Regents: Whose Side Are You On?
Californians demand real climate leadership. One week after the largest-ever anti-fracking rally — the March for Real Climate Leadership in Oakland, CA — students and community members took action on University of California campuses for climate justice on the first-ever Global Divestment Day. We took action with flair and with a renewed focus on pressuring campus administrators to come out with a public stance on divestment. We took action together, with giant Valentine’s Day cards,with mock weddings, with marches, and with guerilla art alongside indigenous allies; we were joined by communities on five continents demanding that their institutions pick a side in the struggle for our future and divest from fossil fuels. But most of all, we took action because we have a stronger conviction than ever that we must win this fight. And we’re beginning to see our efforts pay off.
Recent press coverage is proving that our efforts do not exist in a vacuum; we are beginning to make the fossil fuel industry squirm. The recent storm of misguided anti-divestment arguments,crafted by fossil fuel lobbying groups and their allies, is some of the strongest evidence yet that fossil fuel divestment is an effective tactic. They’re not dumb; they recognize that divestment is capable of making the fossil fuel industry the pariah it deserves to be, just as past divestment campaigns stigmatized Big Tobacco and South African apartheid. Our movement is gaining power, and they’re scared — because winning divestment would mean realizing that we must keep 80% of carbon in the ground, effectively undermining the industry’s wealth. As Divestment Student Network co-founder Kate Aronoff pointed out this week in Waging Nonviolence: the louder carbon corporations shout, the more we know that we’re getting that much closer to winning.
Students at the University of California have been pushing the Regents since 2013 to stand on the side of the students and align their actions with their stated climate and moral leadership. Since 2011, we’ve been building stronger campus teams and a more coordinated strategy, and we’re beginning to get traction. Our campuses are now taking the heat to their Chancellors, and we’re already getting some dialogue. On Global Divestment Day, Chancellor Blumenthal of UC Santa Cruz released a blog post speaking to the importance of dealing with climate change and Fossil Free UCSB calls on Chancellor Yang to stand with students. the promise of the fossil fuel divestment campaign. He wrote that Fossil Free UCSC “students remain determined to see the Regents approve full fossil fuel divestment,” and that meeting them leaves him with “little doubt that we are all well on our way toward understanding that fossil fuels cannot remain a part of our collective future.”
Chancellor Blumenthal seems to understand that students need real climate leadership from university administration; climate leadership doesn’t ignore the crucial role the fossil fuel industry plays in exacerbating climate chaos and environmental injustice. So this is the question we now bring to our chancellors, administrators and faculty: “Whose side are you on?” We’re asking this question alongside divestment campaigns across the world. We’re demanding that our institutions side with students over extractive industries, because we stronger, more just, and more resilient in its place. As the year progresses, we’re not just going to be asking for divestment with words. We’re going to be demanding it with our actions. Through history, nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience have been critical components of struggles for justice. When task forces, committees, and other traditional channels of decision-making fail to bring those in power to decisions that are just, we refuse to compromise our values; we put our bodies on the line until our demands are met. This is what divestment campaigns across the country are preparing for, and inviting students to do: to take a pledge to engage in nonviolent direct action this spring until their administrations choose to divest. Pledge to act on divestment with us this Spring. To change everything, we need everybody.
However, we are not just escalating for divestment; we are escalating for a broader commitment to a just and sustainable future. This includes democratization of the university by inclusion of stakeholders in decisions about our investments, including in making sure that the $1 billion reinvested is invested in the kind of solutions we want to see: in sustainable projects that are community-led and justice-oriented, rather than the greenwashing the fossil fuel industry touts as its commitment to sustainability.
We know that the university will ultimately divest. Its financial advisors must know that it just doesn’t make financial sense to keep investing in companies whose net worth is based on a mirage of promised wealth. When the university does divest, though, it won’t be the financial impact of moving its assets in the fossil fuel industry that makes the most difference. It will be the statement, loud and clear, that the Regents choose to work for the futures of their students and the betterment of society, instead of working for the industry.
Authors are Jacob Soiffer, an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley; Alden Phinney, an undergraduate student at UCSC; and Emily Williams, Campaign Director with the California Student Sustainability Coalition.