On a snowy February day about three-and-a-half years ago, Macalester students gathered in Weyerhaeuser Chapel to hear Bill McKibben speak about winter and climate change, and to deliver a call to action. We remember this day well. It was our first year at Macalester, and the chapel was packed with students eager to be inspired. McKibben had just finished his “Do the Math” tour, which called for students across the country to organize, speak up and say “no” to investment in climate change.
At that time, Fossil Free Mac was a fledgling campaign formed by a coalition of student organizations. We knew little about endowments, hedge funds or stranded assets. We knew that we were challenging some of the most powerful companies in the world: fossil fuel corporations. We were overwhelmed by the implications of climate change. We felt powerless, and that our voices would not be heard. But McKibben’s words echoed in our heads. He said, “It’s not a fit thing for those of us who know what’s happening to do nothing.”
Did we think then, and do we think now, that fossil fuel divestment is a silver bullet that will solve climate change? Not at all. But Fossil Free Mac’s campaign is a part of the fastest growing divestment movement in history. An army of students has been mobilized all over the world. Students are marching on campuses and occupying administrative offices. They are calling on their schools, on their towns and cities, on their pensions and their 401ks, on their churches, temples and mosques and on their states to ask hard questions. They are frustrated with “business as usual.” They are heartbroken by the inequities and injustices of climate change. They are escalating. They are getting major media coverage. And the movement is still growing beyond our wildest dreams of February 2013. Are we seeing the action on climate change the world urgently needs? Unfortunately not. Are people questioning the motivations of fossil fuel companies more than they did in 2013? Definitely. Even Redwoods start as seeds.
Today, divestment campaigns are working with institutions, governments and firms on every continent. It’s been an amazing process to watch, from the founding of the Student Divestment Network at Powershift in 2013 to the People’s Climate March in New York City. In under four years more than 516 institutions, worth over $3.4 trillion in total, have divested. Our list of allies includes the United Nations, the World Bank, President Barack Obama, Mac alum Kofi Annan, Desmond Tutu, the late Nelson Mandela, Ban Ki-Moon, NYT economist Paul Krugman, Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Bernie Sanders and many, many more.
Back in Saint Paul, Fossil Free Mac has had a busy four years. We have created art installations, written op-eds and met with administrators. We celebrated “Fossil Fools Day” with clown noses and a whoopee cushion costume. We wrote a petition, and half of the student body signed it. We travelled to Washington D.C. and New York City to participate in the People’s Climate March and Power Shift. We have had too many tabling sessions, trainings and conversations with fellow students to count. We marched against the Enbridge Pipeline in downtown Saint Paul amidst sleet and rain. MCSG passed a resolution supporting a feasibility study of divestment at Macalester. We marched in solidarity with striking low-wage workers in Minneapolis. We wrote a proposal for divestment and presented it to the Social Responsibility Committee. In the coming weeks, we will meet with members of the Macalester Board of Trustees, and again with our president, to encourage them to invest in a feasibility study of divestment. Orange fossil free patches and buttons can be seen on backpacks and messenger bags all over campus. It has been a hell of a ride, but it has not been nearly enough.
We write to you today because we are graduating in a matter of weeks. As the first graduates to have spent all of our time at Macalester working on this campaign, we have something unique to ask of all of you: join the campaign. Do it. We have learned more from our experience with Fossil Free Mac than from any course we have ever taken. We have become confident discussing investment with CFOs (kind of), challenging administrators to think in new ways and training new members to be inspired, eloquent and intentional advocates of divestment and of justice. For us, divestment has become a powerful forum for learning not only about climate change and the politics of money, but also about intersectional oppression and solidarity. Climate change provides yet another example of how what hurts all of us will always hurt some of us more than others.
We are only students: it’s true. But we are not powerless. We reject the cynicism and apathy that has too often been the world’s response to the injustices of climate change. Come to a meeting and learn more. Think divestment is a bad idea? Ask us your hard questions. Join us. Challenge us. Don’t do nothing. It is not a fit thing for those of us who know what is happening to do nothing.