Tufts Divest rallies before Massachusetts State House
Published: Thursday, September 19, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 19, 2013 02:09
Members of Tufts Divest For Our Future attended a rally and spoke at the Massachusetts State House on Sept. 10 in support of legislation that would require Massachusetts’ divestment from fossil fuel companies within five years.
Sophomore Will Pearl and senior Devyn Powell, both members of Tufts Divest, participated in a student panel that testified in support of the bill, along with representatives from Boston University (BU) and the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass Amherst).
The bill, titled S.1225, was proposed in January by Senator Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield, GSAS ’08), according to Pearl.
The rally began at 9:30 a.m. and included a large crowd of Tufts students in addition to students from BU, Brandeis University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Suffolk University, UMass Amherst, Wheaton College and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Students heard from a variety of speakers, including Downing; Chris Condon, director of politics and legislation of the Service Employees International Union’s Local 509; State Representative Denise Provost (D-Somerville) and Mark Files Schwaller, member of the activist rock band Melodeego.
The speakers, banners and live music during the rally created a strong atmosphere of support prior to the hearing, according to Powell.
“That was a very empowering experience,” she said. “There was a lot of really good energy, and people came from all over.”
The bill calls on the Pension Reserves Investment Trust, a board charged with managing the pooled assets of state employees and local retirement systems, to divest 100 percent of its assets in fossil fuel companies progressively over the course of five years.
“If we lead with this [bill], it would have a huge ripple effect,” Pearl said.
Pearl coordinated a student divest meet-up at Old West Church the night before the rally, according to Powell. Around 30 students participated in the event in preparation for the rally.
“The idea of that was that we wanted to bring as many students as possible from all over the state,” Powell said. “It is a state-wide issue. [We wanted] to come together before the rally and try to garner support from students who were involved with divestment movements on their campuses to try and bring that energy to off-campus work with the state divestment group.”
Powell said that Jay Carmona, divestment campaigner from the environmental organization 350.org, flew in from Oakland to stay with them at the church and give advice and training before the next day’s event.
Ten Tufts students attended the testimonials that followed the State House rally, according to Pearl.
Although each testimony was limited to three minutes, the event lasted two and a half hours, Pearl said.
“The over-arching narrative was that we are young people, and climate change is going to affect our generation.” Powell said.
Powell added that the group received overwhelmingly positive feedback from representatives.
“It was a little pat on the back,” Pearl said. “I think in general they’re sympathetic.”
Powell said support for the state bill seems strong, as four cities in Massachusetts, including Cambridge, have already drafted plans for divestment. Pearl believes the biggest challenge will be getting the legislation past Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop).
Tufts Divest hopes that the state will pass the bill by January and that Governor Deval Patrick will sign it by July of next year, Pearl said.
“We’re Massachusetts,” Powell said. “We’re a leader in everything. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be the first state to take a step like this. If an entire state divests all of its holdings from the fossil fuel industry, that’s a huge thing.”
Last year, Tufts Divest garnered 1,500 student petition signatures, 240 alumni signatures and over 40 faculty signatures in an effort to achieve divestment on the Tufts campus. Students, faculty and university trustees formed a working group to facilitate conversation about the prospect of divestment. The Tufts Community Union Senate also passed a resolution 24-1 in favor of divestment.
This year the group aims to continue to create buzz on campus and engage with the community, Pearl said.
“I need to continue that work here, now that students are actually on campus,” he said. “[We need to] find the similarity within our power in coming to an issue that is so much bigger.”