Fossil Free Northwestern promotes divestment, hosts environmental justice teach-in


Owen Stidman/Daily Senior Staffer

Fossil Free Northwestern gathered in front of Technology Institution this Thursday in an act of protest. It was followed by a teach-in on environmental justice at Seabury Hall.

Yunkyo Kim, Assistant Campus Editor

Battling Thursday’s heavy winds and snow, members of Fossil Free Northwestern conducted a die-in protest in front of the Technological Institute to denounce the University’s financial investments in fossil fuel extraction and sales companies.

The protest was later followed by a teach-in at Seabury Hall, which included student-led presentations and performances about environmental justice.

The events were organized as part of Global Divestment Day, in coordination with over 50 other universities in the United States under Divest Ed, which is a training hub dedicated to working with college campuses in mobilizing divestment movements.

Fossil Free NU members believe this is the first step to escalating mobilization against the University and fossil fuel institutions that disproportionately oppress marginalized communities.

“It’s really important that we are unifying with other organizations that are asking for the same thing that we are,” Grace Dolezal-Ng, Fossil Free director of marketing and media and Communications senior, said. “There’s power in numbers.”

The protest activities also respond to the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility’s quarterly open meeting this Tuesday. At the meeting, Fossil Free NU did not receive a response on their divestment proposal from the Board of Trustees.

The proposal calls for a “stop, drop and roll” policy, which stipulates the university halt all future investments from fossil fuel companies, withdraw investments following a five-year timeline then plan to reinvest funds to renewable energy.

At the die-in, students held up signs denouncing the University’s financial investments and chanted for 15 minutes during heavy foot traffic going into the Technology Institute, before dispersing.

Even though the organization is concerned with showing the demand for institutional divestment, Dolezal-Ng said, another purpose of Fossil Free NU is to educate the campus community about climate and environmental justice.

“We are actively rewriting ourselves into an institution that violently seeks to erase us as students and communities of color,” Keala Uchoa, Fossil Free NU president and Weinberg sophomore said at the teach-in. “Despite our frustration and disillusionment with this apathetic and complacent University, we are gathering here today to build solidarity and a sustainable community.”

Students attending the teach-in event said they wanted to show support for divestment and learn more about the discriminatory impact of fossil fuel investments in marginalized communities.

Fossil Free member and Weinberg senior Josémanuel Hernandez brought a large painting to the teach-in event, which depicted a woman-like figure. They encouraged students to paint onto the canvas to create a collaborative mural.

“(The painting is) a cultural representation of the earth,” Hernandez said. “But I wanted it to be also an optimistic message about resistance and about fighting for environmental justice and against environmental injustice and environmental racism.”

Carmen Awin-Ongya, a McCormick junior who attended Fossil Free NU’s teach-in event, said she attended the event to learn more about environmental activism.

Awin-Ongya said it was important for students to learn what they were protesting for and specific issues pertinent to the movement.

“It’s easy to get on the bandwagon of protesting,” she said. “I feel like the education part of any protest is very vital to its success.”

Dolezal-Ng said Thursday’s events were a “beginning of a larger mark” for escalating the divestment movement in 2020.

The protest events are a building block to larger demonstrations, which will increase pressures on universities to withdraw investments from environmentally harmful and unjust companies, she said. The group will continue to increase its efforts in the remainder of the academic year.

“This will not be our last demonstration,” Dolezal-Ng said, “nor will it be the last demonstration for other fossil-free organizations across the world.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misquoted parts of Keala Uchoa’s speech, stating “complicit environment of the university” and “in solidarity with the sustainable community.” They have been replaced with “apathetic and complacent University” and “to build solidarity and a sustainable community.” The Daily regrets the errors.

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