This week, the national fossil fuel divestment movement escalated, as student blockades popped up at Harvard and Washington University in St. Louis. By the end of the week, 8 students had been arrested across the two campuses, the first arrests since the fossil fuel divestment campaign launched nearly two years ago.
The skirmish at Harvard touched off Wednesday, where students organized as Divest Harvard have been pushing the university to get rid of the oil, gas, and coal holdings in its $33 billion endowment. Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, has dug in against Divest Harvard’s demands, even denying that the fossil fuel industry is blocking meaningful action to address climate change. Facing an administration that refuses to distance itself from the fossil fuel corporations driving climate crisis, Divest Harvard launched a blockade of President Faust’s office that lasted more than 24 hours. On Thursday morning, Harvard University police arrested undergraduate Brett Roche -- the first arrest in the national divestment movement. Roche’s arrest marks an increasingly hardline response from Harvard’s administrators, as the university demonstrates a willingness to use police force to defend investment in fossil fuel corporations.
Brett Roche may have been the first divestment activist arrested on campus this week, but he certainly wasn’t the last. This morning, Washington University in St. Louis joined Harvard in infamy: seven students were arrested as they attempted to deliver a letter to the university’s board of trustees. Just days before, WashU Students Against Peabody ended a historic 17-day sit-in which demanded that Greg Boyce, notorious CEO of Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, be removed from the university’s board. During negotiations, Washington University chancellor Mark Wrighton flatly refused to respond to students demands. When asked to exercise leadership, he replied “I can, but I won’t.” Faced with an administration content to cozy up to fossil fuel interests, more than 100 students staged a peaceful sat-in outside Washington University’s board meeting under the watchful eyes of police, some of whom carried shields and riot gear. When a delegation of students attempted to enter the building to deliver a letter to Washington University’s board, they were arrested. All seven were charged with trespassing on their own campus.
The implications of this week of action are both scary and heartening. Novelist Margaret Atwood spoke to the scary, criticizing the administration's response as she received an award at Harvard yesterday: “Any society where arrest is preferable to open dialogue is a scary place.” Indeed, university administrators at both Harvard and Washington University appear to be so committed to the fossil fuel industry that they'll arrest their own students for speaking out.
On the hopeful side, the student divestment movement is finding its power. After two years of power-building and by-the-book advocacy, campus climate activists are proving that they have the courage to stand up to their administrators and the fossil fuel industry. Earlier in the school year, students at Harvard, Washington University, and dozens of other campuses worked with Rainforest Action Network to disrupt campus recruitment sessions organized by Bank of America and Citi, two of the largest financiers of the U.S. coal industry. Those actions, and the arrests this week, point to a rising tide of resistance that won’t be cowed by police response. A longer, deeper struggle is opening on campuses across the country, and administrators at the more than 300 universities with active divestment campaigns need to know that their chickens are coming home to roost. It's time to divest or expect resistance.
To support the Washington University in St. Louis students arrested this morning, call Chancellor Mark Wrighton at (314) 935-5100.
Tell him universities are for students, not for coal CEOs. Washington University needs to drop Peabody Energy so the school can get back to educating students, not arresting them.
Yes! Big crowd of #NoKXL protestors headed to Philly federal building in 1hr w/ brooms to "sweep out" corruption pic.twitter.com/5cLHvIixYR — Jamie Henn (@Agent350) March 10, 2014
#XLDissentPhilly activists blocking federal building door. #NoKXL pic.twitter.com/dhXt1DsInp — Sean Kitchen (@RCPress_Sean) March 10, 2014
We will not let you build this pipeline #nokxl #xldissentphilly pic.twitter.com/sZzP659nEz — Environmental Action (@EnviroAction) March 10, 2014
Tussle with the police. #nokxl pic.twitter.com/MiLaIP5qKY — EarthQuakrActionTeam (@eqat) March 10, 2014
Door #2 blocked at #xldissentphilly pic.twitter.com/ZQg2p6QB59 — Sam Bernhardt (@slbernhardt) March 10, 2014
Door #3 blocked #xldissentphilly pic.twitter.com/J5UCFvehcu — Sam Bernhardt (@slbernhardt) March 10, 2014
Sweep out corruption: #nokxl #xldissentphilly pic.twitter.com/sLXVkT4q7s — Environmental Action (@EnviroAction) March 10, 2014
Officer: you trying to go in here? Woman: yes Officer: that's not going to happen #xldissentphilly pic.twitter.com/pL44qBLUqb — Sam Bernhardt (@slbernhardt) March 10, 2014
Here come the barricades. Let's person them! #xldissentphilly #nokxl pic.twitter.com/HbziPfGlWl — Environmental Action (@EnviroAction) March 10, 2014
Barricades going up #nokxl #xldissentphilly pic.twitter.com/mxnWRS2dGd — Environmental Action (@EnviroAction) March 10, 2014
First arrests at #xldissentphilly #nokxl pic.twitter.com/qvEOv7DmGQ — Environmental Action (@EnviroAction) March 10, 2014
I count at least 5 arrests #xldissentphilly #nokxl pic.twitter.com/gnxSAH9F00 — Environmental Action (@EnviroAction) March 10, 2014And the second wave begins!
