Something that I have been doing for my community this year is engaging with the fossil fuel divestment campaign on our campus. We are one of almost 300 campaigns around the nation all working towards a similar goal. Divestment in itself is a very simple act: take investments out of the fossil fuel industry. This can be done on any level, whether it be personal investments, city investments, a church’s investments, or even a country (Norway in recent news). The idea of divestment is essentially a devolution of power. It seeks to fix the current status, which is structured in a way that corporations control our universities (in this case fossil fuel corporations) through their economic power. Divestment campaigns work to shift that power from the hands of the fossil fuel industry and into the hands of the hands of students. There are several methods and way which we use to achieve that goal.
One major function of DivestUMW is to do direct actions, which is using alternative methods outside of the established channels. In our campaign, we have reached many blocks when trying to achieve our goal, so we need to use other methods. Direct action can be used in many different ways, but it tends to be something of a very visual display, or something that disrupts the ordinary routine in order to Our university’s governance structure and process is one that tends to be hidden from the immediate eye of the public. By highlighting certain aspects of the process with action, the public will be more likely to be in tune with the process.
But these actions by themselves are not enough. Doing an action in the middle of the day will only catch at most 40 to 50 people on its own. The action does not matter unless it hits media. This can either be on social media or traditional media, or a variation. Our campaign has found it necessary to use social media to get our messages at times when traditional media is unresponsive. Local traditional media sources have tendencies to shy away from administrative decisions and social justice issues here on campus for the sake of being more digestible, so they usually only cover us when we do something big and they would risk losing their reputation if they ignore it.
There are benefits to cons to both. With social media you have more control over the messaging and can have a narrative that directly serves your purpose. With traditional media, you lose some control over the narrative and but gain more legitimacy in the public eye.
Actions and media work together to draw attention to a target: that is a decision maker or a decision making body that is either an obstacle for our campaign or can give us what we want. For us last year, a serious block was the Rector of the board, Rector Cuellar. Cuellar continuously tried to reject our voice and presence at the meetings, whether it was direct or through more passive means by neglecting to address us despite wide shown support. This target changes depending on different stages of the campaign. With all of these combined methods, the campaign hopes to bring power into the hands of students and open up channels for more causes to go through, some being debt free education, private prison divestment, and better sexual assault policy.