Community Organizer Peter Murtha has worked with the Montgomery County, MD divestment campaign since 2013, a campaign that has successfully taken off during the last year.We asked him one question:  “What had you wished you had known when you were first starting your campaign?” 

What follows in this post is Peter’s response:

I started working on the fossil fuel divestment campaign in Montgomery County in April 2013.  The idea was to have the trustees for the Montgomery County public employees’ pension fund sell off their investments in the top 200 (by carbon reserves) publicly traded companies.  The idea seemed to be a “no brainer” – the fossil fuel industry was only too happy to spend billions continuing to explore for ever more harmful sources of fossil fuels, knowing full well that their burning would ensure dangerous climate change.  So why would any decent person want to “do business” with them?  I expected to post our petition on my Facebook page and watch the signatures come streaming in – maybe it would even go “viral.”

The reality was entirely different.  Many of even my greenest friends were not ready to sign the petition. Instead of a signature, they would ask the following types of questions (and I would offer the subsequent replies).

  • Isn’t it hypocritical for you to call for divestment when you drive a car? Well no, not when the fossil fuel industry has rigged the game so that clean energy and efficient mass transit are discouraged
  • How do you expect divesting from fossil fuels to hurt the companies when they are so big and have so many people willing to buy their stock? Actually, we are not seeking to hurt their stock prices, but rather to stigmatize them so that their corrupting political influence is weakened and Congress can begin to pass real and meaningful climate legislation.
  • Wouldnt you be better able to influence the fossil fuel companies to seek lower carbon alternatives if you didnt sell off their stock? No, shareholder activists have had no success in getting fossil fuel companies to alter their basic business plan of unceasing exploration and development of new fossil fuel sources.
  • What good does signing a petition do? Isnt divestment unlikely to work? In fact, divestment has registered major victories against deeply entrenched interests, including apartheid in South Africa and tobacco – and, by the way, whats your better alternative to a gridlocked U.S. Congress that shows no shame in doing the bidding of the fossil fuel industry and no current interest in passing necessary climate legislation?
  • How can you expect to stop using fossil fuels overnight when it will be years before there is enough clean energy? We are not naïve; we dont expect to stop using fossil fuels in the near future – but it is imperative that we start the transition to clean, renewable energy as soon as possible, and for that to occur with the necessary scale and speed we need greater governmental action.

Rallying support for the petition has required far more labor and a higher level of advocacy than I would have imagined.  That’s one of the reasons we decided to start 350MoCo. As a result of establishing a formal local campaign, we now have an increasing number of determined climate activists, which has allowed us to set a goal of  2,000 Montgomery County signatures  (including several hundred “ink” signatures) – becoming one of the most successful signature campaigns in the country.

Additionally, eight leading local environmental and progressive groups have joined our divestment coalition.  Now, we are aiming to present the Montgomery County Council with 5,000 signatures near the beginning of 2015.  If you know of any Montgomery County residents or are a resident yourself, could you help us out by sharing and/or signing this petition?

We are also looking to add to our ranks and very possibly initiate a statewide divestment campaign.

We would love you to join us!

What had you wished you had known when you were first starting your campaign? Would you like to start a local divestment campaign in your community? Email hello(at), and thank you Peter for contributing your story.