Why I Joined the Fight for Divestment

“I care about the environment”—a curious thing to say; most people wouldn’t hesitate to say it if asked whether they did, but not as many would stand up for it. Arriving at Northeastern as a first year student, I knew that I wanted to do something for the environment that I cared about. I found DivestNU for the first time on a Thursday evening and found myself in awe at all the stories of the senior members. I wasn’t sure where I could start to make even a minute difference. In the months that followed, I saw for the first time the strength of the collective ideal that I so proudly claimed to be a part of—that climate injustice is unacceptable.

Like climate change, the issue of my own university’s investments funding fossil fuels was a daunting one. I wasn’t sure where to begin. DivestNU empowered me to realize how much I truly cared about the issue and with that came strength.

I sat awkwardly in a common room at my dorm. Friends strolled by, I made weak pitches, but nevertheless they happily signed the climate legacy pledge, promising not to donate to Northeastern until our administration takes action to divest from fossil fuels. It being a Friday evening, the room soon filled with people, chatter, and laughter—amidst this, I pushed myself to canvass more people and slowly I became more comfortable with it. By the end of the night I felt overjoyed that I did what I never thought I could do. I was starting to discover my voice.

Weeks later, I met with a small group to prepare signs for President Aoun’s annual State of the University Address. We scavenged for cardboard, gathered art materials, and made t-shirts. Once we got ideas flowing, thoughts bounced from person to person, to the whiteboard, and finally in paint onto our signs. By the end of the evening, we were ready. We set out to raise awareness of a long ignored truth; that following day, we did. I was starting to make a difference.

picClimateMarchBoston151212T_0317wMonths later, I stood alongside fellow DivestNU members and a whole crowd of other students, college professors, and community members for a Boston-wide climate march. In unison, we chanted cheesy lyrics to cheesy tunes; the truth to them was no less apparent. As we walked through downtown, we blocked whole roads and attracted a whole lot of attention. I found myself at the front of the crowd holding a banner that said: “Jobs, Justice, Climate”. People prepared beautiful posters, the crowd chanted with wild vigor, and I was amidst it all, a young member of the divest community—the overall effect was unforgettable; I was starting to truly feel like I was a part of the cause.

I began the semester with a love for the environment but unsure as to how I could make a difference. I ended the semester having found how I can start to make that difference. To any fellow student who is unsure about how they can contribute to the fight for climate justice, it can all begin with DivestNU—It’s a beautiful thing to see ideas set to action. I’m looking forward to future semesters of progress with DivestNU—and you can be a part of it too.

– Frankie

Why I Won’t Donate to Northeastern

NEU_Ell_HallThe beginning of my final semester at Northeastern has started much the same as that of many of my peers. As I prepare to graduate I’m thinking about all I’ve learned here, and it fills me with excitement for what lies ahead. Despite the air of uncertainty around my future plans, one thing is very certain: as an alumna of Northeastern University (NU), I will not be donating to my alma mater.

Do not think that I am ungrateful:  I’ve certainly benefitted from the generosity of past alumni and recognize this institution would not be where it is today without them. Rather, I’m disappointed by Northeastern’s failure to lead. For two years, students, faculty and other members of the NU community have called for the divestment of our endowment from the fossil fuel industry. There has been a robust and energetic campaign on campus, yet the leadership at NU fails to embrace this movement.

As the administration stalls all attempts to divest our endowment, other universities, organizations and state pension funds are demonstrating real leadership. Recently, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a push to divest the city’s five pension funds – totalling $160 million – from the coal industry. This closely follows the California legislature’s decision to divest its public employee pension funds – totalling $476 billion – from the coal industry.

Since the DivestNU campaign began in spring of 2013, 40 universities, 130 religious groups, 54 governments, 148 nonprofits and 63 pension funds have divested. Northeastern is quickly losing its opportunity to be seen as a leader in addressing climate change, while universities such as Stanford University and the University of Hawaii are receiving positive attention for their recent commitments to divest.

DivestNU proposed the issue of divestment during the spring 2014 referendum process, during which 75 percent of respondents voted in favor of divesting NU’s assets from the fossil fuel industry. Despite the clear interest our community has in divestment, the administration failed to issue an official response to those results until 13 months later – in April of 2015.

If the university is at all interested in the issue of divestment, or responding to a clear demand by students, it fails to show it. Time and time again, student voices on campus have been suppressed. Until there is more empowerment of student activists, until student perspectives are integrated into all aspects of university planning and, most especially, until NU divests from the fossil fuel industry, I will not be donating any money.

