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Fossil Free Yale Rally: Invest In Our Future! Divest From Its Destruction!

On Sunday, December 4th, 2016, Fossil Free Yale held a rally at Sterling Memorial Plaza.  About 125 members of the Yale community attended, including undergraduate, graduate students, and faculty.  The action kicked off our campaign in the post-election world. In a Trump America, we can no longer count on the federal government to take action to ensure a liveable planet, so we need every institution to do what it can to protect our futures–starting with Yale. We’re calling on the administration, as well as students, faculty, and staff to come together to take action on climate.

On the chilly December afternoon, FFY and supporters congregated around the Women’s Table.  In the backdrop of the rally stood a ten foot mural a painting depicting our vision of a better future.  Students made speeches, including representatives from FFY–who spoke about the power of organizing, the urgency of the current moment, and the need for reinvestment, respectively–and a representative from the Association of Native Americans at Yale, who spoke about the current battle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.   In between speeches, students chanted, sang, and held hand-drawn signs depicting Indigenous water protectors facing off with law enforcement officials.   

The rally came just two days after Fossil Free Yale, along with a coalition of student groups, published and delivered a new letter for the Yale Corporation. The letter to the Corporation included suggestions regarding what transparency measures they might take. This September, the Corporation’s declared that it intended to improve transparency through a number of reforms, and this letter aimed to detail what students would like to see change as far as Corporation accountability and decision-making. The rally was therefore also intended to put pressure on the Corporation to consider the suggested measures in their upcoming meeting.

In addition to this weekend’s activity, FFY has been working with the ACIR (Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility), and, based on a response to the group’s proposal last spring, has reason to believe that the Yale Corporation is considering divestment from ExxonMobil! This is a tremendous victory, and we hope that through continued demonstrations of student support, the Corporation will take the ACIR’s recommendation seriously.

Finally, this Sunday’s was the first campus action focused on climate and environment since Trump was elected.  With a president-elect who doesn’t believe in climate change, wants to pull out of the Paris agreement, and pushes a 100 day plan based in fossil fuel extraction, the stakes are higher than ever.  This rally was inspired in part by the energy coming from the thousand person meeting on November 14th at Yale Law School and the climate change working group that was created there.  FFY is excited about its broadening base, with the graduate students and faculty that have become, in this moment of increased urgency, part of the movement.

Looking forward, keep an eye out for Yale Prison Divest’s open meeting with the ACIR on December 12th, and their combined panel on apartheid divestment, featuring alumni that participated in Yale’s apartheid divestment movement in the 1980s, on January 26th!

October Updates

A Moment in Transition

Momentum is building in the fossil fuel divestment movement throughout the world.  Congratulations to King’s College not only on divestment but on reinvestment in clean energy, to Fossil Free Otago Uni and the University System of Maryland on full divestment from fossil fuels!  We’re looking to Northeastern University whose divestment campaign staged a “Camping for Climate Justice,” a 12 day occupation on their Centennial Common this month.  We’re looking to Harvard, whose Corporation declared this week that it will start to “move away” from coal investments. And of course, Yale, we’re looking to you.  The divestment movement is winning.

Corporation transparency initiative

On September 14th, the Yale Daily News published “Corporation To Deliberate Transparency”  a front-page story announcing a new transparency initiative by the Yale Corporation.  According to the article, in response to demonstrations of frustration with the inaccessibility of the Corporation by FFY and other student groups, the Corporation will consider a “comprehensive plan on increased transparency and accessibility.” The plan includes increased opportunity for students to interact with Corporation members, investigations into how governing bodies function at like institutions, and more communication with the faculty.  Stay tuned for Fossil Free Yale actions that aim to hold the corporation accountable to these vague initiatives and demand specific changes in engagement.

Letter to the Corporation

A coalition of student groups is following up the Corporation’s potential transparency initiative by drafting a letter with what we want to see change.  The way the Yale Corporation operates is incredibly important to many student groups for many different reasons.  Prison Divest, Students Unite Now (SUN), Yale Student Environmental Coalition (YSEC), and FFY have worked together to co-write and co-sign a letter that we will deliver i.

