Growing Through Shared Experiences: Recap of Our First Input Calls

Written by Rachel Schlueter, Summer 2018 Campus Organizing Intern

To build a national campus movement for fossil fuel divestment, it is necessary to begin with the students themselves. Last Wednesday, we wrapped up the second installment of Better Future Project’s National Campus Divestment Input Calls. These monthly video conference calls are serving as the base for discussion, vision-building, and input by bringing together current student organizers, alumni, and faculty from across the nation. They also helped us to meet students beyond our network and have one-to-one calls with them to deepen our network as it grows. As the summer Campus Organizing intern, I wanted to break down what has surfaced in the calls so far, and share some more information on the conversation you can join next month! If you’re interested, you can see the full notes from the 1st call and 2nd call here.

Callers sign off at the end of our 2nd National Campus Divestment Input Call last Wednesday, June 20, 2018. The call consisted mostly of one-to-one and small group discussion in video break out rooms, with time for larger group discussion among the 17 organizers.

Our first two calls primarily focused on creating a space for organizers to share their reflections and thoughts on where they see the movement going. We opened by sharing BFP’s intentions in tackling a national expansion, given the shift away from campus divestment from climate organizations despite continued interest among students. We have also seen that those who do continue to organize around divestment have developed into dynamic and powerful climate organizers far beyond their campus! In this moment of reorienting the movement, students expressed concern for burnout, student body turnover, and shut-out from their administrations after a rejection or decision. Still, there is excitement for the work ahead as victories continue to be won (see this partial list of US educational institutions divesting, shared by faculty Michael Noll). We were reminded by many on the call that our institutions will divest because fossil fuels are an immoral, destructive, and an unstable investment (see faculty Lee Smithey’s reference to historical cases of universities divesting).

In our second call, we reflected and broke into smaller group meetings to dive deeper into vision-building discussions. As we discuss the need for network and learning from each other’s campaign experiences, it’s been wonderful to see the network already forming in side-chat conversations as students share their challenges, hopes, and goals for the next movement.

The celebration when Jessica Debski announced Divest Salem State’s victory of full divestment from fossil fuels brought further validation to centering the moral argument for continuing fossil fuel divestments. When Khalid Mahmood shared Fossil Free WashU’s coalition building with the graduate student union, Bolaji Olagbegi (DivestBU) followed up in the chat to hear more on how that coalition came to fruition. Khalid shared that both of the existing campaigns made for a natural power building moment, and Nora Heaphy added Fossil Free Yale’s positive experience working with the graduate teachers union on campus to gain insight into Yale’s endowment and organize around shared causes, like Puerto Rico’s debt. As Jess Spear (Brandeis Climate Justice) spoke on the opportunity of reaching beyond the “campus bubble” and engaging local elected officials like Divest Salem State did, Lauren Peressini (Fossil Free AU) jumped in the chat sharing how Jess could partner with local environmental community organizations as well.

At the end of our call, Cameron Baller (Divest UK) shared their frustrations with the University of Kentucky’s “slippery slope” argument against divesting from fossil fuels on a moral basis, garnering empathetic head nods and affirmations from the other student organizers and faculty. For me, campaign meetings have been the only space for finding a shared understanding with barriers like this, and sharing among this national group gave the power back to the organizers. I know that if we had another hour, it would have been filled with ripe conversation on how to tackle counter-arguments and find our message among this rooting national network.

We are all looking forward to more moments like these, and hope to see you on our upcoming call on Wednesday, July 11th at 5:30 PM Eastern on Zoom, where we will be sharing the proposed structure for BFP’s support and coordination that we as staff have drafted so far. We want your feedback on it! Here are the three actions you need to take to get on the call:

  1. You MUST register on Zoom to receive the call information.
  2. RSVP on the Facebook event, and share about the call with your campaign!
  3. Fill out our National Student Organizing survey to stay in the loop for upcoming calls and coordinations (faculty: fill out this survey), and sign up on our database to get email updates.

If you can’t make the call but want to still be in touch, email me at <[email protected]> to set up a one-to-one with you and any friends from your campaign who may be interested!

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