On Friday, over 50 Swarthmore students joined hundreds across the nation and around the world in pledging direct action to urge institutions to divest from fossil fuels as part of Global Divestment Day. Swarthmore students partook in Mountain Justice’s launch of the Divestment Escalation Pledge, a project in which students agree to push the college to divest. Many other schools in the United States held their own campus events, including Harvard, Berkeley, Northwestern, Bowdoin, and Tulane.
Guido Girgenti ’15, one of MJ’s leaders, said the group will give training to signers of the petition to prepare them for more involved events coming this spring. MJ plans on engaging in more forms of peaceful activism to push the Board of Managers to go through with divestment, such as sit-in demonstrations.
“By signing the pledge, I am rejecting apathy and passivity, and committing to being an agent in the history that will be written and has been written over the course of this campaign,” wrote Ian Holloway ’17, who signed the pledge.
Lydia Bailey ’16, another signatory, described the impact environmental destruction has on communities as a reason for committing to the divestment movement.
“By investing in fossil fuels, we’re turning our backs on countless families suffering all over the world — families helpless in the face of terrible illnesses, without the privilege of access to medical attention,” said Bailey. She explained that until the college divests, it is complicit in this respect.
Members of MJ also argued that the push for divestment is a necessity for the college. One member, Sophia Zaia ’18, said that divestment would be in line with Swarthmore’s core values.
“By committing to escalate our campaign we are affirming Swarthmore’s values and Quaker heritage. By taking bold action to demand climate justice, we are upholding the very values this school has helped foster in us and capitalizing on the best our education has to offer,” said Zaia.
MJ’s decision to escalate comes in light of a meeting on February 2 that five members of MJ held with five members of the Board of Managers about achieving divestment by 2020. They brought forward a plan that was created with the consultation from the college’s Finance and Investment Office. Neither Gil Kemp, the Chair of the Board, nor Chris Niemczewski, the Investment Committee Chair, attended the meeting.
“The Board of Managers has repeatedly refused to move forward with divestment,” wrote Sara Blazevic ’15 in an MJ press release. Blazevic notes that MJ has met over 30 times with members of the Board in the past three years. The group does not feel that negotiation alone will push the Board to commit to divestment.
“We know every successful social movement for justice and equality reaches this point – when negotiations can lead no further,” wrote Girgenti. “Bold action becomes necessary to shine a spotlight on injustice and force those in power to take responsibility.” Girgenti hopes the group’s assertive approaches, such as participating in Global Divestment day, signing the pledge, and escalation this spring, will pressure the college to seriously consider, and eventually materialize, divestment proposals.