 

Ban Ki-moon, Spring Escalation, and $10 Million Divested

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It’s been a crazy whirlwind of a day. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon came to campus and spoke in support of FFY, Yale announced new steps toward partial divestment, and other divestment campaigns took powerful action across the country. There’s a lot to be pumped about and a lot of work left to do.

Here’s a brief summary of what went down:

1. The Yale Investment Office sent a letter to the Yale community saying that two of Yale’s external fund managers have chosen to divest $10 million from fossil fuel companies. It’s a victory, but a limited one.

Just two hours before Fossil Free Yale’s planned action during Ban Ki-Moon’s keynote address, David Swensen released a statement implying that the university was taking active steps to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry. The Yale Daily News followed up with the headline “Yale begins divestment from fossil fuels.” Our initial excitement was followed by intense confusion.

In fact, this letter didn’t reflect any commitment to divestment on the part of the university, just the individual actions of two outside fund managers. This partial divestment was done not because of concerns about racial justice or climate justice, but because Yale investors, as usual, are most concerned with their bottom line. We remain committed to winning binding, comprehensive, and morally unambiguous divestment from the fossil fuel industry, and the Yale Corporation remains committed to being opaque, inaccessible, and putting profit over people.

Still, this is a very exciting win for our campaign. This progress is the result of strong organizing all across this campus (and country!), and opens more space for the change we need. The Corporation has heard students and shown that they feel our pressure, and we must fight harder than ever to hold them accountable for the injustices they fund.

2. Fossil Free Yale and Association of Native Americans at Yale partnered for direct action at Ban Ki-Moon’s keynote address. Ban Ki-Moon said he’s “grateful” for our work and urged Yale and other universities to fully divest!

Tuesday afternoon, 120 people attended a rally put on by FFY and ANAAY immediately following UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s keynote address at this year’s Global Colloquium of University Presidents. The rally followed leafleting before the keynote and disruption by FFY members inside the keynote.

The theme of this year’s colloquium is cultural heritage, and the purpose of the actions was to put pressure on the dozens of elite university presidents in attendance. They cannot claim to preserve cultural heritage while actively profiting from extractive industry, racial injustice, and climate crisis. Before the keynote, we were outside, handing out leaflets and having conversations with those attending about our mission and the hypocrisy of supporting “cultural heritage,” while investing in an industry that actively destroys it and exploits indigenous communities while extracting their resources.

During the keynote, FFY members stood in somber silence at the first mention of climate change. They held large banners reading: “The UN supports divestment. Universities, when will you?” Ban Ki-Moon interrupted his speech to thank them and call for divestment! Later in the speech, he directly addressed divestment again, and urged all universities, not just Yale, to fully divest.

After the event, over 100 undergrads, grad students, reporters, and other community members joined at a rally to hear incredible speeches from Prison Divestment, FFY, and ANAAY. We chanted “Divest the Rest!” and ended with a song, both celebrating our victories and committing to further action. Campaigns worldwide stood in solidarity with our action through pictures and statements of support — check out the pictures on our Facebook page.

3. UMass Amherst and Harvard took bold action

This is a spring of badass student organizing across the country. Today 115 students with UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign occupied Whitmore Administrative Building, resulting in 15 arrests. They will be back tomorrow with even more students, for hours more of negotiations. Four student organizers with Divest Harvard were also arrested. We stand in solidarity with these campaigns, and are so excited to see that STUDENT POWER CREATES CHANGE. Sending so much love to those organizing for justice everywhere, and everyone that supported us today! Another world is possible, and it gets closer with every act of collective resistance.

In solidarity,

Fossil Free Yale

New Demands to Corporation: Respond to our most recent proposal and have an open meeting

On Friday, March 24th, FFY sent out a letter to the members of the Yale Corporation stating our hopes for cooperation this spring, and our willingness to take action without it.  The letter, which you can read here, reiterates our ask that the Corporation respond to our latest proposal either by supporting divestment, or defending inaction, and also requests the University create an open meeting where students can present on University issues. We require a response from the Corporation by April 7th, and warned that we will escalate our actions if they do not.

Attached are some excerpts and a link to the letter.

