From April 4th to 6th, 300 students from over 75 colleges and universities from across the United States and Canada will gather at San Francisco State University for the 2nd annual student-led Fossil Fuel Divestment Convergence. In February 2013, 150 students gathered at Swarthmore College to discuss and strategize about the role of the campus fossil fuel divestment campaign in moving forward for climate justice. Out of that convergence, students created the Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network, and numerous regional networks were created or strengthened out of the gathering.
This year’s convergence will be an important step in strengthening the power of students through national and regional networks, while also growing the network’s geographic and institutional reach across public and private schools across the nation. While 9 campuses have committed to full or partial fossil fuel divestment, including the hosts at SFSU, many college administrations have largely been resistant to the ask. In 2013, over a dozen schools received an official “no” from their administrations. Though far from giving up, students stand strong in the face of administrative resistance. Students have already taken first steps towards escalation by coalition-building and direct action, gaining attention nationwide with sit-ins, petitions, rallies, public art displays, referenda, and growing alumni and faculty support.
At one year old, this is a crucial moment for the divestment campaign; it has the potential to regain the explosive momentum that drove it in 2013 by coordinating student efforts to spark a coordinated wave of bold escalated action. This convergence is designed to be that spark; In order to confront the overwhelming crisis of climate change, we must not only build our organizing skills and leadership, but also build relationships and coalitions with others fighting the same forces; all of which is part of the founding principles of the convergence. Fossil fuel divestment is just one piece of taking on the fossil fuel industry, and will ground our conversations in the role of the divestment campaign in the larger Climate Justice movement.
Why the Convergence?
Mentorship and Training: Preparing Students for the Long Haul
The convergence provides the infrastructure for peer-to-peer mentorship within the divestment campaign. Students can learn from each other’s stories and skills in building power on campus, working with university administrations, collaborating with local grassroots organizations, and escalating to win on divestment. Not only will this lead to a longer-lasting divestment campaign, but it will also train leaders who will continue to organize after graduating.
Strategy and Escalation:
While we have seen some phenomenal successes in the divestment campaign over the past year, it is also clear that we need to start escalating and putting pressure on our administrations and boards. Escalating strategically is a carefully cultivated skill that can be honed through workshops, mentorship, and sharing stories. The convergence will be a space for students to do just that. Campuses that have escalated will share their successes and their lessons learned, students will learn about creative direct actions that will put pressure on their boards and win on-campus support, and each campus will be connected long-term with other campuses who are looking to escalate.
Reinvestment and the Just Transition:
In order for us to truly confront the climate crisis, we need to not confront the fossil fuel industry, but also create community-owned alternatives to a fossil fuel-based economy. At this year’s convergence, we will be connecting students with community organizers who are not only fighting the fossil fuel industry in their backyards, but also working to transition to a local, sustainable, and just economy that empowers and employs members of their community. Students will have the opportunity to learn by volunteering with these groups, learning about social justice as it relates to the environment, and in some cases, by pushing for community reinvestment in local renewable projects. Not only does this sort of collaboration support essential transition work, but also connects students with work that has longevity and is grounded in long-term community-building.