Students at Swarthmore were some of the first in the country to start campaigning for fossil fuel divestment. Driven by the devastation of mountaintop removal they witnessed in neighboring communities in Appalachia, and inspired by the leadership and persistence of activists there, students kicked off a fossil fuel divestment campaign on cmapus. Now, they’ve teamed up with students at over 150 campuses across the country to grow this nationwide movement.
On Friday, Swarthmore students held a “Divestment Domino” event that perfectly lays out the strategy of our movement. Standing in front of a line of cardboard dominos arranged on a campus staircase, an organizer explained that each domino represented a key step in getting from our current crisis to a just and livable future for all.
First domino: the New York Times article that came out last week profiling 350.org’s “Do The Math” tour, the growing divestment movement, and specifically, the work of Swarthmore students in pushing their board to divest.
Second came a meeting with the board of trustees, which students headed into on Friday. Organizers weren’t expecting the board to agree to divestment at the meeting, but recognized it as an important step forward in their work.
Third domino: a convergence at Swarthmore this february for students across the country to come and connect, train, and learn more about how to build a national divestment movement for change.
Fourth, Swarthmore divests! This is the goal that organizers on campus are working towards, a domino that will help trigger the next in line.
Other schools divesting! With Swarthmore joining Hampshire, Unity, and hopefully many more, the school can help push other colleges and universities to divest.
Next up is pension funds. Just like in the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s, colleges and universities are just the beginning. Our movement needs to convince cities, states, and major pension funds to divest their holdings in fossil fuels as well.
Domino number seven is bold climate legislation here in the United States. Students at Swarthmore understand clearly what some commentators have missed: divestment is not just an economic strategy, but a political strategy as well. As more and more schools divest, it will begin to erode the social license of the fossil fuel industry, weakening their political power in Washington, DC and opening up the space for bold climate legislation.
Once the US acts, the next domino to fall will be a fair, ambitious and binding international climate treaty that can move the world quickly towards the type of steep emissions cuts and equitable sustainable development that our planet, and human civilization, deeply needs.
Which leads to the final domino: climate justice and livable communities. The goal of our movement isn’t just preventing climate catastrophe, but ensuring that everyone can live in a healthy environment and has the resources they need to lead a happy and productive life.
As a student introducing the event said before the dominoes fell, “The work that we’re doing isn’t just about Swarthmore, it’s about the communities that are already living with environmental destruction and environmental injustice.”
Creative events like the Divestment Dominoes help drive that work forward. As Swarthmore English Professor Betsy Bolton told the crowd of students, we need to “let stories communicate the reality of that situation and for those of us who have greater privilege to use our voices to amplify the stories of those who cannot get that story out.”
Thankfully, word is spreading fast.