This afternoon, as students take action at Swarthmore College we will be wearing orange squares pinned to our chests. We have chosen to wear this symbol today in solidarity with other student power movements internationally — most notably the Quebec Student Movement.
The red square of the Quebec Student Movement draws its origins from “carrément dans le rouge,” meaning “squarely in the red,” and refers to the condition of students trapped by immense debt.
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The red square was embraced by the 2005 student strike in Canada and became a symbol of solidarity for the student movement globally that signifies a belief in free education. “Institutional memory is critical to cultivating a lasting student power movement with graduation an ever present reality; sharing this symbol and the story of how this has grown is deeply a part of building that”, reflects Anthony Garoufalis-Auger a student from Concordia University, in Montreal.
In Quebec in 2012, as students marched through the streets, businesses would hang red squares in their front windows and many community allies wore them publicly. It is a powerful visibility tool that has become nearly ubiquitous in Canada. Quebec students emphasize that it requires few resources to produce and is comprised of readily accessible materials. That being said, last year Quebec stores ran out of red fabric and cloth as the movement spread from classrooms to community spaces. It fostered a sense of collective identity.
We have chosen the color orange, rather than green, to reframe our movement’s scope as much larger than an environmental issue. This is not a single-issue movement. This is a space where environmental justice, climate justice, and economic justice have come into contact. We understand that we will not win the fight against the fossil fuel industry without confronting racism, classism, homophobia, and other systems of oppression in our movement spaces. At this convergence we have begun conversations about intersectionality and historical responsibility on an international scale.
“When we talk about the 11 or so million people who are undocumented, we need to remember that they’re mostly from the Global South. They have been divested of their language, their land, their wealth, and their climate by the global north. Migration under those circumstances in normal. Global south migration to the global north is the direct consequence of climate debt,” said Aura Bogado, one of last night’s keynote speakers.
One of the core intentions of this convergence was to elevate the voices of those who have been systematically pushed to the margins. We acknowledge that the history of the environmental movement has been one which is primarily privileged and white. If we are to create structures for true justice, we must put the voices of those who have not had the opportunity to speak from their experience of injustice at the forefront. But we must also recognize that we cannot treat anyone individually as tokens for the varying aspects of their marginalized identities.
The collective movements we are building thrive when there is a wide range of individual identities. We cannot win in the ways that we want to win if this is not a representative group of the true diversity which is present in our schools, families, communities, cities, etc.
In light of this, we make a call now and proclaim that the National Solidarity Divestment Movement is one which is ideologically anti-racist and anti-oppressive. We refuse to build a movement that does not highlight the real diversity of our world. While we cannot promise to be perfect, we encourage all criticism to keep us true to our ideals and our desire to be inclusive of all types of people.
If you resonate with this symbol of the orange square we have chosen to use, we encourage you to take this as your own. We acknowledge the many differing identities of peoples involved in movements and we hope to share with you our solidarity in this action. However, if this is not a symbol that you feel drawn to, we encourage you to choose your own symbol to express solidarity with.
Students rally in Swarthmore’s Administration building calling for fossil fuel divestment