This past Tuesday, over 100 American University students walked out of classes to rally on the quad before marching to an open forum with AU President Neil Kerwin and Board Chair Jeffrey Sine. The open forum, which was held on Earth Day, was the last opportunity for students to publicly pressure the Board before graduation and an expected vote on divestment in mid-May.
Before the forum, we held a rally to remind the administration and the campus community of the urgency of climate change and the importance of divestment. Newly elected Student Government executives Sophia Wirth and Abby Dunn called on their peers to use their power as students to create more just and sustainable institutions. “Our voices demand to be heard…we’re not backing down until AU invests in justice instead of climate destruction.”
Most importantly, AU students from the front lines of fossil fuel burning and extraction shared their personal stories and battles with the industry.
Julia West, from a fracked town in rural Pennsylvania: “I never thought that the fossil fuel industry would exploit me and my family.They promised wealth. But you can’t drink money. I want you to ask yourselves: do you want to be a part of an institution that not only supports this kind of exploitation but INVESTS in it?”
Edgar Ortega from the Little Village of Chicago plagued by the Crawford coal plant: “The problems at Crawford are mirrored across the country in communities affected by coal-fired power plants…Fossil fuel divestment should work along side stopping these projects so that we can challenge the power of the fossil fuel industry.”
Paige MacNamara from Houston Texas, where tar sands are being refined and exported: “The climate legacy of duplicitous politicians means nothing to me. Any millions or billions you make from your investments will only ever be a payment for selling your children’s future—when our families became your market externalities.”
With these stories as inspiration, students marched to the open forum. Filling the seats, we held orange signs reading, “Divest from fossil fuels” chest high for Kerwin and Sine to see.
Divestment was the topic for most of the forum, and the forthcoming recommendation from the Socially Responsible Investing Committee lent a sense of importance to the discussion. These forums are not designed for in-depth conversations, and are often under-utilized by students. But we have used them as an opportunity to get President Kerwin and Chairman Sine on the record, and to build and show the power of our campaign.
We know that the Board will likely vote on divestment at the upcoming May meeting, which means that there’s more work to do. But this Earth Day, our rally and presence at the forum demonstrated the strength of the campaign, and proved once again that young people have the power to create a just and sustainable future-we just need to reach out and take it.
Photos by Alejandro Alvarez and Sophia Miyoshi