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.
In 2010, Swarthmore Mountain Justice, an organization against mountaintop removal coal mining, launched the first fossil fuel divestment campaign in the world. These students were inspired by the international campaign to divest from South African Apartheid during the ‘80s. They understood how the stigmatization of Apartheid led to its eventual downfall, and they sought to apply the same principles to fossil fuel billionaires: an elite few who have consistently put profit over people, recklessly poisoning communities and destroying the climate.
Today, the fossil fuel divestment movement has reached unprecedented levels— from Yale to Oxford, Norway to Ireland, the Rockefeller Brothers to the World Council of Churches— institutions across the world have recognized the need to divest. Divestment has been incredibly successful at doing what it has set out to do— stigmatizing the fossil fuel industry and mobilizing thousands of young people at hundreds of campuses. It is one of the most effective ways for college students to erode the power of fossil fuel elites, and today over 5 trillion dollars have been committed to divestment from the industry. However, divestment, like much of the youth climate movement, does not reckon with political power, but there’s a new organization that does: Sunrise.
Sunrise was founded by four Swarthmore Mountain Justice alumni along with a team of other young leaders across many campaigns, ranging from pipeline fights to statewide organizing networks. At the core of Sunrise’s strategy is the recognition that we need people power and political power to take impactful climate action. In many ways, Sunrise is an extension of the vision that Mountain Justice has held for years.
This is why Mountain Justice will be joining the broader national movement of Sunrise, while continuing to do divestment work. We’ll be doubling our efforts; as we call on Swarthmore to show moral leadership in the era of Trump by divesting, we must also take the fight beyond the boundaries of our campus. We recognize that in order to win bold climate action, we need a movement that spans the country, with thousands of volunteers and millions of supporters. Starting this fall, we’re going to organize beyond campus and take back our democracy from fossil fuel CEOs and the politicians who have sided with them.
Now, we’re gearing up for a huge wave of action in November, when Rex Tillerson and Donald Trump will try to sabotage climate action at the UN Climate Talks. Here at home, we’ll be talking with our communities across the nation, and gathering objects along the way that represent what we stand to lose to climate change and reckless fossil fuel extraction. We’ll bring a time capsule filled with thousands of objects to state capitols across the country. We will hold vigils of mourning and reckoning as we demand our politicians stand up to fossil fuel billionaires and take action to stop climate change and create good paying jobs in our states. Here at Swarthmore, we will bring dozens of students and community members to Harrisburg for Pennsylvania’s biggest stand for climate justice yet.
When we extract and burn fossil fuels, low-income communities and communities of color around the world are the first to be burdened with poison and pollution. When the tides rise and the storm comes, those same communities are the last to be evacuated and rebuilt. We all have something to lose to climate change. We cannot sit idly by. We demand that our politicians stand up for our shared home, and our administrators divest from fossil fuel destruction.
Featured Image courtesy of sunrisemovement.org