Drawing inspiration from the protest at the Harvard-Yale football game, student divestment groups from across the country are using the demonstration’s momentum to propel their own campaigns.
On Nov. 23, hundreds of students and alumni stormed the field at the Yale Bowl, locking arms and demanding that both Yale and Harvard University divest from fossil fuels, Puerto Rican debt, private prisons and other holdings. Public figures — including U.S. Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — voiced support for the protestors, and major news outlets initially spread the word about the rally.
“It made the news for a reason,” said Vice President of Fossil Free Northwestern Sarah Fernandez Tabet. “It was an incredible protest and demonstration, and the fact that two rivals — two huge names in the academic world — were able to do that was entirely impressive.”
Fernandez Tabet added that the protest’s ability to raise nationwide awareness on issues of divestment gave her and her peers a “boost of energy.” She said this jolt was especially important as her group’s dialogue with Northwestern University’s administrators has stagnated over the past few months. According to Fernandez Tabet, it is reassuring to see other people engaging with divestment.
According to Micah Fletcher, a fourth-year graduate student at Princeton University who works with Divest Princeton, visibility is key in keeping the movement alive. The divestment group lost traction after it was originally formed approximately five years ago, he said. But, Fletcher added, divestment efforts at Princeton recently regained momentum as a result of the wave of climate protests that have rolled across both the United States and abroad.
The Nov. 23 protest is not the first demonstration to have reached such an audience, he said. Fletcher added that “slowing down” and “breaking” the status quo at events like halftime of football game work to direct attention toward divestment efforts.
“One of the biggest takeaways that we had was that these kinds of things work,” Fletcher said. “They get people really excited, and more people agree with you than you think when you’re just in closed meetings.”
Fletcher also noted that collaboration between institutions also interested him and his peers. Joint efforts between Divest Princeton and peer groups are in the works, he said.
Co-Chair for MIT Divest Tessa Weiss echoed her colleagues and said collaboration is on her growing group’s agenda and that they are discussing MIT-unique actions to take. She added that she attended the Divest Harvard meeting during which activists first suggested the idea of a game-day protest.
“Our whole group was very impressed just how skillful and strategic the walkout for the game was, and just how much media attention that they’re able to get,” Weiss told the News.
Multiple students mentioned the importance of the protest in the context of larger movements against climate change. A similar national protest has been scheduled for this Friday, Dec. 6.
Divest Harvard Press Coordinator Caleb Schwartz told the News that the biggest success of the Harvard-Yale “disruption” was not necessarily the initial media buzz, but access it gained to other institutions’ divestment groups and people across the country. He added that his organization is conversing with other schools’ teams, and that future action is “in the works.”
“We have been in touch with other campaigns, and it’s been really incredible to get messages of support from other activists fighting for divestment and other climate justice goals,” Schwartz told the News.
But unlike supporters of the divestment movement, some have voiced their criticism towards the disruptive protest during the Yale-Harvard game. Earlier this week, Sam Tuckerman ’20, who is the kicker for the Yale Football team, penned an op-ed “vehemently condemn[ing]” the protest.
“Yes, a protest is inherently supposed to be disruptive,” Tuckerman wrote in the op-ed. “This protest, however, left all football players on both rosters as mere pawns in a standoff that nearly compromised all 136 years of the storied rivalry.”
Schwartz was one of the original 50 protesters arrested or cited on Nov. 23. He will appear before the New Haven Superior Court on Friday along with the other 47 protesters who received citations.
The Yale Endowment Justice Coalition, the University’s group dedicated to divestment, did not respond to a request for comment.
In two separate statements, both Yale and Harvard acknowledged the challenge presented by climate change. According to Harvard Director of Media Relations Rachael Dane and University President Peter Salovey, both institutions aim to primarily address climate change through research and education as opposed to divestment.
“Yale is committed to addressing climate change substantively and relentlessly — and with increasing intensity,” Salovey wrote in a Dec. 1 statement.
Protesters are scheduled to appear before the New Haven Superior Court, located at 121 Elm Street, at 9 am on Friday.
Valerie Paviolnis | firstname.lastname@example.org