Emma French, Occupy Claremont

In a cheery, unassuming manner, Emma French PZ ’13 laid out her plans to tackle some of today’s most pressing issues. We sat down to talk about her involvement in Occupy Claremont and her driving passion for environmental issues. 

Despite the seriousness of the topics, our conversation was punctuated by laughter and sly jabs at the political system. We bonded over the power of Harry Potter to decrease stress and she convinced me to eat more kale. A complete departure from the in-your-face activist archetypes sensationalized on Eyewitness News, French is easygoing and delivers politically charged statements with a smile. 

For her, activism runs in the family and started at a young age. From ages eight to twelve, French lived in Uzbekistan and Benin with her mother, who worked for the Peace Corps. She attributes some of her political activity to her upbringing and her mother’s influence. Even with her busy schedule, French calls her mother everyday. Their conversations help her with her disillusionment, she said. 

French said that her years abroad changed her way of seeing the world. 

“In a lot of ways I feel less connected to the United States because I was away for those primal years,” she said. “It’s actually taken me until now to realize that this is my home and this is where I’m going to work.”

French doesn’t take her bond with the United States for granted because it is something that she has had to actively cultivate and think about. This process allows her to think about the issues honestly without being blinded by grand notions of patriotism, she said. 

“I’ve always imagined that I would move away, but there are a lot of problems that need to be addressed here,” French said. “It’s worth it to fight for everyone to have a good quality education and clean air and water.”

French has already become involved in a number of forms of political activism. Last year she participated in a protest against the oil company BP with noted environmentalist Bill McKibben’s 350.org and attended the Powershift Conference in Washington D.C., an event organized by the Energy Action Coalition to discuss alternative energy. 

At the Powershift Conference, French joined young activists from all over the United States to learn about and discuss the country’s most urgent environmental problems. There, she said, she realized that the current political climate of big business lobbyists is a substantial factor affecting the actual climate. 

As a result, this year she is heavily involved with Occupy Claremont, sits on the foreclosure committee at the General Assembly in the Claremont Village and participates in the town hall-style meetings to help shape city policy. She delivers updates on the foreclosure committee’s progress each week at General Assembly Meetings. Currently she is trying to convince people to put their savings in credit unions instead of the big banks through e-mails as well as her position on the foreclosure committee.

“We’re trying to find families that have not been evicted yet and see if we can talk to the banks to help them refinance their loans or camp out in their front yards when the sheriffs come to evict them,” French said. “We are also in talks with Claremont’s mayor to shift the city’s investments into credit unions and out of Bank of America.” 

Recently, she helped organize the Feb. 25 OccuParty that celebrated the success of the Occupy Claremont movement after protesters were evicted. She says that the party was a success with many students and residents of the Pilgrim Place retirement community in attendance. Emma said that after much discussion with Pilgrim Place residents who were part of the Civil Rights movement and the protests against the Vietnam War, she is ready to put ideas into actions. 

She said that she plans to make sure that the Occupy movement stays alive and positive through publicity campaigns throughout the city and the Claremont Colleges’ campuses. 

French said that she looks up to Bill McKibben, with whom she had a chance to dine during his visit to Pomona College last October, and Pitzer Anthropology Professor Dan Segal for their positivity and “realness.” She added that keeping a bright outlook on the world despite all its problems is one of her biggest goals.

“This is really depressing stuff and sometimes I just want to go farm somewhere and not make an impact,” she joked. “But you have to pick your battles… just keep working toward realistic goals.” 

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