Originally published Friday, December 7, 2012
By KATHLEEN E. CAREY
SWARTHMORE — Swarthmore College students lined the blue steps of Parrish Hall on Friday and held their signs, “Swat Divests,” “Other Schools Divest,” “Bold climate legislation in the United States,” “Climate justice and sustainable communities.”
The three dozen students, most from Swarthmore Mountain Justice, were rallying inside the hall to call on the college’s Board of Managers to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry.
“It’s clear at this point divestment is not going to go away,” one of the Swarthmore Mountain Justice members, William Lawrence, said as he stood by the steps stacked with cardboard box painted dominoes.
The group chose dominoes to symbolize the ripple effect Swarthmore’s divestment could have on climate change by motivating other schools to do the same, then possibly leading to federal legislation and then international climate action and sustainable communities.
“It’s a long journey to get there but we know we have no chance but to act,” Lawrence said.
Alexa Ross, another Swarthmore Mountain Justice member, explained the significance of the moment.
“For me and for all of us, this is a struggle for narrative,” she said, adding that it was an incredible opportunity to create the stimulus for change that could transform the future. “I hope you join us.”
Maurice Eldridge, Swarthmore College’s vice president for college and community relations, said some board members met with members of Swarthmore Mountain Justice during the rally to share their perspective.
He offered some of it.
“I think the discussion is how we best respond to it, whether divestment is the best thing or other ways,” Eldridge said. “I don’t think the focus on the fossil fuel industry is the wrong one. The question is, ‘How do you affect change?’”
Swarthmore College President Rebecca Chopp penned a letter responding to the students’ actions, explaining that the college stands with them and is on a path to achieve carbon neutrality as a campus by 2035.
She also addressed the request for divestment.
“To the extent that we are invested in the fossil fuel industry, we believe exercising stockholders’ rights is a more effective way to change the industry than selling off stocks to be purchased by the next ready buyer and leaving ourselves without a voice in the company’s decision making,” Chopp wrote.
She said impacting government policy and practice would be more effective than divestment.
“Taxing the industry aggressively, pursuing meaningful policy change and targeting research and development of renewable energy provides a more holistic approach to overcoming the threat of climate change,” she wrote.
Lawrence appreciated the college administration’s willingness to talk with the students but expressed some frustration with the pace.
Having embarked on this issue two years ago and the first meeting with administration seven months ago, he was optimistic that the action to divest may be nearer.
“We’re trying to impress on them the urgency of the situation,” he explained.
Ross likened the effort to the movement that inspired divestment in South African funds during the era of apartheid.
“We’re in the middle of something big right now,” she said.