MJ Hosts Frontline Activist Larry Gibson

On November 7, Mountain Justice hosted a talk by activist Larry Gibson, founder of Keeper of the Mountains Foundation. The talk was attended by a standing-room only crowd of approximately 60 people in Bond Hall! The weighty talk reminded us all why we struggle against mountaintop removal and all forms of fossil fuel extraction.

Larry is personally responsible for introducing many MJ members to the devastating effects of mountaintop removal in his home state of West Virginia. Larry spoke movingly for about 45 minutes on his decades experiences as a frontline activist and the absolute necessity for all of us to get involved with the fight against mountaintop removal. He also drew many connections between MTR and Fracking, noting that both extraction methods pollute vast quantities of fresh water. He spoke to the importance of a comprehensive analysis as we struggle for a better world without exploitative extraction, saying, “If we oppose mountaintop removal and ignore everything else, we’ll fight and fight and maybe we’ll even win, but then we’ll look around us and wonder what we were fighting for.”

Larry was joined by Swarthmore alumnus Ken Hechler, Class of 1935, who represented West Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives for nearly 20 years, and has been campaigning against mountaintop removal full-time since 2004.

We hope this is only the first of several events in the “Frontline Series.” Keep your eyes peeled next Spring for more events with activists fighting extraction on the frontlines.


Open letter to the Finance and Investment Office and Board of Managers

This letter appears today in the Swarthmore Daily Gazette.

Given Swarthmore’s commitment to social responsibility, it is only natural that its students should take an interest in the college’s investments. We are writing to you to address this subject out of a love for this college and a deep respect for its stated values. Swarthmore’s commitment to social justice is one of its strongest assets. The opportunity to support these values and engage with them directly is a major reason why many students choose Swarthmore. The college challenges us to hold ourselves accountable to our actions, our contributions to our communities, and our contributions to the world. It is in this spirit that we write to you now.

Our investments are a substantial way that Swarthmore impacts the global community. Investing in a company is not only a financial endorsement, but also a symbolic approval of that company’s practices. Swarthmore is invested in numerous companies who have substantiated connections to human rights violations and unsustainable environmental practices. These include ExxonMobil, Monsanto, and Goldman Sachs, to name just a few.

Out of the college’s investments, students currently have access to a list of domestic equity holdings. We appreciate that this information has been made available to students, but it frankly raises many more questions than it answers. The list does not include the amount of money invested in any of these companies. Furthermore, domestic equities only represent 22% of Swarthmore’s endowment – meaning that over $800 million is still unaccounted for. In order for students and community members to engage in the project of making Swarthmore the best possible institution, full transparency for the whole endowment must be achieved.

This issue is of practical importance for the student group drafting this letter, Swarthmore Mountain Justice. We recently began raising awareness around the college’s investment in several fossil fuel companies. Since we began these efforts, other students have been asking us exactly much money is invested in these companies. The Sustainability Committee has also asked us to provide the dollar amounts invested in fossil fuels and other financial metrics as a precondition for examining the relationship between investment and sustainability. As we do not have access to this information, we are prevented from discussing these issues in a fully informed and responsible manner.

All this being said, it is clear that endowment transparency is a crucial step to bringing the college’s practices in line with its stated values. Mountain Justice therefore requests the following information that will both enable the thoughtful discussion that Swarthmore holds so dear, and aid student and community groups as they work to make Swarthmore a financially, ecologically and socially just institution.

We call on the Investment Committee and the Finance and Investment Office to make available:

  1. All domestic equity investments, and the dollar amounts invested in each.
  2. All international equity investments, and the dollar amounts invested in each.
  3. All private equity investments, and the dollar amounts invested in each.
  4. All real estate and natural resource investments, and the dollar amounts invested in each.
  5. All bonds and bank accounts, and the dollar amounts invested in each.
  6. The names of all mutual funds and hedge funds managing Swarthmore’s money, the amounts of money invested in each, and the investments of each respective fund.

All this information should be updated quarterly and made available to the college community and the public on the Internet and in print. We fully acknowledge that this is not a simple request, and one that will not yield a simple answer. If any of this information is not readily available due to contractual or legal obligations, the Finance and Investment Office should include in its response a detailed plan as to how the Office, working with the Board and its investment managers, will make this information available in the near future.

Finally, as this is an open letter, please respond publicly.

Swarthmore Mountain Justice