FFY on why the Yale Corporation should have an open meeting:

“Fossil Free Yale has tried to engage with Yale’s administration through every established channel. When the ACIR asked us to draft a divestment proposal, we drafted a divestment proposal. When the ACIR asked us to hold a student referendum, we demonstrated that 83% of undergraduate students who voted on this issue support fossil fuel divestment. When the ACIR asked us to present new information, we drafted a new proposal, expanding on existing arguments. We have met with the ACIR countless times over the past three years, and yet we leave every meeting as confused about the inaction of the Yale Corporation as ever. We would like to engage productively with the administration on divestment, but thus far we have not been given the opportunity. The existing process keeps students far removed from those who actually make important decisions about the community we live in and care about. President Peter Salovey has repeatedly praised the student body for raising questions and starting difficult conversations on campus. But it’s impossible to have an authentic dialogue when student advocates are not allowed to meet with those who truly have decision making power: the Yale Corporation. A yearly open meeting would provide a platform for such engagement and would benefit both the Corporation and the student body by facilitating communication.”

And FFY reiterating why Yale must divest:

“The fossil fuel industry causes mass damage to human health and the environment through its contributions to climate change, harmful extraction and refinement processes, and campaigns to mislead the public and produce socially suboptimal governmental policy. These harms are inherent to the business model of fossil fuel companies, so shareholder engagement has limited potential to effect sufficient and lasting change. We, Fossil Free Yale, argue that divestment is the most effective response. By contributing to a global movement, divestment can influence a shift in governmental policy toward appropriate regulation of the fossil fuel industry. In the past, divestment movements have been proven effective when leading cultural institutions divest, as when Yale divested from South Africa in the 1980s.”

By Friday, April 7th, we ask that Yale reply to these asks. We hope that this spring will be a season of productive engagement, when the Yale Corporation and Fossil Free Yale can work together towards a more sustainable, ethical university and world

Read the whole letter here: LettertotheCorporation324

Speak Out: What would you say to the Yale Corporation?

FFYSpeakOut_20160219_007Fossil Free Yale (FFY) held a Speak Out action with the prompt: “What would you say to the Yale Corporation?” on Friday, February 19th beginning at 1:00 in Beinecke plaza. The action was planned in response to the new that the Yale Corporation met this past weekend. Details of the meeting’s purpose, length, and location have not been disclosed, and no students or faculty representing Fossil Free Yale or any other student groups were allowed to attend.

On Friday,  50 students gathered to share their stories and thoughts about fossil fuel divestment and climate justice, as well as their relationship to Yale’s power structure. With regards to climate injustice, many spoke out about the benefits of divestment and the ability of Yale, as a renowned university, to impactfully stigmatize injustices of the fossil fuel industry. Some shared stories about challenges specific communities have faced due to climate injustice. With respect to the power structure of Yale, many mentioned the lack of transparency in decision making processes and the lack of response to student campaigns. Students spoke about the campaign to change the name of Calhoun College to Thompson College, the organizing last semester of Next Yale, and the ongoing effort to reduce or eliminate the Student Income Contribution. The event made space for students to share these stories, as well as to communicate their positive visions for the Yale campus and society as a whole.

Students made these statements in a big circle, which included a row of four chairs occupied by empty suits, meant to represent the Yale Corporation’s absence and lack of engagement with students. The empty suits also symbolized administrators’ (such as those on the ACIR) unwillingness to push the boundaries of their formal roles.

Before and during the action, students wrote their positive visions for Yale and how they felt personally connected to the divestment movement on bright orange ribbons. These ribbons were read to the crowd and collected on a string, to create an art piece that encourages the empowerment of student voice.

FFY was inspired to pursue this issue by challenges they have encountered in trying to engage the Corporation in discussions about divestment. They met with the ACIR for the eighth time this spring semester, and presented a third version of their proposal. FFY requested that the ACIR issue a public statement in support of divestment, pass the proposal onto the Corporation, and that the Corporation either meet with members of FFY, or allow a student or faculty member to observe their meeting. Nevertheless, FFY has felt it cannot progress towards divestment through these administrative channels. They have been redirected to only discuss their requests with groups who cannot make the decisions, and their dissatisfaction was reinforced when the Corporation met last weekend without giving any information how the meeting was arranged or what was decided. The Speak Out  action would divert from administrative channels to empower the Yale divestment movement with student support. It was also meant to inspire students across campus to challenge the way that Yale’s decision making and administrative power is consolidated in a corporate structure that lacks transparency.

