Written by Guest Blogger and UCSB Students and Fossil Free Organizer Theo LeQuesne
It is five o’clock in the afternoon and we are carpooling home to UC Santa Barbara from Sacramento. Behind us is a car full of students from Cal Poly San Luis Obisbo; comrades from USF and UC Berkley and UC Santa Cruz are already home. But we are here, crammed into the backseat, sticky in the heat of the late afternoon sun, and contentedly exhausted from the day’s exertions. We are listen quietly as our driver talks of his days in the South African divestment movement of the 1980s. Hazily, as the heat of the day begins to take its toll, my mind meanders through the history being written about own divestment movement, the movement to free our generation from the bonds of the fossil fuel industry. If my experience yesterday reflects even a little of what’s happening everywhere, I believe that we will win.
Yesterday marked yet another remarkable milestone in the Fossil Free Movement’s short but vibrant history. In Sacramento, on Thursday May 16th, dozens of students from colleges throughout California converged upon the University of California’s quarterly Regents’ meeting. Our purpose: to show the Regents our power and to insist that fossil fuel divestment be placed on the Regents’ agenda for their meeting in September. We garnered more success than we were prepared for.
It started at 5:30am when students, some who had only met the night before, began to gather our props, hammers, chains, locks, and letters to the regents. As we sipped coffee in the park and put the final touches on our 12 foot oil derrick, we wondered if we’d actually run into any Regents. By 8am a bevy of Fossil Free UC students and partners were staged an impassioned demonstration right in front of the entrance to the Regents quarterly meeting in Sacremento – a far cry from where we’d come from.
We chained ourselves around makeshift wooden props, symbolising our enslavement to an economy and society dependent on the fossil fuel industry. We then called upon the Regents to symbolically unlock us from the chains that bind our futures to destructive fossil fuels. This is where symbolism ends and reality begins, however. The reality being that continued bondage to fossil fuels will condemn my generation to misery, scarcity and even death. The reality also being that my generation is here, and we cannot and will not allow the fossil fuel industry to steal from our future for profit in the present.
We chanted, we danced, we marched in our chains as our peers asked each Regent that entered if they would unlock us. Many of the board members stopped listened and took our letter, but found it difficult to commit to putting the key into the lock.
Among the heartily chorused chants of “UC, FOSSIL FREE!” and “when I say fossil you say free!” emerged one far more poignant: “We are unstoppable, another world is possible!” – It started out quiet, barely more than a whisper, but was repeated again and again, and as it was repeated it grew louder and louder, gaining in strength and confidence, the finale erupting in crescendo of passion and conviction. This conviction is the reality the Regents and our opposition must now face. We believe in ourselves; we believe in our cause; and we believe that another world truly is possible if we fight for it. As that tentative whisper grew to a deafening roar, we too grew.
Inside the testimony echoed the vigour of our message outside. We had written one long speech divided into 13 students 1 min time slots for public comment, we practiced outside as the police prepared for the crowd that had just been unlocked to enter the building.
We filed into the public comments segment of the Regents’ meeting, and, one after another, went up to the microphone and eloquently but firmly stated the case for fossil fuel divestment. The testimony was organised, respectful, and fiercely passionate. As each student calmly walked up to the microphone an eagerness filled the room: “what would be said next?” Each of us brought a new point to the table, strengthening and redoubling that strength with a clear, persuasive, and vigorous argument. Divestment is scientifically, financially and morally right.
We experienced an unprecedented response and applause from the Regents, as Chancellor Birgenau stepped outside to describe our testimony as “incredible” and the Vice President of STudents Affairs, Judy Sadaki offered us her card and her promise: to help leverage her power to aide us, to get us in a meeting with the Regents.
At 11am it was all over. We all knew we had done something quite incredible, and we had done it together. Our case had been stated, our anger had been heard, we had been taken seriously, but most importantly, we had proved ourselves a credible, organised, and dynamic force.
Aside from our more obvious victories, the fact that the entire event was made possible by the collaboration and solidarity of 3 non-UC schools, 7 UC campus teams (including UC Berkeley’s “rival” Stanford) and that we all traveled so far to smoothly execute our the semesters final tactic is what leaves me feeling truly a part of a growing movement. We proved that our power stretched far beyond the doors of the board room. Today was special because it exemplified all of the qualities that will make us unstoppable, and the possibility of another world a reality.