Boston-area students protest investment in fossil fuel industry

Students from Boston University and eight other Boston-area schools rallied in Cambridge to protest investment in the fossil fuel industry on Sunday.

Over 150 student activists helped to hang two banners on the John Weeks Bridge urging universities to divest their endowments from the industry and marched through Harvard Square, chanting messages of disinvestment from market sectors that contribute to the climate crisis.

“Your opponent in this campaign is the richest and most powerful industry in the world,” said climate activist Tim DeChristopher, a Harvard student who spoke to protesters over a megaphone at the rally. “…We are going to take down that power.”

Members of Students for a Just and Stable Future’s DivestBU campaign, a student organization that encourages sustainable investment of endowments, attended the protest.

“This [protest] is a way, since we’re connected to this huge institution, to make a difference and to make a bigger change than just voting for a politician who agrees with our issue,” said Colby Smith, a member of DivestBU. “This is a way for us to tell a huge industry, [whose] language is money, we don’t like what you’re doing so we’re going to not invest in what you’re doing.”

Smith, a College of Engineering senior, said protests are effective ways for students to actively resist the fossil fuel industry.

“The goal [of the protest] is solidarity with schools throughout Boston,” she said. “We all have our separate campaigns going on, and it’s a real booster to all of our campaigns to come together and to see how many people are actually involved in this, how many schools are involved in this and the power we have as a combined community.”

Student activists from Harvard University, Northeastern University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology also attended the protest.

Smith said though it is often difficult to engage BU’s community in divestment, the protest could help raise awareness of the cause.

“It [the protest] is a very good visual tool to show BU that this is an important issue,” she said. “…This is a way to show them that this is happening, that we have a lot of power, that it’s an actual movement worth getting behind and putting your own energy towards.”

Canyon Woodward, a junior at Harvard who helped organize the protest, said protesting helps the message gain attention.

“When you have people physically come out and share their voices, show their support, people really do take notice,” Woodward said. “Very powerful alumni in a lot of our schools, they take notice, the general public takes notice and support snowballs and the pressure really escalates for the administrations.”

DeChristopher said though university investments are not critical financial contributions to the fossil fuel industry, divesting could help raise awareness of climate crisis.

“It justifies their [the fossil fuel industry’s] involvement in our political system when institutions of conscience continue to do business with them,” he said. “The reason it’s important for universities and churches and institutions of conscience like that to divest is to send a message that this industry is a fundamentally destructive part of our economy and our society.”

DivestBU member Claire Richer, a College of Arts and Sciences junior, said the effort to encourage universities to divest their endowments from the fossil fuel industry is a relatively obscure movement that students should familiarize themselves with.

“Divestment is a thing, it’s building up and it’s getting bigger,” she said. “It’s awesome to be a part of a movement.”

Richer said it was significant that the protest was being held closely following Nelson Mandela’s passing. In 1979, BU’s Board of Trustees voted to divest from corporations with ties to the apartheid regime in South Africa.

“This is actually really good timing, with this banner drop, to remind people again what divest[ment] is,” she said. “Our parents generation knows what it is, but ours doesn’t.”

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