Students rally to support fossil fuel divestment

By Allana Akhtar, Daily Staff Reporter
and Lindsey Scullen, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 29, 2015

In the spirit of Vietnam War teach-in protests on campus 50 years ago, University students, speakers, local community members and parents of students encircled the Block ‘M’ on the Diag on Friday afternoon to rally for better treatment of the environment and divestment from fossil fuels, and to continue campus dialogue on the issue.

Later in the day, participants gathered in an Angell Hall Auditorium — the same location in which the first Vietnam War teach-in was held in 1965 — to listen to investigative reporter Amy Goodman.

Both events were part of “Teach-in + 50: End the War Against the Planet,” a two-day-long demonstration focused on giving climate change the political and social attention necessary to counteract future consequences.

On the Diag, protesters chanted pro-divestment slogans, including: “Be the leaders and the best, from fossil fuels we must divest.” Some carried recycled cardboard signs with calls to action such as, “End This Climate War NOW!” and “Save our ONLY home! Divest from Fossil Fuels #ClimateTeachIn50.”

At one point, the participants also assembled to form the number 350 in honor of 350.org’s goal to keep the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere below 350 parts-per-million. Many scientists say this decrease in carbon dioxide levels is necessary to maintain a habitable planet.

Goodman — host and producer of independent public news program, “Democracy Now!” — gave the keynote address. She is a renowned investigative reporter who has covered the East Timor independence movement and the impact of oil rigs in Nigeria. She was detained outside of the 2008 Republican National Convention for attempting to report on an anti-war protest outside.

In her speech, Goodman stressed the role of independent media in bringing social justice and peace. She said the personal narratives investigated by independent outlets can allow audiences to break down stereotypes and caricatures that lead to misunderstanding and hate.

“I think the media can be the greatest force for peace on Earth,” Goodman said. “Instead, all too often, from the Vietnam War, to Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria today, it is wielded as a weapon of war. And that has to be challenged.”

She described the challenges reporters met in Vietnam in the 1960s, including how corporate media agencies such as ABC, NBC and CBS would not run their stories. For this reason, she said, independent media is important for telling the stories that are sometimes too controversial for corporately run outlets.

“We need a media that covers power, not covers for power,” she said. “We need media that covers movements that create history and make static.”

LSA junior Nicholas Jansen — the president of Divest and Invest, a student organization that promotes sustainability — led chants on the Diag and stressed the necessity of divestment to fellow protesters. He echoed Goodman’s call for movements that challenge the political landscape.

Divest and Invest has repeatedly called for the University to divest from fossil fuel companies. Recently, Central Student Government passed a resolution in conjunction with Divest and Invest which asks the University’s Board of Regents to form a committee to investigate the propriety the University’s oil and coal investments.

Jansen said the University’s Vietnam teach-in 50 years ago was responsible for a domino effect of activism that ultimately encouraged the United States to pull soldiers out of Vietnam and end the war, adding that this example was what inspired Sunday’s event.

“Now that’s what we hope to do with this: start something here, start something big,” Jansen said. “Create some noise that make institutions like the University of Michigan — that have a lot of power and influence on what this country does — say we’re not putting up with this anymore, we’re done with fossil fuels.”

M. Jahi Chappell, the director of agroecology and agriculture policy at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, was among many speakers at Friday’s teach-in who spoke prior to Goodman’s keynote address. He said the issue of global climate change “is even bigger than the Vietnam War.”

Chappell added that, because climate change happens in “slow motion,” it can be difficult to impress upon people the reality of its severity. Oftentimes, he said, economic barriers are what stop people from acting on climate change issues.

“But there’s a really good recent presentation arguing we could see 30-percent unemployment 80 years from now because of the amount of damage from climate change,” he said, referencing a Tufts University study called “Macroeconomics in the Age of Climate Change.”

“This is slow motion, but that is a real possibility. We could see huge unemployment in the future, not to mention lots of other bad effects and lives lost,” Chappell said. “So this is to try and reenact energy from the Vietnam era, on something that’s even bigger than that.”

Chants continued intermittently throughout the rally. A common one was “Hey, Obama. Stop this climate drama.”

Tom Hayden, author of the Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society and a former editor of The Michigan Daily, gave the rally’s final speech prior to the formal teach-in in Angell Hall. He spoke about clean energy sources that the University and the rest of society have yet to use. Citing wind and solar power successes in other countries, he questioned why the University has not made similar strides.

“The Great Lakes should be the source of wind power for the whole region,” he said.

He further referenced the University’s potential in this area, given the esteemed College of Engineering and its students. He acknowledged the significant strides already being made by engineers at the University, though he believes more could be done.

After Hayden’s speech, teach-in participants filed into Angell Hall to listen to Goodman’s keynote address.

Engineering freshman Trevor Hoffman said he attended the teach-in because people need to understand the reality of climate change science and future consequences.

“Why am I here? To save the planet,” he said. “If we don’t educate the masses and get them all to know, then we’re not going to move forward and we’re not going to make any progress. We just have to keep moving, we have to educate more people, get more people to know, spread the word, make it known, get everyone to know.”

Marie Lynn Miranda, dean of the School of Natural Resources and Environment, gave the welcoming address prior to Goodman’s presentation.

Miranda said events like the teach-in are important for inspiring others to promote change through dispersing knowledge.

“I always say challenging times are also times of opportunity,” Miranda said.

During her speech, Goodman used her experience in Selma, Alabama on March 7, where she went to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of Bloody Sunday, to emphasize that it is not enough to simply remember the past — citizens must use knowledge to make social progress.

“I think we are seeing little uprisings and larger ones around the country that indicate something is afoot,” she said. “The media doesn’t cover movements, the media covers politicians, those who cheerlead for war.”

LSA sophomore Valeriya Epshteyn, outreach chair for Divest and Invest, felt Goodman’s speech spoke devoted attention to voices that usually do not receive recognition from other media outlets.

“Amy Goodman’s speech was one of the most honest things I’ve heard in a long time on campus,” Epshteyn said. “It didn’t feel very censored, and that’s what she said about the independent voice.”