Divestment Campaign Hosts March Fo(u)rth Rally
Caroline Bowman | March 8, 2013, 11:02 a.m.
The 5C Divestment Campaign hosted a rally on Monday to raise awareness for the campaign and its connections to other social justice campaigns at the 5Cs.
The group staged the rally on the patio of Honnold/Mudd Library as part of March Fo(u)rth, a “day of action” that was celebrated by divestment campaigns at colleges across the nation. The event featured presentations by professors and students, including representatives of Students for Justice in Palestine, Warehouse Workers United, and Workers for Justice (WFJ).
“We feel that there’s a lot of power in uniting those groups in an action and highlighting the work that everybody is doing,” said Jess Grady-Benson PZ ’14, a co-leader of the 5C Divestment Campaign. “A college campus, especially like the Claremont Colleges where there’s a lot of activism going on, can end up being fairly fragmented with the different campaigns, and we want to show unity in that we’re all fighting for a common cause of a just and sustainable future.”
The 5C Divestment Campaign began last semester when students delivered letters to the presidents of the 5Cs demanding that the colleges freeze all new investments in fossil fuel companies and remove all existing fossil fuel investments in five years.
At the rally, Brinda Sarathy, a professor of environmental analysis at Pitzer College, discussed the ties between divestment and other social justice campaigns.
“I feel like the divestment campaign is a multiracial, cross-class campaign for social justice,” she said.
She also discussed pollution’s effects on communities.
“Who gets impacted the most?” she asked. “It’s the underrepresented minorities.”
Harper Rubin PZ ’13 presented on behalf of Warehouse Workers United, an organization that works to improve living and working conditions for warehouse workers in the Inland Empire. One issue that the group seeks to address is pollution from trucks transporting materials through the Inland Empire.
Grady-Benson said, “That’s what we’re trying to highlight: that the fossil fuel industry is not only unethical in its burning of fossil fuels and its continuation of the exploration for new fossil fuel reserves and raising the global climate temperature at a ridiculous rate, but it’s also unfairly targeting low-income minority communities.”
Also speaking at the rally was Vincent Gamalinda, a cook at Frary Dining Hall and a WFJ organizer, who asked students to help the group continue to push for unionization.
“We need every single one of you to help us fight and win this fight,” he said during his presentation.
He explained afterward that he spoke at the divestment rally because WFJ wants to support any action that could improve the community or the environment.
Zavi Engles PZ '14, Lily Lousada PZ ’14, and Najib Hamideh PZ ’15 presented for Students for Justice in Palestine.
Lousada explained tactics the group plans to use to put pressure on Israel, including boycotts and pushing for divestment from “corporations that are complacent with the violation of international rights going on in Palestine.”
Students expressed mixed reactions to the diversity of speakers who presented at the rally.
“One of the things I found most interesting is the interrelations between all the movements,” Beatrice Stambuk PZ ’14 said. “This divestment campaign raises the question of how we can combine all these movements.”
Leora Paradise PZ ’14 said she did not fully understand the connections that were trying to be made.
“Now, of course these injustices don’t operate within a bubble,” she said. “But I don’t know if that connection was made clear.”
Grady-Benson acknowledged that some of the issues presented at the rally, including the Palestine-Israel conflict, are controversial.
“We are not implicitly endorsing one side or the other except for the most just future,” she said. “The reason we brought them here today is because ... we are interested in discussing the use of divestment as a tactic.”
At the rally, Char Miller, a professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College, spoke of the symbolic power of the fossil fuel divestment campaign. He compared it to William Lloyd Garrison speaking out about emancipation, noting that Garrison pressed for abolition for 35 years before he saw the end of slavery.
“Let’s hope we respond with a bit more speed to achieve a just resolution for all the species calling the Earth home,” Miller said during his presentation.
Dan Segal, a professor of anthropology and history at Pitzer, spoke about how faculty members should “walk the walk” and ensure that their retirement fund is not invested in large fossil fuel companies.
He explained that each faculty and staff member has their retirement fund invested through the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF), a major financial services organization. TIAA-CREF gives its clients the option to invest in the CREF Social Choice fund, which does not include any major fossil fuel companies.
“This movement to divest should not only be what we ask trustees to do,” Segal said. “These are steps that every faculty member can take.”
Approximately 250 colleges and universities have registered a fossil fuel divestment petition or campaign through 350.org, which was launched by environmentalist Bill McKibben. Grady-Benson said that three colleges have divested since the start of McKibbens’ campaign: Unity College in Maine, Sterling College in Vermont, and Hampshire College in Massachusetts.
“There are a lot of schools that are far along in their campaigns, at a similar place as we are, if not further,” she said.
She said that the 5C Divestment Campaign is trying to make more progress with the administrations, especially those at Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College, and Scripps College, whose presidents did not respond to the group’s initial requests.
The group has initiated talks with trustees from both Pitzer and Pomona, but neither college has indicated whether it will vote on the issue.
“We haven’t received solid yeses or nos from any administration yet, so that turns it into a little bit of a waiting game, and it unfortunately means we can’t act out too powerfully unless they say no,” Grady-Benson said.
Additionally, Pitzer’s Student Senate and Associated Students of Pomona College have both heard presentations by the campaign. On Feb. 11, Pitzer’s Student Senate passed a resolution in support of divestment.