Guest post by Rebecca Wolf. Rebecca is a Junior studying Environmental Science and Law & Society at American University. She has been involved with the Fossil Free American University Campaign since November of 2012. Fossil Free American University has been featured on Democracy Now!, Reuters, In the City, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. For more information, check them out on Facebook or via their blog.


Spring 2012: Student Referendum 80% of the vote

Almost exactly two years ago, huddled in an Anderson Dormitory, a few students created what is now one of the largest campaigns American University has ever seen. Through time and turnover, our demand has been the same: American University Board of Trustees, divest our $550 million endowment from the rogue fossil fuel industry.Today, Fossil Free AU consists of over thirty on-campus organizations. It has won countless victories all leading to a vote this November 21st.

Just fifty eager students attended our very first kick-off meeting in November of 2012. In a few short months, we built a campaign from scratch and navigated university channels. We gained unanimous support from the faculty senate, and the student senate. In a school-wide student referendum, 80% of the voting population supported divestment, the largest student referendum margin in the divestment movement to that date. We collected hundreds of petition signatures and photographs, disseminating our theory of change throughout campus.


February 2014: Greeting Trustees on their way to Committee Meetings

After months of engagement with our Board of Trustees and students across campus, the November 2013 Board meeting approached and Fossil Free AU members were ready to engage. Over sixty students rallied on the quad before marching to the base of Butler pavilion, where the Board was meeting in the top-floor conference room. Using fishing line and bunches of balloons, students raised signs reading “AU DIVEST” up to their ivory tower. This interrupted the meeting as Trustees came to the window to see students demanding fossil fuel divestment. Fall 2013 escalated the campaign and brought students closer to the Trustees– both inside and outside the Board Room.

In direct response to our campaign and efforts, the Board of Trustees created the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing and tasked them with creating a recommendation on the topic of fossil fuel divestment. The Committee is still effective and comprises students, faculty, and administrators. Students all over campus and within the campaign eagerly awaited their review of AU’s investments and the tactic of fossil fuel divestment.

As Spring 2014 came around, Fossil Free AU students focused on building an incredible community. Countless spaghetti dinners, pancakes breakfasts and social events built a huge network of students ready to throw all of their social and political capital behind an eventual vote on divestment. Friends were made, theories shared, and laughed exchanged. Hundreds of full bellies planned for a better future. That March, the four Student Government Presidential Candidates ran on a platform containing a divestment policy, knowing it was one of the most important discussions happening on campus. As relationships were built, so too was institutional support. The Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing finalized and presented a report to the Finance and Investment Committee of the Board that called for a multi-step pathway to total divestment from fossil fuel companies.


November 2013: Elevated “Divest AU” signs up to the Board of Trustees meeting

On Earth Day of 2014, the momentum of our community engagement culminated in a walkout of classes. Professors and students alike joined together on the quad to rally and march to the Open Forum held by President Kerwin and Chairman Sine. Newly elected Student Government leaders and AU students from front line communities orated to an audience of over 100 people on that April afternoon. The urgency of climate chaos was palatable as we all marched into the forum holding the same bright orange signs, “Divest from fossil fuels.” The strength and dedication of the campaign was fierce as students pushed President Kerwin and Chairman Sine to openly support divestment. Dialogue was heated as members of the Fossil Free AU community showed President Kerwin and Chairman Sine that we were serious, that we were well educated, and that we were there to stay. For the second year in a row, students remained after the academic year to create a presence outside the May Board meeting. The campaign escalated exponentially that May as students briefly occupied the space outside the doors of the meeting. With chants and speak-outs, we reminded the Board that the more they stalled divestment and delayed our chance to make positive change, the more we would escalate.

This summer, a few Fossil Free AU organizers came together like never before: veterans of the campaign and brand-new organizers brought over 200 AU students to NYC for the People’s Climate March. The weekend set a new record for Climate Movement: 400,000 attendees, and it set a new record for engagement at American University. Since the People’s Climate March, our general meetings have swollen in size, as well vastly deepened in leadership. Like never before, our team is prepared for a week of action leading up to the board meeting. We know that national media and those suffering from climate injustice are also ready for the Board Meeting. They are ready to see our theory of change turn into a tipping point for the climate movement.


May 2014: Occupying the space outside the Board of Trustees meeting

On November 17th, the incredible amount of power this campaign has harvested will be visible for all to see and join at 1 pm on the quad, hundreds of people are already confirmed for attendance. As the campaign barrels forward to November 21st, all eyes are on American University. We stand ready to celebrate divestment or escalate our campaign to the next level. This is our stake in the climate movement and we are ready to tip the scales.