Beyond Coal Orange Square Day


If you happened to be on the Quad this Thursday, you may have noticed some odd symbols marking the concrete walkways. No, these orange squares weren’t alien in origin, nor were they the result another Banksy wannabe, they were symbols of the national fossil fuel divestment movement. UIUC Beyond Coal chalked the squares in honor of the day’s meeting of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees.

As well as chalking the orange squares about the Quad’s paths, Beyond Coal members stationed themselves at Anniversary Plaza (directly south of the Union) to hand out free orange felt squares for passersby to pin on their backpacks and jackets. The pins display support for the national movement, which has spread to 308 college campuses after beginning with three, including UIUC, in the year 2010. Throughout the day, Beyond Coalers new and seasoned offered up orange squares and campaign info for any accepting quad-goer

To conclude the day, group members walked north into the Illini Union for the Board of Trustees meeting, where Beyond Coal Co-President Peter Whitney would speak during the public comment section. While Beyond Coal has spoken at trustee’s meetings three times in the past, this opportunity would be a pivotal point in the campaign. Peter, after speaking on how Beyond Coal has garnered the support of the student body, would question why the trustees have not acted on divestment and ask them to wait upon the conclusion of the meeting for campaign members to approach them to set up individual meetings with the Beyond Coal campaign. After a short wait, Peter took the podium and spoke before the trustees. (Video to be included in this post upon its upload to the Board of Trustees website. Until then, a transcript of Peter’s speech follows.)

“Good afternoon, and thank you for allowing me to speak today in an attempt to fully voice the views of UIUC Beyond Coal and the students of Urbana-Champaign. My name is Peter Whitney, I am a Junior here on campus studying Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, and co-president of the University of Illinois Beyond Coal campaign. I love being a student the University of Illinois, I love working towards University coal divestment, and I want nothing more than to see our school continue to lead the world in education, outreach, and the betterment of the minds and spirits of its students.


My goal today is not only to communicate our perspective on coal divestment, but to also open a conversation with each member of the Board of Trustees to better understand your perspective on the issue. We at Beyond Coal are making a very real effort to accomplish our goal, and we want to know exactly where the board stands on the issue. According to University officials, we currently invest up to $34 million dollars in the “Filthy 15” coal mining and utilities companies through our endowment fund. You, as trustees, hold the power and obligation to create a more socially responsible university system.


In the hopes of this power eventually being exercised, I will plainly lay out exactly how we are asking for coal divestment and why we believe it is a strategy that is in the best interest of the University.


We, Beyond Coal, are asking for the University of Illinois Board of Trustees to pass the following 4 part resolution:


1. Forego any future direct investments in the “Filthy 15” coal companies effective immediately.

2. Establish a committee on socially responsible investment (SRI) within the board of trustees to monitor progress and address any future SRI issues, as is proposed in the Illinois Climate Action Plan.

3. Divest all direct and indirect holdings from the “Filthy 15” coal mining and utilities companies by the year 2017. 

4. Construct a plan for reinvestment of a percentage of divested funds into renewable energy utilities and/or research.


As an industry, coal it is no longer a fiscally responsible investment. I am not here to provide a financial report, and I fully recognize that there are obstacles in the way of divestment- otherwise the foundation would have already removed stock from these volatile investments. No, the act of divestment is and always has been much more than a simple financial decision.

Divesting from coal represents a conscious decision to move past an industry that simply can not operate without devastating the health and livelihoods of those without proper means to protect themselves. Coal extraction and use must, by definition, exploit those without a voice. This means marginalized and impoverished peoples, endangered wildlife, delicate natural systems, and the very future of life on earth as we have come to know it. Fortunately, the opportunities that can come from renewable energy investment will be able to support our future; providing long-term careers, local empowerment, and a more just and humane future for all people.
Divesting from coal represents a conscious decision to move past an industry that simply can not operate without devastating the health and livelihoods of those without proper means to protect themselves. Coal extraction and use must, by definition, exploit those without a voice. This means marginalized and impoverished peoples, endangered wildlife, delicate natural systems, and the very future of life on earth as we have come to know it. Fortunately, the opportunities that can come from renewable energy investment will be able to support our future; providing long-term careers, local empowerment, and a more just and humane future for all people.

UIUC Beyond Coal has presented the case for coal divestment to the Board of Trustees before, the dangers and injustices associated with coal investments are no mystery. We have presented to the Board of trustees three times over the past two years, and have been working to show you that we are serious about reaching our goal. The UIUC student senate, the voice of our student body, has already passed a divestment resolution. We have collected over three thousand petition signatures, held rallies, garnered media attention, passed out hundreds of orange solidarity squares, and much more. We have done our best to bring attention to the issue, and have seen the student body and media respond by raising its awareness and support. We still, however, await a response from the Board.

