These two words—divest now—are an imperative, a demand that we immediately question how we wish to live in relation to one another and to the natural systems that sustain us.
Yet we must also act to divest knowing that it will not produce a fossil-free campus or extricate us from the global oil and gas economy.
What makes divestment so essential, then? It offers a direct, sustained, and critical challenge to our longstanding and dangerous public silence about climate change and the threat it poses to all life on this warming planet.
At once symbolic and sensible, a rhetoric and tactic, divestment is also historically grounded. Like those who demanded immediate emancipation of slaves in the 1830s, and who, by doing so, ignited the first real debate over the citizenry’s immoral complicity with the peculiar institution’s brutal oppression, divestment activists are forcing us to admit how implicated we are in the fossil fuel-driven changes rapidly altering this good land.
From such provocation comes action. So argued abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison in the first issue, January 1831, of The Liberator: “I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice,” he asserted in support of immediate emancipation. “I will not equivocate … I will not retreat a single inch—and I will be heard.”
Yet Garrison understood that paradigmatic change did not happen overnight: “Urge immediate abolition as earnestly as we may,” he wrote, “it will alas! be gradual abolition in the end. We have never said that slavery would be overthrown by a single blow; that it ought to be we shall always contend.”
It took the abolitionists 35 years and a bloody civil war to liberate the oppressed. Let’s hope we respond more swiftly to achieve a just resolution for all species calling Earth home.