Getting loud for divestment
Rally for climate justice held on one-year anniversary of Mcgill’s refusal to divest
Last Tuesday, March 7, the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR) met for the first time since their decision, in March 2016, to not divest Mcgill’s holdings from the fossil fuel industry. Roughly 50 students gathered to stand in solidarity with Divest Mcgill by staging a protest outside the James Administration building to demand divestment. The protest was called “GET LOUD for Divestment,” highlighting the group’s desire to be heard and to remind the administration of ongoing student activism surrounding fossil fuel divestment.
In February 2016, after years of campaigning and with widespread community support, Divest Mcgill presented a petition and brief to CAMSR, asking the University to divest from its holdings in the fossil fuel industry. This motion was rejected by the Board of Governors (BOG) because of a claim made by CAMSR that fossil fuels do not cause “grave social injury.”
“What we’re trying to achieve with this demonstration is to show CAMSR and the administration that the fossil fuel divestment question is not over,” Andrew Stein, a U4 environmental science student and one of the members of Divest Mcgill, told The Daily. “We take objection, not only with the results of CAMSR’S findings, but also how they came to that result: they didn’t abide by their own terms of reference and they didn’t look at social injury objectively – they looked at net social injury, which is impossible to define. We want to also show the Mcgill community at large that we’re still fighting for this, we still believe that Mcgill can do the right thing, and that we can be a leader in the fight for climate justice.”
Protesters banged drums and plastic buckets, held banners, and chanted: “we won’t rest till you divest” and “we know you can hear us,” surrounding the doors of the James admin building. Community square, the area in front of the James building, has in previous years been the site of many Divest Mcgill protests. This included Fossil Free Week, when members of Divest Mcgill set up tents and camped in the square during the week of September 21, 2015. Mcgill Principal Suzanne Fortier, when later asked about the week-long camp- out, said told activists she “didn’t see anything going on.”
According to Jed Lenetsky, a U2 environment student and member of Divest Mcgill, “[divestment gives] students power in universities to change institutions in which they are a part of. It’s much harder for students to influence international climate negotiations or even national policy, but students can make a difference at their own university .
Asked about Divest’s tactics and current relationship with the administration, Lenetsky spoke specifically of Divest Mcgill’s efforts towards “democratizing Mcgill’s institutions: such as the BOG and CAMSR. “[Divest is] in touch with the administration and on pretty good terms – [it’s] definitely a working relationship and we like to keep it that way, but at the end of the day we’re not afraid of putting pressure on the Mcgill administration where it makes sense and letting them know [how] they are failing.”
“We must leverage our privilege of power as students at a global university to really change the discourse around climate change,” continued Lenetsky. Protesters also pointed out the disproportionate effect of fossil fuels extraction on Canada’s Indigenous communities.
Speaking to The Daily, Nicola Protetch, a U3 Anthropology student, added that “it’s really important for us to keep showing up, keep turning up in masses, and showing them that this wasn’t just a stunt; that divest is serious and we’re gonna hold our university accountable and continue to hold our university accountable for their investments.” Mcgill currently invests approximately $70 million of its endowment fund in the fossil fuel industry.
“We want to show the Mcgill community at large that we’re still fighting for this.” –Andrew Stein U4 Environmental Science student
Divest Mcgill activists.