By Patrick Killoran, Divest Parliament campaigner
One of the pushbacks I often hear from people about taking environmental action on a personal, local or even a national level is: “what difference will it make if not everyone is doing likewise?”
While recycling your household waste or organising a divestment campaign will not change the world – even if you’re successful – there is serious and often forgotten strength in collective action.
Like each thread of a tapestry, each campaign itself does not amount to much – but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Here at Divest Parliament, we recognise that the fossil fuel investment we are targeting is dwarfed by others (millions rather than the £16 billion invested by local authorities throughout the UK, for example).
However, we also recognise that the symbolic nature of the Divest Parliament campaign. Getting MPs to back divestment has the potential to boost campaign efforts throughout the UK, by engaging influential and respected figures in the divestment narrative.
Understanding this has led Divest Parliament in Yorkshire to build relationships and collaborate with campaigns focused on local councils and universities. These local campaigners have also taught us lots about building community support for divestment.
While some London Councils have been leaders in championing fossil fuel divestment, the West Yorkshire Pension Fund (overseen by Bradford City Council with nearly £1 billion in fossil fuel investments), has proven somewhat stubborn. This is despite the local branch of Unison and Kirklees Council (also in West Yorkshire) passing recent motions calling for the phasing out of fossil fuel investments.
After highlighting the party links between MPs in West Yorkshire and the councillors in charge of the fund, we picked up the support of MPs such as Naz Shah, Alex Sobel and Thelma Walker, who were keen to support both the national and local campaigns. Building this network of senior support will filter pressure down to the council level. Watch this space.
Part of campaigning is knowing how to maximise publicity, but sometimes pieces of the puzzle are missing, preventing us from promoting the cause. But such barriers can be overcome when campaigns work together.
We put this concept into practice in partnership with Leeds University Fossil Free. They had a student and academic body in full support, but the university wasn’t taking their campaign seriously. We were targeting Hilary Benn, MP for Leeds Central, but could not seem to get an audience with him.
Together, we hatched a plan to host a discussion about divestment with a panel of academics in addition to Hilary Benn. His presence would add authority to discussion, and we would be able to press him to pledge his support with him keen to appeal to his student constituents.
The event was a success, being one of the features of 2017’s Global Divestment Mobilisation in Northern England.
While Hilary did not feel as though he could sign our pledge we had achieved something impossible as campaigns in isolation, we had engaged our campaign targets in serious discussion about the merits of divestment. Both campaigns will now look to build relationships with their campaign targets and win further support for divestment.
Globally, the possibilities for working in unison are endless, and Divest Parliament is certainly looking to improve on our achievements going forwards, perhaps working with religious institutions, anti-fracking groups and communities with links to places severely affected by climate change.
Our shared values facilitate these partnerships. People may point to our stitches and say our efforts are in vain, but if they only took a few steps back to see the bigger picture, they would agree that what we are weaving is truly something to behold, and an environmentally sustainable and just future is in sight.