Throughout the fall semester of my freshman year, I chose to refrain from engaging in any activist clubs, including Mountain Justice. I had worked on human rights issues throughout high school and wanted to focus on myself and try something new, like dancing. I enjoyed my first semester of college and had good times with new friends, but I consistently heard news and developments on the Mountain Justice campaign and felt conflicted but still I declined to get involved.
Second semester, post-spring break, MJ decided to implement a bold action in response to the repeated denial and eventual resolute rejection of their proposal by the Board of Managers. When faced with the opportunity to participate in the sit-in and fight for a cause I supported, I was confronted with the question, “Why am I not involved?” I could find no reason why I had not already immersed myself in a cause I cared about, and I hoped I could make up for lost time by being devoted to the sit-in. Come as much as possible and just sit and do work? That seemed easy enough.
My place within Mountain Justice and the movement was not cemented until I was invited to become more involved in the campaign by representing the campaign in a radio interview about the sit-in. I accepted the offer, but in preparing for the interview, my ignorance of divestment and climate justice issues dawned upon me. I crammed for the interview like it was a final in a subject where I had skipped three months of class. and I still felt as though I did not know enough to be prepared. It wasn’t the interview, however, that I was scrambling for. Unconsciously, I was scrambling to make up for lost time discovering a passion I had neglected up to the point of the sit-in. The night before the interview, I was sitting in the basement of McCabe reading articles about the climate justice movement and Swarthmore divestment. I was reading about the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the companies our endowment is potentially invested in and I began to cry. I finally realized the import of the student divestment movement and the magnitude of the Swarthmore sit-in for the larger movement. I was crying because it hurt to read about these insidious companies polluting oceans and obliterating ecosystems, poisoning groundwater and the people who drink it, murdering children and bulldozing communities that stand in the way of their efforts to maximize profits.
I felt that I had no choice but to participate because doing my best to fight for climate justice is part of taking responsibility for my privilege as a student at a wealthy, insulated liberal arts college. Quaker activist George Lakey said, “frontline communities need allies who can win.” We are all in the position to be allies who can win because we have power as students at a prestigious institution. We have a voice which is a privilege not afforded to all communities being affected by the inimical fossil fuel industry.
Swatties often fall into the trap of feeling like contentious issues are endlessly complicated, and consequently take no action. We know the fossil fuel industry is incompatible with a sustainable future, and it’s clear what the right choice is. I encourage everyone to read about divestment. Like finding any passion, it is a journey to discover why you support or do not support this cause. I was certain I had found my passion in education before the sit-in and I still hold true to that passion. I am still an education major, but I can integrate my newfound passion for climate justice into the future I want to create for myself and our world because I retained an open mind and took a harsh look at myself. The question I posed to myself, and that I challenge you to ask yourself, “Why am I not involved?”
In addition to discovering my passion for climate justice, by participating in the sit-in I learned invaluable lessons about my power as an individual to effect change, my endurance in times of need, and the power of community.
The community created at the sit-in, which consisted of my fellow students, faculty, and community members, embraced the challenge together. We had so many victories because we stayed grounded in the movement and in each other. Over the course of the sit-in we successfully organized students and alumni, we received an outpouring of support from the local and national divestment communities including venerable climate activist Bill McKibben and UN Climate Chief and Swarthmore graduate, Christiana Figueres, we inspired numerous sit-ins on other campuses across the country, raised consciousness about divestment nationwide, and succeeded in putting divestment back on the agenda for the May Board meeting. With each passing day of the sit-in, each new mini-victory, the community grew stronger. The solidarity of the movement carried over into my personal struggles and reminded me of the higher purpose we had and our obligation to stay strong for ourselves and the communities we are fighting for.
I could not have asked for a more positive result of the sit-in for myself as an individual and for the campaign as a whole. I am very excited to be entering this campaign now, as a freshman especially considering that the majority of people who participated in organizing and executing the sit-in were freshmen. The sit-in was a major victory for the campaign regardless of what the Board of Managers decides this upcoming Saturday because in thirty-two days, we developed a community and no one can take away our communal strength and power as a movement. But the battle is not over. If the Board does not vote to divest on Saturday, we will build our power, keep the pressure on, and continue the fight to ensure that Swarthmore registers itself on the right side of history. Divestment is too important an issue to abandon and the repercussions of staying invested in fossil fuels are too dire to stop fighting. For our allies on the front-lines in our country, the world, and for our generation’s future, we are prepared to take louder, bolder escalated action next fall if the Board does not commit to divestment this weekend.