dollars to pay its
gargantuan debt. We in the generation before you have charged tremendous goodies for ourselves on your credit cards. Republicans and Democrats have both caused the problem. But the problem is straight and square on your shoulders. It is real. It is not a
computer model or some fantasy of worry dreamed up by the anxious Left in our
country. It will have terrible painful consequences that you will face squarely
once you’ve been handed your $200,000 diplomas and the debt service on
them. There will be much less work for you. Millions of you will be living into
your thirties with your parents just as people do in the social welfare states of
Europe. Paychecks you do get will generally be meager as you try to pay back
daily the mountain of debt you parents have left you. Terrible disruptions in your social, personal, and financial lives will come with this crushing of American wealth. This is the drowning millions of us beyond the utopian childlike world of the college campus fear. This is too what you should fear and divest yourselves of. This is reality.
You are Swarthmore students. You are among the most privileged students in the country. And you owe that privilege to your parents’ success in the global economy. That same global economy that rests almost entirely on the exploitation of fossil fuels. You are caught in an ideological trap. Everything in your material life, the very standard of living you love, relies on fossil fuels. And yet here you are demonstrating for divestment. So, how do you resolve the glaring hypocrisy of your position? You use fossil fuels every day. You will not give them up right now. And yet you call for divestment right now? Why is an investment in an oil company morally or ethically more repugnant than actually using the oil, which you all do, virtually every moment of every day? Perhaps having this pro-divestment position is the ultimate sign of your privilege?