The replacements just took over the door where others just got arrested #XLDissentPhilly #NoKXL pic.twitter.com/7MGwsdrP9D — EarthQuakrActionTeam (@eqat) March 10, 2014
Heads held high #xldissentphilly #nokxl @RisingTideNA pic.twitter.com/9c3wz2nCW6 — Environmental Action (@EnviroAction) March 10, 2014
Huge cheer for @eqat Eileen organizer extraordinaire #xldissentphilly #nokxl pic.twitter.com/EjTNS8r4dA — Environmental Action (@EnviroAction) March 10, 2014
Still 2 doorways blocked at federal building #xldissentphilly #nokxl pic.twitter.com/frmSX2LQ1l — Environmental Action (@EnviroAction) March 10, 2014
Lines restored #xldissentphilly #nokxl pic.twitter.com/vIVFKVxrQy — Environmental Action (@EnviroAction) March 10, 2014
We left the chore list for @statedept #nokxl #xldissentphilly pic.twitter.com/cB0p0BWhKk — Environmental Action (@EnviroAction) March 10, 2014
Today I spoke to a woman named Julie, a landowner from Nebraska who is the last person in her county to refuse to sign over her land for the pipeline. She’s never been to a protest, much less been arrested. But she told me that she just had to come because the stakes are so high. Likewise Eleanor, a landowner from Texas, who said defiantly: “I am much more worried about the Keystone Pipeline and the damage it could do to our climate than I am about my children being left with a deficit.” By some estimates, as many as two-thirds of the folks who have been arrested since the sit-ins began two weeks ago have never participated in anything like this — and yet they gave up their own time and spent their own money to voice their opposition to Keystone XL and tar sands oil. This is what a movement looks like. The movement to stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has become symbolic of our struggle to avert climate catastrophe, and it’s breaking through and gaining momentum. Here's how we know that the tide is turning:
- This week has seen the biggest days yet of the "Tar Sands Action" civil disobedience in DC. So far, over 800 people have been arrested in DC (including actress and nature lover Darryl Hannah, who was arrested on Tuesday along with RAN board members Randy Hayes and Jodie Evans). Over 130 were sitting in today.
- Keystone XL is getting a ton of media coverage: It has been a top item on Google News for the past several days, and the issue has been featured in front page articles by The New York Times and The Huffington Post. It has also received great coverage from CNN, ABC, Al Jazeera, Reuters, and more.
- Along with our partners, we've collected hundreds of thousands of signatures on a petition that we'll be delivering to the White House on September 3rd. If you haven't signed and shared it, please do so today.
- In the last few weeks, the tar sands protests have united the leaders of groups as diverse as Greenpeace and the Environmental Defense Fund. A few days ago, the leaders of the top environmental groups in the country all joined together in a letter to the President in which we told him that “there is not an inch of daylight between our policy position on the Keystone XL pipeline, and those of the protesters being arrested daily outside the White House.” I have never seen this kind of unity in the climate movement.
Why Going to Jail for Climate Justice Is More Than a Responsibility: A Closer Look at Our Movement’s Tactics
Six of us went to jail that day to draw attention to a local injustice. We have put the company on notice and after packing the lobby of City Hall for a hearing on the issue the next day, it is clear that we won’t back down. But what is next for our movement? Will we continue to push our tactics and speak LOUDER until we are heard? Or will we allow ourselves to be silenced by the corporate pollution of our politics and the fear of going to jail for speaking the truth? This post is intentionally left open ended for greater discussion. What are the tactics that will allow us to win? We can’t raise billions of dollars to influence Capitol Hill, so how do we level the playing field? I think our movement needs to take a close look in the mirror and consider how we respond to a political process mired in inequitable access and influence. So I ask, in the face of all these challenges, how will YOU be most effective?