To the students reading this – join me and sign the DivestNU pledge to not donate to our university until we divest from fossil fuels. To the faculty and community members reading this – sign our faculty petition and become engaged with those already working on this campaign. To the leadership of NU reading this – please reevaluate the direction this university is headed and understand that the future of Northeastern looks a lot less impressive when the voices of its students are ignored.

– Mara

Originally published as a letter to the editor in the 10/22/15 Issue of the Huntington News. View online.

A Historic Month for Divestment

11174384_1636037226632138_5669320592078535809_oThe past month saw a historic swelling of student activism and support for fossil fuel divestment, both within the Northeastern community and beyond.

In mid-March, representatives from DivestNU met with Madeleine Estabrook (VP of Student Affairs), and Michael Armini (VP of External Affairs) to address the current status of Northeastern’s response to the fossil fuel divestment campaign. After weeks of ignoring our campaign’s requests for follow-up, we felt it necessary to further encourage the administration to formally respond. On April 3rd, 17 members of the DivestNU coalition marched into the office of student affairs and called a meeting with Ms. Estabrook. The direct action proved effective, resulting in a productive meeting and an agreement to move forward on the promises the administration made to the students.

11078142_853954278010131_8981733187757438248_nOn April 14th, Ms. Estabrook sent a campus-wide memorandum acknowledging the student mandate for fossil fuel divestment and detailing the role the newly formed Social Impact Council will play. This Council is intended to deal with a broad range of social issues that confront the university community; the issue of divestment is among the first to be addressed. This constructive response was the first time our University officially recognized the students’ call for divestment, and demonstrates the incredible power of collective student action.

It’s inspiring to watch how the actions of DivestNU have spurred a renaissance of student activism at Northeastern. Our coalition members sponsored three progressive referenda questions in this year’s Student Government Association (SGA) elections. All passed with landslide margins: a $15 minimum wage for all campus workers, a gender resource center to handle sexual assault and other gender issues, and the conversion of all single-stall bathrooms on campus to gender-neutral bathrooms. We are committed to working in solidarity with these campaigns as they move forward.

11128809_434613950034058_3075281613054685019_oWhile these victories are a testament to the power of student voices, it is important to remember that our free speech on campus is not to be taken for granted. Two members of our coalition—Students for Justice in Palestine and Real Food Challenge—proposed referenda to the SGA but were barred from getting their initiatives on the ballot. We believe that an affront to any student’s voice is an affront to all student voices, and we will continue to stand in solidarity with any student group silenced by our University.

Our friends fighting for climate justice at Boston College have faced even greater hurdles to student activism. The BC administration threatened probation and expulsion to students attempting to organize for fossil fuel divestment. On April 12th, hundreds of supporters from the community rallied during BC’s “Admitted Eagles” day to protest this draconian censorship. In response, BC granted official status to the student group.

11116531_752473008203641_3152357142625500186_nThis past week was also Divest Harvard’s “Heat Week”, during which students and alumni blockaded several administrative buildings—including the President’s office. The massive effort garnered significant attention from the press and concluded with a 600-person march around Harvard Yard.

This wave of student activism has not been limited to Boston. Across the country, divestment campaigns are escalating. Students at University of Mary Washington just ended a 3-week sit-in, and nineteen students at Yale were arrested after a day-long sit-in in their administrative building. Students at Tufts, Tulane, Swarthmore, and other schools have also turned to similar tactics. Divestment is quickly becoming a more and more visible issue.

Here at NU things have been heating up too. On April 16th author, journalist, and activist Naomi Klein came to Northeastern to speak about her latest book, “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate”. Klein stressed that preserving a livable future requires radical change; in her words, “there are no non-radical options left.”

IMG_2472The following day, dozens of students as well as faculty and alumni turned out for “DivestFest” in Snell Library Quad. The event featured live music and speeches from members of the campaign, our coalition, faculty, and alumni. It was an incredibly empowering afternoon that highlighted the intersection of climate change and broad social movements for justice and equality. We are really grateful to everyone who made it happen and came out to support.

As the spring semester draws to a close, we are energized and excited. In the coming months we will grow our faculty and alumni networks and, in doing so, build pressure on the administration. Additionally, we will be working directly with the Social Impact Council to ensure that the issue of divestment is handled in a thorough and timely manner, and that the administration is held accountable to the Council’s recommendations. With your support we’ll keep our momentum going and finish the fight for fossil fuel divestment.


