Students from around the country demand coal divestment at Brown University. (Kevin Proft/ecoRI News.)
Students from New York to Boston rallied May 3 with Brown Divest Coal activists on Brown University’s main green, demanding that President Christina Paxson and The Corporation of Brown University vote on whether to divest the college’s $2.5 billion endowment from the 15 largest coal companies in the United States during an upcoming May 23 meeting. Rally organizers provided the 150 attendees with symbolic orange ballots to cast into the “smokestack” of the ballot box, a miniature coal-powered plant made from a cardboard box with a big X on its side.
Before casting their ballots, many students explained why halting climate change mattered to them. “If we do not take action, one billion people will be displaced by climate change by the end of the century,” Brown University freshman Tammy Jiang said. “We cannot let that happen.”
A student from Tufts University voiced frustration that colleges with huge endowments are investing in the fossil-fuel industry. “Those investments are undercutting our ability to create a livable society," he said.
Lucy Bates-Campbell, a Brown University senior, cast her ballot while cradling Roxy, her pet dog. Most animals will not be immune to climate change, Bates-Campbell said, so we need to help protect the animals that can’t protect themselves.
The theme of unity among divestment activists was present throughout the rally. “All divestment campaigns are interconnected,” said a student from New York’s Columbia University. “We are here for a rally at Brown, and we need you to be at Columbia’s rallies.”
Nick Katkevich, representing the University of Rhode Island’s new fossil fuel-divestment campaign, said his group will build capacity during the summer, then work with Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design to push for divestment on Rhode Island campuses next fall. URI’s campaign will be coordinated with students at Rhode Island College and Community College of Rhode Island, because all three schools share one endowment.
The rally regularly broke into chants about climate change and divestment. Hand-painted cardboard signs were abundant. After casting their symbolic ballots, the students marched across the green to the administration building, where Paxson’s office is located. Two Brown Divest Coal representatives were sent to request that Paxson address the crowd; Paxson declined.
Before the rally ended, Brown University junior Dara Illowsky held up a handmade sign with Paxson’s office telephone number painted on it. “I want you all to take out your phones and add this number to your contacts,” she said.