Today, UIUC Beyond Coal held a protest outside of Swanlund Administration Building. The rally was directed towards the University administration in order to create action about addressing divestment. There were moving chants, songs and speeches all to gain attention for our cause and its immediacy. Among the speakers were Tyler Rotche (one of the founding members of UIUC Divestment Campaign), former Champaign mayor Don Gerard, and UIUC Beyond Coal President Erika Weir. Below is Erika’s speech which discusses the motivations and demands of our campaign.
I am not an anomaly. I am a student who learned about the issues of climate change, cared, and participated in our university’s process of civic engagement. I do this because I do not want a future where billions suffer for the apathy, affluence, and consumption of one nation. I do this because I do not want to see a future where our state is decimated by the extraction of an ancient fuel source.
As an organization, Beyond Coal has had modest demands in comparison to the risks we face from climate and environmental inaction. We simply ask that Coal Divestment, refusing to place our university’s money in the worst polluting and carbon intensive industry, be considered seriously and publicly addressed.
The UIUC Beyond Coal campaign was one of the first fossil fuel divestment campaigns founded in 2011. We are now 4 years from that date and have complied with every process, loop hole, and demonstration of support the university has asked for. In Fall 2013, students voted 6:1 in favor of coal divestment, a resounding majority. To this date, Over 50 professors in 20 departments have signed a letter in support of divestment. And even this spring the Licensing Committee within the administration itself recommended further exploration of the topic of divestment and the creation of a Socially Responsible Investment Committee.
Still, we are met with unwarranted opposition. The University and the Chancellor have refused to this date to make any serious progress on addressing the issue or even comment publicly. I am personally ashamed to attend a university that states its mission “to enhance the lives of citizens in Illinois, across the nation and around the world through our leadership in learning, discovery, engagement and economic development.” And yet picks and chooses what student voices it listens to.
No social justice issue has ever been convenient. Divesting from South Africa because Apartheid violated human rights was not convenient. In 1977 students at the University of Illinois launched a divestment campaign against the apartheid regime Year after year, for 10 years, the administration opposed every discussion, every motion on divestment. 40 years later, this university has yet to learn its lesson and continues to fight against student activism.
The fossil fuel divestment movement is the fastest growing divestment movement in history. Across, the nation and world, institutions, cities, and universities are increasingly committing to divestment (The City of Oslo, the Rockefeller Fund, and Stanford University just to name a few). By refusing to explore divestment, this university will once again lag in terms of social issues and forward thinking. When climate change experts and highly regarded activists like Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, Robert F. Kennedy Jr, and Desmond Tutu have publicly supported divestment, this university would be ignorant to disregard student consensus.
The Divestment movement will not slow down for the antiquated ideas of the university. They believe that minimal returns on investment are more important than addressing an industry that pollutes, threatens public health, and most heinously contributes to the irreversible effects of climate change. The goal of divestment is to discredit and stigmatize the fossil fuel industry so that all of us can affect change not just those with the financial means. We attend this university and we should have a say in its finances.
Climate change and environmental disaster will not slow down for the university to maintain its public image. Building a solar farm that supplies only 2% of the university’s energy means little when our university simultaneously has planned to burn natural gas for the next 35 years and funds the coal industry.
This current moment in history is fundamental to the well-being of many generations to come or as Rachel Carson said in her ground-breaking text the Silent Spring,
“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”
Carson was proposing this dilemma over 50 years ago. I for one no longer will comply as an innocent bystander and allow this university to pretend that is addressing climate change.
We need to demand that the University reaches its goals of carbon neutrality. We need to demand that Chancellor Wise creates a Socially Responsible Investment committee and speaks publicly about the issue divestment. We need to demand that this university will not support an immoral, destructive industry and we demand that we divest!