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Students Call for Public Statement from Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility

On Tuesday, January 26th, at 4:30pm, Fossil Free Yale, a student organization calling for the Yale endowment’s divestment from Fossil Fuels, presented at an open meeting with the ACIR (Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility).  The ACIR advises the Yale Corporation on ethical investment of the endowment.  Forty-five students and a handful of faculty and community supporters showed up to the public meeting at the Yale Law School, where Fossil Free Yale representatives presented their new proposal. It argued for fossil fuel divestment on the grounds that the grave social and environmental injuries caused by the fossil fuel industry require that Yale take action to maintain its standards of ethical investing.  After presenting the proposal, Fossil Free Yale asked the ACIR to publicly declare their support of fossil fuel divestment, pass the new proposal on to the Yale Corporation, and increase transparency in their meetings with the Corporation. Members of Fossil Free Yale, and their supporters, left the meeting following their presentation, symbolizing their desire for immediate action. They stated on Tuesday that, going forward, they will be focusing on organizing and amplifying student voice on Yale’s campus.

The meeting is part of a long history of engagement between the ACIR and Fossil Free Yale; this was the ninth time that the two groups have met. The ACIR’s primary role has been to present Fossil Free Yale’s divestment proposals and recommendations for divestment policy to the CCIR (Corporate Committee on Investor Responsibility), which provides direct guidance for the Yale Corporation’s use of the endowment. Up until this point, the ACIR’s recommendations have been private, and Fossil Free Yale has been excluded from all meetings with the CCIR.

Fossil Free Yale has been running an active campaign for divestment for three years and organized a 49 person sit-in in Woodbridge Hall last April, during which 19 arrests were made. They have demonstrated student support and commitment to divestment, but have been met with administrative inaction.
“We feel that we have exhausted the ACIR as an administrative channel. After years of meetings and three separate proposals, it’s time for the ACIR to make public their recommendation and fulfill their responsibility to advise ethically,” said Phoebe Chatfield ‘18. “It is our hope that we and the ACIR can stand together in support of fossil fuel divestment while our campaign pursues more direct action.”

You can read our new report here: Report to the ACIR 1.25.2016

Yale Police Arrests 19 Students Calling for Conversation on Fossil Fuel Divestment

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We are here because we believe fossil fuel divestment is in line with the values of the Yale community.

New Haven, Connecticut – 19 Yale students were arrested by Yale Police following a day-long sit-in that called for the university to reopen the conversation on fossil fuel divestment.  Yale joins Harvard as one of two schools where a fossil fuel divestment action has led to arrest.

48 students peacefully entered Woodbridge Hall, Yale’s main administrative building, at 9 am this morning.  Within minutes of their arrival, Yale President Peter Salovey addressed the students, informing them of the administrative channels that exist for students interested in pursuing divestment.  Afterward, students provided flowers to the administrative staff and a thank you letter to Salovey.  Since then, students have peacefully and quietly sat in the building.

Students held the sit-in to call on the University to reopen the conversation on fossil fuel divestment.  The sit-in follows a two year effort by student group Fossil Free Yale to work with the administration to divest the university’s endowment from fossil fuels.  During this period, Fossil Free Yale worked through the same administrative channels that Salovey referenced when he addressed students this morning.

In August 2014, Yale refused to divest, announcing instead a series of sustainability initiatives.  Fossil Free Yale continued to attempt to work with the administration to achieve divestment, arguing that sustainability is unable to address the social injustices of fossil fuel extraction and burning.  The university has not responded to these claims, and Fossil Free Yale held this sit-in to hold Yale decision-makers responsible for open and honest engagement with students.

At 5 pm this evening, Woodbridge Hall closed and Yale police arrested 19 students who refused to leave the building until the administration agreed to continue the conversation on fossil fuel divestment.  The arrests, willing and peaceful, followed the university’s failure to respond to students.