Remembering Selma and Furthering the Call for Justice

Edmund_Pettus_BridgeOn March 7th, 1965, six hundred civil rights activists began marching for fair voting rights in Selma, Alabama. They were attacked and brutally beaten by policemen, having only reached the Edmund Pettis Bridge. This day, which came to be called “Bloody Sunday,” now marks a pivotal point in the American Civil Rights movement.

The resistance from law enforcement hardly subdued the efforts; thousands more united in the following weeks, conducting another march backed by the national government. A multi-racial crowd of almost 50,000 people met the marchers in Montgomery on March 25th to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak. President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 fewer than five months later.

The 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march brought with it nationwide events, a new documentary, and a lot of speculation of how the country has changed. Though racism is still a visible issue today (think the recent news from Oklahoma), the Selma political victory is clear evidence: grassroots campaigns can work.

The climate justice movement intersects with efforts to combat systematic racism in more ways than one, particularly in light of the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. Low-income communities, communities of color, and the developing world are most impacted by natural disasters, toxic pollution from power plants, and devastating fossil fuel extraction practices. Though least responsible for the problem, these communities are most affected by environmental destruction. In a piece for 350.org, climate activist Yong Jung Cho argued that the climate movement must be “firmly and outspokenly anti-racist,” so that the marginalization brought on by institutionalized racism will not worsen the effects of climate change in these areas.

This March, we are reminded of the hard work of past activists; not only the Selma protestors, but also the human rights workers, suffragettes, environmentalists, and countless others who have made sacrifices to change the status quo. Proven by the weeks following Bloody Sunday, all it takes is attention and momentum for action on a smaller scale to become national news.

With the oil giants looming on the other side, the divestment campaign can sometimes feel like an impossible battle. Even so, the recent Keystone XL veto is a perfect example of how influential the combined voices of the public can be. A team of passionate people can start something bigger, whether it’s six hundred marchers or a group of college students working toward divestment.

Our movement and those of the past may have had different objectives, but they are united by a call for justice. It’s so important to remember the successes of previous activists – they are constant inspiration. Let’s honor their hard work by furthering the call for justice.


Students Mobilize for First Ever Global Divestment Day

Today is Global Divestment Day. In 40 countries across the globe, tens of thousands of people rallied in hundreds of events calling on institutions to stop investing in fossil fuel companies. From South Africa to Mexico, Bangladesh to Benin, people showed a commitment to taking on the fossil fuel industry. At Northeastern, members of DivestNU capitalized on the event’s proximity to Valentine’s Day to urge the University to “Break Up with Fossil Fuels”.

Following the lead of campaigns at schools such as Harvard, BU, and Stanford, student campaigners at Northeastern have made Faculty engagement a priority for the semester. To this end, students distributed Valentine’s cards to professors with messages such as “roses are red, violets are blue, the ice caps are melting, and we need you.” The campaign encourages faculty to sign the open letter calling for divestment. In doing so they will join with students and alumni who have already signed their own letters to the administration. These letters can be found at divestnu.org.

DivestNU tabled in the Curry Student Center all day, distributing candy in the spirit of Valentine’s Day. They also handed out informational flyers and orange felt squares. The orange square is the symbol of the national divestment student network and offers an easy way for students on campuses across the country to show their support for their school’s divestment movement.

Students also took the day to thank key members of the administration for their cooperation thus far. Since the referendum last spring – in which the student body voted overwhelmingly to support divestment – members of DivestNU have been meeting regularly with administrators to address Northeastern’s commitment to sustainability and the feasibility of divestment.

One of the notable outcomes of this discussion so far has been the establishment of the Social Impact Advisory Council (SIAC) – a permanent committee comprised of students, faculty, and administrators. Going forward, the SIAC will be responsible for addressing social concerns regarding the University’s investments. The council’s first meeting will take place this month, and fossil fuel divestment will be their first priority. Students look forward to continuing the discussion as a way to achieve our mutual goals in the coming months.

Global Divestment Day is a moment to look back and gain inspiration from the rapid and inspiring growth of the global Fossil Fuel Divestment movement, as well as to look forward at what is to come. As the pivotal UN climate talks in Paris approach, and as more institutions undertake divestment, time is fading for Northeastern to demonstrate its leadership on this issue. Upcoming actions planned by DivestNU will make this abundantly clear. We will continue to strengthen our coalition, broaden our community of supporters, and build student power on campus.

Global Divestment Day @NU


This post was originally written as a press release to the Huntington News