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.
This special Multimedia Spread is put together by the staff of The Daily Gazette. Scroll down the page to read The Daily Gazette’s account of Saturday morning’s events.
Photo Spread: Thursday’s Meeting and Saturday’s Demonstration by Mountain Justice
On September 5, Board of Managers Chair Gil Kemp announced that after thorough discussion, the Board had made a final decision not to divest the College’s endowment from investments that support the fossil fuel industry. Since then, the Board, as well as President Chopp and many of her staff, have moved on. Chopp and Kemp have both written that they want to discuss other ways to address climate change, which they view as a serious and pressing concern.
But Swarthmore Mountain Justice, the student group pushing hardest for fossil fuel divestment, and one of the first student groups nationally to advocate on the issue, insists that the debate over divestment is far from finished.
This weekend, members of the Board were on campus for their quarterly meeting. Early Saturday morning, around 30 student members and allies of Mountain Justice, along with faculty allies Mark Wallace and Lee Smithey, gathered to disrupt a closed meeting of the Board and staff in the Scheuer Room. As they approached, Director of Public Safety Mike Hill locked the door.
Improvising, the demonstrators chose to shout their statement, in call-and-response form, through the walls of the meeting room. The statement emphasized what MJ views as the hypocrisy of working to solve climate change without divesting, and they argued that divestment is part of a larger movement that can have a powerful impact. They asked the Board, “Will you move forward with us on divestment in this meeting?”
Then, the demonstrators waited in silence outside the room until the meeting ended.
According to some demonstrators, the Board and staff members began to leave via a back door. MJ appeared there to block the back door. All Board members and staff exited through the main doors, passing the demonstrators in the process.
In response, Chopp and Kemp sent a joint message to students, faculty, and staff on Monday evening. Chopp also submitted a letter to the editor of The Daily Gazette, which appears in the Opinions section of today’s issue.
The full transcript of the statement Mountain Justice’s members read to the Board is reprinted below, courtesy of MJ.
We are here today to bear witness to the continued inaction of this Board. In your recent letter, you agreed that the climate crisis is urgent. But if it is wrong to wreck the climate, it is also wrong to profit from that wreckage. In a meeting with people from the frontlines of extraction, you expressed that you felt moved by their stories. But if it is wrong for companies to poison people, it is also wrong to profit from that poisoning.
Many of us are pursuing other tactics, from limiting consumption to raising awareness to fighting for legislative changes. But it makes no sense to work towards carbon neutrality, while our investments legitimize the fossil fuel industry. In the face of an unprecedented climate crisis and the continued suffering of frontline communities, it is unacceptable to remove divestment from the table.
Divestment is undoubtedly one of the most impactful tactics that is in the Board’s power. Thousands of students in the national divestment movement are looking to Swarthmore for leadership. Your decision to divest would encourage campuses across the country to take a similarly rigorous strategy to addressing the climate crisis. With hundreds of schools, churches, and entire cities uniting through this tactic, divestment can shift the political winds and build the movement our world needs.
If you are ready to seriously consider divestment, we are prepared to participate in this conversation with you. If you are not, we will stand here and bear witness to your decision to financially endorse the poisoning of communities and the destruction of our planet.
We will continue to be in your meetings demanding you take action until we see you take concrete steps to fulfill your responsibility to the future of this College and to the future of our generation. So we now ask, once more: Will you move forward with us on divestment in this meeting?
If for any event on campus you have a photo you would like to submit, or if you’re interested in joining our media staff, please send inquiries to Elèna Ruyter ’14, our Multimedia Editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article has been edited post-publication to clarify that all Board members and staff exited the Scheuer Room through the front doors. The originally-published version did not state that anyone exited through the back door, however, the wording was slightly ambiguous. The narration to the video reflects the original wording.