“Yale would rather arrest its students than re-engage in the conversation” Fossil Free Yale Project Manager Mitch Barrows reported.

During the arrests, 160 students gathered on Beinecke Plaza.  Students told the story of Fossil Free Yale, and Blue Feather Drum Group, a Native American performance group, performed and discussed the links between the fossil fuel industry and marginalized communities.  125 students joined hands and encircled Woodbridge Hall.   Together, they chanted, “the students united will never be divided.”

Yale Corporation Picks the Wrong Side

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On Thursday, March 5th, around 80 supporters, friends, and members of Fossil Free Yale rallied outside of Woodbridge Hall.  With speakers telling stories of direct community exploitation by fossil fuel companies,  our rally demanded that the Yale administration announce a plan to address the countless injustices of the fossil fuel industry. We wanted to know whose side Yale was on– the side of students and affected communities, or the side of fossil fuel profits destroying our world.

This request was summarized in a letter delivered to President Salovey and the Yale Corporation prior to the rally.  The letter stated that “the sustainability plan that [Salovey] presented in August does not account for nor can it correct … the direct social harms [of the fossil fuel industry]” and requested the university announce a plan to adjust their investment strategies to account for these grave social injuries. The letter issued an April 1st deadline for the Corporation’s response to see whether they were serious about standing on the side of justice.

On March 20th, President Salovey, speaking for the Yale Corporation, responded to Fossil Free Yale in an email. No part of the response mentioned Fossil Free Yale’s request for a plan to address the social injustices of the fossil fuel industry.  Instead, they issued an update on the sustainability initiatives first announced in August 2014 in the place of divestment. The letter maintained that “These initiatives are not a distraction from the divestment issue.” Yet, the Corporation has again sidestepped addressing the ethics of their investments to focus on Yale’s individual carbon footprint.

Despite ignoring our request, Salovey’s response did recognize that climate change is “without question one of the most critical issues faced by our global community.” He also stated that “Yale has an important role as an investor, but our greatest contributions come from … our leadership by example and encouragement among peer institutions.”

We agree. Today, Yale should lead by example by investing our endowment ethically. It is wrong for Yale to invest in an industry that aims to sell far more carbon than is compatible with a livable future. It is also wrong to profit from an industry whose business model is built upon the destruction of the environment, the obstruction of democratic procedures, and the exploitation of marginalized communities.  We must put people over profit and take immediate action to maintain our University’s commitment to ethical investing.

We asked the Yale Corporation to choose our side, the side of 83% of the student body who voted in favor of divestment, the side of young people facing the prospect of an unlivable future, the side of those marginalized and exploited by the fossil fuel industry.  Their response indicated that the Yale administration is not on our side — yet. But that must change. Action to combat climate catastrophe cannot wait. We are taking action until the administration chooses to become a leader in climate justice and cuts ties with the fossil fuel industry.

 

FFY Rallies and Sets Deadline

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On March 5, we rallied to ask the Yale administration to make a choice. The decision by the Yale Corporation not to divest from fossil fuel companies not only fails to address the scale of climate change, but also ignores the ways the fossil fuel industry actively works against the climate solutions that students need and ruins the lives of those who live by fossil fuel production, from mountaintop removal, oil pipe explosions, fracking contamination, and more. Though we sit in a place of privilege, our actions and our investments have consequences around the world. We must be aware of this and realize that sustainability is not enough to address these grave social harms inherent to this industry.

Despite all this, we have faith that Yale can these concerns. To do this, we believe that Yale must account for the harms that its investments support.

We need to know: Whose side is the Yale Corporation on? The side of the students whose futures are at risk and the communities who live the injustices of this industry? Or the side of an industry and business model that profits from exploitation and destruction? We must be clear: if Yale fails to divest from fossil fuel companies, it is not just a continuation of the status quo – it is a clear choice that profits matter more than ethics and student voice.

Our ask was this: By April 1, 2015, we demand that the Yale administration present our community with a plan of action, which will detail how Yale plans to change its investment policy to address the multiple injustices created by the fossil fuel industry. We suggest fossil fuel divestment as a first step in this process.

