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Nov 13 2017
by Gari De Ramos

Divest Clark: How One Student Organization is Fighting for Climate Justice

By Gari De Ramos - Nov 13 2017
With three major hurricanes in three months, the United States has been harshly reminded by mother nature that climate change exists. It is a massive problem that spans borders, but one where individual action can make a difference. Colleges around the country are seeing clubs and organizations form advocating for more effective policies in support of climate justice, not just in government, but within their schools as well. Divest Clark, a student organization at Clark University, is one of these clubs who are working to create "just and equitable solutions" in response to climate change. I spoke with Shosh Weiner, a member of Divest Clark, to learn more about the organization and get insight as to how college students are affecting change locally.

In front of our school's coffee shop, she told me about how Divest Clark is a student club (officially recognized by the administration and funded by Student Council) with the sole goal of getting Clark University's Board of Trustees to divest from the fossil fuel industry. She explained that money from Clark's endowment is indirectly invested in the top 200 fossil fuel companies that emit the most pollution, meaning that Clark invests in companies that invest in the fossil fuel industry. In doing so, Divest Clark hopes to "work towards a more green future" and “[foster] student power.”

It's exactly this aspect of student empowerment that drew Shosh to Divest Clark. Because the club has spent years developing a proposal to pitch to the Board of Trustees, she felt that it was a "very practical way to immediately jump into ... doing something to make the world a more green place." With its substantive proposal, the club is more than protests and rallies. "Divesting money is a way to say we do not support coal, fossil fuels, or natural gas, in a very legitimate way," she said.

While Divest Clark has a proposal and FAQ ready to go, the club doesn't have an official hierarchy; no president or executive board. Instead, the club meets weekly to discuss their goals and divide up responsibilities in smaller groups that meet more frequently. Students take it upon themselves to hold ‘leadership’ positions and invest as much time as they choose to. And while Shosh is just a freshman, her involvement in the club – mostly doing art design – has been substantive enough that she can speak to its goals.

She reminds me that the divest movement is "not unique to Clark." More than 20 universities around the country have already divested from the fossil fuel industry. Divest Clark was born when Rose, a junior whose sister had been involved with a different university's divest movement, was inspired to start one at Clark. It would "grow in momentum year by year, and last year the club worked on its proposal."

The proposal, which contains the club's argument for divesting from fossil fuels, proof of community support and a call to action for the Board of Trustees, was presented to the Board of Trustees last Friday. Before the meeting, Divest Clark held a rally on Red Square, the center of campus. More than 100 students showed up in support of divesting Clark from fossil fuels, featuring not just signs and chants, but also a set of speakers advocating for climate justice. After the rally gathered in Red Square, they marched across the street to the building where the Board of Trustees' meeting was held, chanted for a few minutes and then dispersed to allow the meeting to commence. During the meeting, select members from Divest Clark submitted their proposal to the Board of Trustees.

Getting to this point wasn't easy. Divest Clark was actually supposed to submit the proposal last spring, but the Board postponed it for the fall semester due to a "logistical issue." Now that the Board has heard the proposal, the club is in "a bit of a limbo" as they wait to hear back from the Board of Trustees in February. In the meantime, Divest Clark aims to "continually [spread] awareness and gather student support." And because the new motto of Divest Clark is to "rally student power," they are working to create "more overarching support for the movement across campus." So, if the Board rejects the proposal in February, the club will have a "stronger body to support the next round."

The need for the more overarching support, Shosh explained, comes from a critique that was made about the club during the open mic portion of their rally two Fridays ago. A woman had come up to speak, pointing out that the vast majority of students at the rally were white. Members of Divest Clark realize that support for "environmental issues is mostly white, but [may] also be because people who are white have the privilege of being able to take it as their primary issue."

In their meeting immediately after the rally, members spoke about how Divest Clark should be going to "rallies and meetings for clubs that talk more about diversity" so the clubs can support one another. They're already taking steps to do this, with Shosh and another Divest Clark member, Ariana Nicholson, hosting a workshop on climate justice in Clark's Millennium Leadership Conference. The focus of the conference was on how different identities and communities can be allies to one another, with Divest Clark's workshop focusing on the intersectionality of climate justice.

When asked to speak about the relationship between the club and the Board of Trustees, Shosh explains that while there is "clearly tension ... they are in communication with each other." The tension does not exist to the point where it poses a problem. Jim Collins, Clarks’ chief investment officer, has said that Clark has already divested from direct investments in the fossil fuel industry, but Divest Clark is asking them to do more by divesting from their indirect investments. 

There has been critique regarding the club's tactics. Friday was not the first time the club had held a rally where students appeared to bash administration, while at the same time expecting to be listened to during the Board of Trustees meeting. Shosh sees the legitimacy of this criticism, but says that the "purpose of having the rally the same day as the meeting was to take advantage of the fact that the Board of Trustees was on campus." Even if the Board didn't see the rally, they knew it was happening. The club wanted a "visible presence while the board was [on campus]."

While the stereotype of student organizations critiquing their administration is one of 'whiny college kids,' Shosh believes the club is more than that. "We do have a divestment proposal that took years of research. We aren't just a group standing around and yelling. There's real action behind the scenes."

As we wrap up, Shosh reminds me of the moral urgency for fighting for climate justice. "Nothing else matters if we don't have a physical world to stand on," she says, "doing something tomorrow is already too late." Action must be taken immediately, and groups like Divest Clark prove that students have the drive and capability to do so.

Lead Image Credit: Galen Oettel

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Gari De Ramos - Clark University

Gari De Ramos is a sophomore at Clark University where she is double majoring in Political Science with a concentration in Comparative Politics, and her student-designed major in Human Security. She's a third culture kid (Philippines, Hong Kong, New York), a lover of jaywalking, and is dreaming about a gender-swapped production of Hamilton.

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