Written by K.C. Alvey
This spring, we’ve seen incredible victories in the fossil fuel divestment movement. We’ve seen bold action on campuses across the country including Washington University and Harvard. We’ve seen the largest youth-led action against the Keystone XL pipeline to date at the gates of the White House. We’re seen endorsements by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres. And in the final weeks of this semester we’ve seen real leadership from colleges like Pitzer and Stanford that have committed to divest — it feels like the dominoes are starting to fall. It’s been amazing to be a part of the divestment movement since 2012 and to witness how it’s evolved and ignited our generation.
So how can we build on this unprecedented momentum as this semester comes to a close? The themes from this year’s Fossil Fuel Divestment Convergence have resonated with me and I think they continue to offer a powerful framework for a strengthened movement moving forward:
Dig deep – We need to dig deep within ourselves, hold onto what motivates each of us, feel our anger at the violence committed by the fossil fuel industry, and keep our vision for a healthy and just world close. We need to be honest with ourselves and each other about what we’re up against, what it’s going to take to break the power of the fossil fuel industry. And we need to find creative ways to communicate our vision. With art, music, and storytelling, we can stir people’s souls, reach new people with creativity, hope, possibility, and a sense of the urgency and magnitude of the crises we face.
And by digging deep into our history and the roots of the climate crisis, we can begin to understand the interlocking systems of oppression that have led to the crises we’re facing. As the divestment victories continue, we need to stay humble and remember that we’re a new movement, that we’re standing on the shoulders of giants, and that we have so many valuable lessons to learn from movements for civil rights, environmental justice, anti-globalization and other movements for justice before us. (Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution and the Global Nonviolent Action Database are both incredible resources for case studies on successful campaigns and movements.)
Link up – Fossil fuel divestment isn’t just about pushing our individual universities to make a symbolic statement about climate change – it’s about building a powerful climate justice movement to break the stranglehold of the fossil fuel industry on our political system, to create space for bold climate legislation, to shift power away from corporations, to strengthen our democracy, and to invest in a new economy that works for everyone.
To do this, we need to link up and connect with others on our own campuses and beyond. The Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network has been working tirelessly over the last year and a half to create student-led spaces for cross-movement coalition building and skill-sharing between campuses all across the country. (Join the bi-weekly Assembly Calls or Working Groups to connect with other campuses.) We also need to strengthen relationships on our own campuses and build diverse coalitions with students fighting for student power, economic justice, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, and other struggles for justice as we fight for collective liberation – our fights are interlinked and so are our solutions. We also need to stay grounded in the experiences of frontline communities who are fighting against the extraction and burning of fossil fuels- and elevate the voices of those who are already being impacted by this immoral industry. (The DSN Frontline Solidarity Toolkit and “Towards Collective Liberation” by Chris Crass are great resources for anti-oppressive organizing.)
I’ve also been realizing how important it is to lean on each other, to be vulnerable, to build trust, to show gratitude, to be honest when we mess up or when we don’t know something– this is hard, important work. We need to be a movement that holds each other and builds each other up. Let’s share our hopes, our visions, our challenges, our fears – even the fear that whatever we do, it still might not be enough. In an era of climate chaos, our task is to build relationships strong enough to weather the storms ahead and as Tim DeChristopher has said, “to create a better world out of the ashes of this one.”
Take action – When we look at successful movements, we see that we win not by overpowering or beating our active opposition with facts, but by shifting the support out from underneath them, by out-organizing them. We know that it’ll take more than good arguments to win on divestment and to take on companies like Exxon Mobil that are set on burning all of their carbon reserves. With increasingly dire warnings from the IPCC and the National Climate Assessment, we don’t have time to waste with half-measures and inaction from administrators. We know that far from a distant threat, this crisis is upon us – and sooner than expected. This semester, we saw students at Washington University in St. Louis, Harvard, and other campuses refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer and taking bold action to force their universities into a decision: Will they be on the right side of history – or side with the fossil fuel industry? Students have strategically put their targets in decision dilemmas by designing actions that force their target into a situation where they have to respond, but have no good options. Coal, oil, and gas companies are influencing our universities – just like they’re influencing our democracy, so it’s our job to research and confront these connections.
We’re hit with overwhelming news about the climate crisis everyday, but we can overcome this fear by taking authentic, uncompromising action that matches the scale of the climate crisis. It can be scary to take risks, but it’s scarier not to. (Let’s take risks, but we also need to take care.) As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.” By taking strategic bold action, we can show the fossil fuel industry for what it really is – a rogue industry that is opposed to our survival.
So this summer and into the fall, let’s take time to dig deep, link up, take action — and fight for the livable future we all deserve.