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Marching Bands & Big Crowds: Momentum Builds at Brown to Divest from Coal

Here’s an exciting update from Emily Kirkland, a divestment organizer at Brown University: 

Last night, the Brown Divest Coal Campaign welcomed Bill McKibben to campus for the 15th stop on his nationwide “Do the Math” tour. For us, it was the culmination of many months of hard work. Brown Divest Coal is a brand-new student group that’s calling on Brown’s administration to divest our endowment from the 15 most polluting coal companies. We’ve been working like crazy since the beginning of September to build support for our campaign among students, professors and alumni.

There have definitely been some pretty cool moments along the way. In late September, we launched our campaign with a kick-off meeting that drew more than 70 people. Only a few weeks later, we met with university president Christina Paxson for the first time. At the end of October, we hosted a teach-in; three professors and a West Virginia coal activist spoke passionately about the environmental and social consequences of mining and burning coal. Oh, and there was the time that we reached 1,750 petition signatures in less than three months (!)

But nothing can compare to last night’s event. A marching band! Wild dancing! A bike-powered smoothie machine! And that was only the first hour!

Bill’s talk was funny, sad, and deeply sobering:

2 degrees: the amount of temperature rise our planet can withstand.

565 gigatons: the amount of additional carbon dioxide we can release into atmosphere and still stay below 2 degrees

2,795: the amount of carbon dioxide stored in the oil, gas, and coal reserves already owned by the fossil fuel industry

But for every moment of despair, there was a moment of hope. At the end of Bill’s talk, all 500 people in the audience rose to their feet, cheering, and vowed to join us in taking on the entrenched power of the fossil fuel industry. Best moment of the campaign so far? Without question.

There’s a lot of hard work still ahead. We want to see Brown divest from coal as soon as possible, which means more lobbying, more organizing, more phone calls, and more emails (and then more emails after that). We also want to support fellow activists around the country as they move to divest their universities, churches and community institutions from fossil fuels. It’s not going to be easy. But as Bill’s talk made clear, there couldn’t be anything more important.

We’re ready to fight — and what’s more, we’re ready to win.