Read the full letter that Fossil Free Yale delivered to President Salovey and the Yale Corporation:

Dear President Salovey,

As you stated in August, climate change is one of the greatest issues of our time. But the terrible effects of a warming planet represent only part of the grave social injury caused by the fossil fuel industry. To see these impacts, you have to look no further than Bridgeport, where pollution from the coal power plant has caused asthma rates to skyrocket.  Fossil fuel companies harm wherever they operate, when they blow off the tops of mountains to remove coal, when fracking wells leak and pollute water sources, or when oil pipes burst and spill over vast swathes of land or sea.  Inherent to the business model of the fossil fuel industry is exploitation of and general disregard for the communities who live nearby. These practices inflict a direct social injury and cannot be ignored.

The sustainability plan that you presented in August does not account for nor can it correct these direct social harms. Sustainability initiatives at Yale fail to recognize that this is a justice issue as much as it is an environmental issue. Greening our campus does as little for the former fisherman in Louisiana whose shrimp were coated and killed after the BP spill as it does for the former rice farmer in Bangladesh whose patties are too salty to farm now that sea levels have begun to rise. Yale cannot shield its gaze from the reality that the practices of the fossil fuel industry are causing a global catastrophe, the first victims of which are always the poor, people of color, citizens of developing nations, and indigenous communities. Though we sit in a place of privilege, our actions and our investments have consequences around the world. Sustainability is not enough.

Despite all this, we have faith that Yale will make a plan to address these concerns. To do this, we believe that Yale must account for the harms that its investments support.

We want to know: Whose side are you on? The side of the students whose futures are at risk and the communities who live the injustices of this industry? Or the side of an industry and business model that profits from exploitation and destruction? We must be clear: if Yale fails to divest from fossil fuel companies, it is not just a continuation of the status quo – it is a clear choice that profits matter more than ethics and student voice.

By April 1, 2015, we demand that the Yale administration present our community with a plan of action, which will detail how Yale plans to change its investment policy to address the multiple injustices created by the fossil fuel industry. We suggest fossil fuel divestment as a first step in this process, and have attached our specific proposal. We eagerly await your response.

Sincerely,

The students of Fossil Free Yale

Fossil Free Yale Calls Out Yale Corporation

FFY members publicly demonstrate against the Yale Corporation’s behavior.

 

On Thursday, February 26, Fossil Free Yale, the student-run fossil fuel divestment campaign, publicly demonstrated to address a Yale Corporation meeting thought to be occurring this week at an unknown location and date. The group called upon the governing body to improve their transparency and accountability to the student body. Beginning at 1:00 PM, students stood together on Beinecke Plaza holding two banners, one asking “Who is the Yale Corporation?” and the other outlining five silhouettes, symbolizing members of the Corporation.  Phrases inside the silhouettes charged the corporation with “ignoring student voice,” “putting profit over people,” “risking our futures,” “denying dialogue,” and “investing in climate injustice.”

The action criticizing the corporation sought to bring attention to the divide between its actions and the values of the Yale community. The group pointed to the Yale Corporation’s lack of transparency, its dismissal of student voices, and its willingness to put short term profit over countless lives at risk through morally impermissible investments in the fossil fuel industry and climate change.

Members say that the lack of transparency or public engagement surrounding the divestment decision is emblematic of a larger devaluation of student voice in official decision-making. In fall 2014, the corporation rejected Fossil Free Yale’s divestment proposal, despite a student referendum in which 83% of students supported divestment. The committee of the Yale Corporation charged with making the decision never once communicated with the divestment campaign, and denied any attempts by the group to meet. Fossil Free Yale is now demanding improved channels of student and faculty communication with the Yale Corporation, and asserts that student voice should be valued in the corporation’s decisions.

The divestment campaign’s concerns are mirrored by other campus groups who find themselves similarly frustrated with a lack of administrative engagement, including those pushing for conversations on financial aid, mental health, and cultural center reform.

Fossil Free Yale’s actions also come within the context of a rapidly growing call for divestment in New England and around the world as part of a global movement for climate justice. With hundreds of campaigns worldwide, institutions from the New School to the Rockefeller Foundation have collectively divested over $50bn from the fossil fuel industry.