Divestment Roadshow: New York City

Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014:

Here we are: waking up in Diego Ibanez’s apartment in Brooklyn, with his cat poised acrobatically over the trash can, licking the cat food tin. Birds are chirping outside–I don’t even hear birds in the mornings at my parents’ house!–and here’s New York City and we’re hearing birds.

NYU Divest is hosting us today. Joe Solomon gleefully goads me off the path of righteousness while we’re sitting at a coffee shop before the presentation: “Are you going rogue today?” I put up my slides. But I ditch them and sit down in front of the projector screen.

Get Activist: Get Community

Joe says we’re inspired by characters who don’t start out perfect–so here’s my messiness. The only reason I got involved in Swarthmore’s fossil fuel divestment campaign was because of a crush. I happened to be hanging out at the snack bar when Swat Mountain Justice was on a break from a day-long retreat. As I was waiting for my veggie burger with fried onions, cute-guy-who-shall-remain-nameless comes over and says, “Hey, you should come back and take part in our retreat.” And I’m thinking, “Hey, if it means being able to look at you for a few hours, why not?” Right? Such are the ignoble beginnings of a lifelong commitment to activism.

We all have different, idiosyncratic reasons for joining this movement. But what made me stay was community. MJ was amazing about creating an intentional space where every person had a voice and a place to jump in and become a leader right away, and was intentional about challenging screwed up gender dynamics, queer- and trans-phobia, and honoring the experience of our organizers of color. It was this warm, affirming community that drew me in to this work, and how I came to realize the utter importance of committing myself to justice even beyond graduation.

That’s why I’m so excited about the Divestment Student Network. It’s important for us to build a community of students that focuses on changing systems of oppression within ourselves and out in the world, and it’s important to have a place to support each other in developing the skills we need to be kick-ass activists, while supporting each other socially and emotionally.

Why a Youth Network?

Why is this something I work on? Why is this a project of the Maypop Collective? Why is it so important that it’s driven by students and youth?

Building and Sustaining Youth Leadership

Because youth and students don’t work for a national organization and aren’t beholden to funders, they have the most freedom to work towards radical and revolutionary goals. That’s the power of students. But to build this power, we need to share resources, knowledge, strategy with one another, so that isolated campaigns don’t feel alone and unsupported. And more, we need to make sure we’re mentoring within our campaigns, so that after the original founders graduate, student campaigns will still be going strong.

Elevating Environmental Justice Struggles

Divestment from fossil fuels was imagined as a solidarity tactic, to leverage the power of institutions of higher learning to support long-time resistance from communities at the frontlines of environmental justice struggles. The Network has an opportunity to keep pushing this narrative of divestment on the national level, and go further to actually connect student resources directly to local community struggles and resilience efforts. We can also lead the 300 student campaigns across the country in challenging oppressive structures of power and dominance within their own groups and their own lives.

Building Beyond Divestment 

The question a student asked me at the end of the presentation made me stop and think. Lola, from NYU, said “Divestment is a tactic that’s easy to jump on to, and makes students feel like they can make a difference. If anything else we could all agree with came up, it would serve the same purpose.” The question that follows that is what excites me: What is the other strategy we could all get behind? What if the Student Divestment Network weren’t called the Divestment Network? What if we realized we are a youth movement with the goal of climate justice, that is currently using divestment as a tactic, but also includes members using marches, civil disobedience (XL Dissent), coordinated walkouts, etc. What kind of national escalation is possible then?