DivestNU Takes Part in First Ever Global Divestment Day

This year, the day before Valentine’s Day was dedicated to loving the Earth. Climate change activists held demonstrations worldwide as part of Global Divestment Day on Feb. 13-14 to call for institutions to take out investments in fossil fuels. The Divest Northwestern campaign participated by hosting events with a goal to educate students about the harmful effects of coal, as well as provide an outlet for students to voice their opinions about university investments in coal companies.

While the campaign has gained student and faculty support over the years, they still have yet to see administrators take action. [See In Our Nature's article on the nuances of divestment at NU]

The DivestNU team spread awareness of the campaign by giving out orange patches (the symbol of fossil fuel divestment), chalking the campus with facts about coal, and hosting various events: a letter writing campaign to the Board of Trustees, a march throughout campus, and a mock trial art performance about coal’s crimes.

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by Lan Nguyen

Members of the DivestNU team set up stations at the Rock, Norris, and Tech to educate students about the campaign and invite them to participate. They collected about 150 letters directed to Northwestern’s Board of Trustees. The letters come after DivestNU was told that the Board is pursuing options other than divestment, which pushed the campaign to seek further action.

“The goal of these letters is to urge [the Board] to reopen this dialogue and show them that students care about this issue and that we’re not going away,” said Noah Becker, a member of DivestNU.

The letters were part of DivestNU’s tactic to expose what they call a lack of accountability in the Board of Trustees.

“Similar to the way the government exists to serve the people, the Board of Trustees exists to serve Northwestern students,” said Noah Becker, a member of DivestNU. “It’s not okay that there’s evident student support of divestment but the Board of Trustees would still box us out of this conversation.”

Students were also encouraged to sign a petition calling for a referendum question to appear in the spring ASG ballot. The question would be sent to the student body and ask if students were in favor of coal divestment. DivestNU passed a resolution through ASG Senate in 2013 which recommended Northwestern divest from the coal industry, but the group said they wanted to reevaluate student support now. They collected 177 signatures, out of 200 needed for a referendum question to be approved.

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Francesco Guerrieri and Lan Nguyen contributed to reporting

In the spirit of showing the environment some lovin’, students participated in DivestNU’s Burning Love, Not Burning Coal March in protest of NU’s coal investments on Friday afternoon.

About 20 students gathered in Norris at 4 p.m. to suit up in orange face paint and prepare for their march in the below-zero degree weather. They marched throughout campus holding banners and shouting chants about the harmful effects of coal. The partipants also handed out informational fliers and talked to people passing by to spread awareness of their campaign.

Alex Kirschner, a Weinberg sophomore and DivestNU action leader, said that the purpose of this event was to increase the group’s visibility on campus and educate the Northwestern community about the human rights focus of the campaign as well as the environmental focus.

“We’re also a human rights group,” Kirschner said, “People don’t make the connection and part of the march is geared toward getting people to realize that.”

The march also provided an outlet for passionate supporters of the movement who are not a part of the DivestNU to participate. Margot Zuckerman, a Weinberg freshman, appreciated that the march gave her a chance to voice her political opinions as a student.

“DivestNU is important because this is where we go to school,” Zuckerman said. “It’s about making the community what we want it to be. What the school supports should be reflective of what I believe in because I am a student here.”

The march started at Norris University Center, went north on Sheridan Rd. past the Technological Institute, and ended at Swift Hall, where The People vs. Coal trial, the last event of the day, would occur that night.

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by Grace Hahn

DivestNU capped off Global Divestment day at 7 p.m. in Swift 107 with The People v. Coal, a mock trial and art performance that put a unique twist on the movement for divestment from coal.

“A theatrical performance can be a really important and potent way of getting attention,” said Miranda Cawley, a Medill junior who testified as a witness in the trial.

Scott Brown, a DivestNU leader, played the role of the plaintiff’s attorney, representing the people and prosecuting Mr. Coal, whose rough case prevented him from finding a good lawyer. A literal lump of rocks spray painted black, Mr. Coal had a bit of a rocky defense, but provided for some great jokes.

Brown started the show off with an opening statement against the spectrum of environmental and health issues caused by climate change at the hands of coal. He discussed accusations of smog, heat waves, super storms, coal mining accidents, acid rain, and asthma. But instead of rattling off data, Brown then turned the floor over to a number of witnesses because, as he put it, “numbers and stats have no faces.”

Cawley started off the testimonies by sharing her experiences with Hurricane Sandy, which caused extensive damage to her childhood home on Long Island. Sophomore Hayley Landman followed talking about strip mining in West Virginia and the pollution, commercial control and economic struggles caused by coal. Junior Zane Waxman painted a story of droughts, windstorms and governmental neglect in Phoenix and showed pictures of his younger siblings to the audience, concerned about their future.

Yue Zeng, a McCormick sophomore from China, ended the testimonies by speaking about pollution, mining deaths and coal dependency in China. Zeng choked up recalling how her mother was happy for her not to be in China so she didn’t have to face the pollution.

“Children born after 2010 grow up thinking the sky is naturally grey,” said Zeng.

After the witnesses had testified, Judge Noah Becker—a DivestNU member in a blue bathrobe—found Mr. Coal guilty for manslaughter and other charges and sentenced him to a lifetime underground. The event ended with each participant imparting personal advice on how to make a difference. They recommended reaching out to school administrators or state representatives, reducing energy usage and most importantly, listening to coal’s impact on individuals and their communities.

The resounding theme of the performance, and a phrase repeated often throughout, was “putting a face to climate change.” DivestNU member Alex Kirschner noted that a significant part of the event was that Northwestern students themselves were telling these stories, and many people around the world face even worse consequences.

“You can let your mind imagine people in developing countries who are feeling these effects even worse than us,” Kirschner said.

DivestNU acknowledged that to tackle an issue so global, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But Brown said the ability to connect a face to a story to a larger social and political issue puts the severity of climate change in a more feasible context. It’s the human face of coal pollution that the group aims to show the Board of Trustees to lobby for divestment from coal.


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