So now the question is, why have the trustees not responded? Why have we not divested? What remains to be done? I believe UIUC Beyond Coal does not know the answer to these question, and therein lies the fundamental frustration of our campaign. And so, who better to ask, than the Board of Trustees. The board represents a diverse group of backgrounds that are united by a tremendous sense of altruism towards the University of Illinois. You have the unique perspective of the University of Illinois system, and we want to know what you need to become convinced supporters of coal divestment. We have the perspective of the students here at Illinois, and from the positive support we receive from students across the campus we know that the students back divestment. Illinois has the a unique opportunity to take the lead in the nation-wide effort, to become the first public university to divest, to send a global message that it truly values its students’ voices and pursues a holistic sense of sustainability.

UIUC Beyond Coal has presented the case for coal divestment to the Board of Trustees before, the dangers and injustices associated with coal investments are no mystery. We have presented to the Board of trustees three times over the past two years, and have been working to show you that we are serious about reaching our goal. The UIUC student senate, the voice of our student body, has already passed a divestment resolution. We have collected over three thousand petition signatures, held rallies, garnered media attention, passed out hundreds of orange solidarity squares, and much more. We have done our best to bring attention to the issue, and have seen the student body and media respond by raising its awareness and support. We still, however, await a response from the Board.

So now the question is, why have the trustees not responded? Why have we not divested? What remains to be done? I believe UIUC Beyond Coal does not know the answer to these question, and therein lies the fundamental frustration of our campaign. And so, who better to ask, than the Board of Trustees. The board represents a diverse group of backgrounds that are united by a tremendous sense of altruism towards the University of Illinois. You have the unique perspective of the University of Illinois system, and we want to know what you need to become convinced supporters of coal divestment. We have the perspective of the students here at Illinois, and from the positive support we receive from students across the campus we know that the students back divestment. Illinois has the a unique opportunity to take the lead in the nation-wide effort, to become the first public university to divest, to send a global message that it truly values its students’ voices and pursues a holistic sense of sustainability.

UIUC Beyond Coal has presented the case for coal divestment to the Board of Trustees before, the dangers and injustices associated with coal investments are no mystery. We have presented to the Board of trustees three times over the past two years, and have been working to show you that we are serious about reaching our goal. The UIUC student senate, the voice of our student body, has already passed a divestment resolution. We have collected over three thousand petition signatures, held rallies, garnered media attention, passed out hundreds of orange solidarity squares, and much more. We have done our best to bring attention to the issue, and have seen the student body and media respond by raising its awareness and support. We still, however, await a response from the Board.

So now the question is, why have the trustees not responded? Why have we not divested? What remains to be done? I believe UIUC Beyond Coal does not know the answer to these question, and therein lies the fundamental frustration of our campaign. And so, who better to ask, than the Board of Trustees. The board represents a diverse group of backgrounds that are united by a tremendous sense of altruism towards the University of Illinois. You have the unique perspective of the University of Illinois system, and we want to know what you need to become convinced supporters of coal divestment. We have the perspective of the students here at Illinois, and from the positive support we receive from students across the campus we know that the students back divestment. Illinois has the a unique opportunity to take the lead in the nation-wide effort, to become the first public university to divest, to send a global message that it truly values its students’ voices and pursues a holistic sense of sustainability.

So now the question is, why have the trustees not responded? Why have we not divested? What remains to be done? I believe UIUC Beyond Coal does not know the answer to these question, and therein lies the fundamental frustration of our campaign. And so, who better to ask, than the Board of Trustees. The board represents a diverse group of backgrounds that are united by a tremendous sense of altruism towards the University of Illinois. You have the unique perspective of the University of Illinois system, and we want to know what you need to become convinced supporters of coal divestment. We have the perspective of the students here at Illinois, and from the positive support we receive from students across the campus we know that the students back divestment. Illinois has the a unique opportunity to take the lead in the nation-wide effort, to become the first public university to divest, to send a global message that it truly values its students’ voices and pursues a holistic sense of sustainability.

And so, in the hopes of creating a more direct dialogue between our Beyond Coal organization and the University of Illinois Board of Trustee’s, I want to ask all of you to remain at the Board table immediately following the end of this public comment speech. Officers of our Beyond Coal campaign will approach the board and collect your preferred means of contact, possible dates for a meeting with our core group, and any additional notes or comments you may have for our campaign. Thank you for the opportunity to present today, and I look forward to working together to achieve coal divestment at the University of Illinois. “

Immediately, the tension at the board table was palpable. Heads shook and whispers spread amongst the twelve trustees. Would students be allowed to approach their governing body?

Upon the completion of the final public comment speaker, Board Chairman Chris Kennedy spoke once more before calling the meeting to a close. He stated that due to threat of physical intimidation and to set precedent against lobbying, student campaigners would have to refrain from approaching the trustees. He instructed the campaigners to contact the board secretary to set up meetings. Though that course of action has been taken before to no avail, it is the hope of the Beyond Coal campaign that the Board of Trustees will finally agree to set meetings with our group as we pursue the proper channels. We hope to resolve any issues, gain allies within the board, and once and for all move the University of Illinois beyond coal.

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