Last Saturday, about a hundred Swarthmore students led by Mountain Justice, a campus group pushing for fossil-fuel divestment, took over a rare public meeting of the college’s Board of Managers. (Here’s a video.) The meeting had been opened at the request of Mountain Justice itself, so the protesters appear to have tricked and trapped a board which had made good-faith efforts to meet with students. Protesters cut off a presentation by a board member on the economic consequences of divestment, an affront not only to him but to students who’d wanted to hear him out. Some of those students walked out when it became apparent that the protesters had commandeered the meeting.
Mountain Justice told the board, “You have been educated; you cannot justify your inaction with ignorance.” In other words, since the board had been repeatedly told to divest but hadn’t yet done so, it was time for a forcible takeover. A statement read aloud by the students who usurped the meeting declared that it was no longer good enough for Swarthmore to be a merely liberal institution. It would have to become “radical and emancipatory.”
This was no isolated incident. At the Rhode Island School of Design last week, the divestment movement staged its first takeover of a university president’s office. Word travels fast on Facebook and Twitter, where divestment activists cheer on each successive tactical escalation. We are only at the beginning of what looks like an escalating campus battle over fossil-fuel divestment. Look for many more takeovers in the next academic year.