An open letter to Divest MTA

Climate change is terrifying. Abjectly terrifying. We live in one of the most environmentally volatile times that humanity has encountered, including the ice age. There is scientific consensus that climate change resulting from human activities is a fact. Most reasonable people see and recognize this and realize it is an issue that we can no longer afford to ignore. The information we have in our hands tells us that fossil fuels are inherently unsustainable. That’s not really the debate happening right now. Instead, the debate at the forefront of campus life is divestment: Should Mount Allison’s endowment fund contain investments that are linked to the large fossil fuel producers and refiners operating in Canada?

Divest MTA’s position is unequivocally “no,” and they state this with a commendable passion. Occupying a quad or an academic building, staging die-ins during Board of Regents meetings: These are tactics meant to demonstrate the depths of conviction held by these students. It should also be noted that the die-in conducted at the Board of Regents meeting was an extension of Divest MTA claiming that university administration would not engage with them in a meaningful dialogue, and that the occupation of Centennial Hall followed from this same claim.

We wholeheartedly agree that investment in alternative fuels should be a goal for all who care deeply about the future of the environment. There is no long-term alternative to development of sustainable energy. But watching via live stream the occupation of the administration’s office and ensuing negotiations between two of the student organizers and Robert Campbell left us feeling disenchanted with Divest MTA’s tactics and confused about their motivations. The resulting media releases via their Facebook page only served to exacerbate this confusion.

Divest MTA, what is your plan to prompt the University to divest its reported 5 per cent in the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies? As interested alum who agree with your vision, it’s hard to wholeheartedly throw ourselves behind your organization. You finally reached one of your goals when you occupied Centennial Hall, resulting in an audience with Dr. Campbell. The live videos from the negotiation were not an example of effective protest. They demonstrated that the claims being made are emotional, moralistic and made from a place of passion, but they had little to no facts, compromises or alternatives presented. They were just demands, made with the offices of Dr. Campbell acting the part of the hostage. This is not effective activism, and it will not lead to a workable solution.

Your characterization of the president’s difficulty in leaving his office (which you had made next to impossible to accomplish without physical discomfort on both his part and yours) was of “violence on a macro level”; this is in response to a human simply trying to leave his place of work. The only reason any sort of discomfort befell protestors is because they refused to yield the barest modicum of space for him to walk. To call Dr. Campbell’s actions physical violence is disrespectful to all those who have experienced true retaliation in response to their protests.

You had a real chance to make tangible progress toward divestment, and you used it to dump your frustration onto Dr. Campbell. Your group has repeatedly stated the university is refusing to listen to you, but when you finally got to the table with Dr. Campbell, he wasn’t the one refusing to listen. What you are doing is important, and you have so many allies who stand behind your vision of green energy and responsible investment. Effective activism results in change, and the tactics I’ve seen used so far aren’t doing this cause justice. We are willing to believe that the university hasn’t been receptive to you before, but you had a chance during your sit-in and squandered it.

If Divest MTA is serious about their stated goal, they should be willing to do more than attempt to be disruptive enough to force the University’s hand or bring tone-deaf charges of violence against administrators. If the administration wasn’t listening to you before, they are now. Work with them. Try to understand the challenges they are facing in moving toward divestment, and work with them to come up with a solution. Don’t just sit there and demand the University divest. Help them solve the problems preventing divestment. Or even better, come up with a practical and actionable plan to achieve your goals, outlining green investments that are good for the school and the planet.

We are proud of the students of Mt. A who obviously care so deeply about this cause, and helping to prove to the world that Allisonians are not only great students, but great citizens. Now it’s up to you, Divest MTA, to earn the garnet and gold that you bear so proudly.

Sincerely,

Geoff Hutchinson, Class of ‘12

Marshall Thomas, Class of ‘13

16 Responses

  1. If the authors of this op-ed would like to learn more about civil disobedience (and the tactic of divestment), please message me or consult the works by activists of colour, queer activists who do this work. You can reach me at tyoh@mta.ca.

    Your use of “effective activism” sends chills down my spine.

  2. It’s clear from what you imply that you have no idea what you’re talking about. They’ve done everything you proposed over the last 4 YEARS (almost 5 now) and it hasn’t worked, and that’s why an occupation was necessary. Your stance tells me you tuned in to what they were doing at the occupation and haven’t bothered to consider the context leading up to it. Next time you write a public criticism of something do the bare minimum of research and consideration first.
    -Clay Steell, ’16

  3. this article highlights the reasons why students on campus believe the vandalism of the library was the actions of Divest MTA; students here think your form of advocacy is embarrassing and immature – which is why you don’t have their support

    1. we might not have your support, but if you don’t understand that your passiveness will lead to the suffering of coming generations and the extinction of the majority of species, we don’t want you, Five Dollar Bill.

    2. “which is why you dont have [my] support”
      Please don’t take it upon yourself to represent the whole student body.

      Do you think the women who dropped off symbolic coffins/handcuffed themselves to 24 Sussex against illegal abortion laws was immature/embarrassing? Do you think black people who protest by yelling the last words of Eric Garner (“I can’t breathe”) are immature/embarrassing?

      1. “Duder” might not speak for the whole student body, but it’s evident from this comment section that there is a growing segment of the student body that is entirely sick of the privileged petulance of certain individuals in the Divest MTA movement. Most students are here to learn and develop skills that will allow them to lead an engaged and meaningful life.

        That means many of us are disinterested in or entirely disagree your political hobby. We don’t appreciate being called terrible people or (in my case) bigots for expressing our opinions, and we’re not going to tolerate it any more.

        I’d like to thank these alumni for voicing criticisms that many here at Mt.A are too cowed to voice publicly.

  4. This letter ignores the years of work Divest MtA has already done going through “official channels”.

    The problem isn’t simply the administration being unwilling to divest from fossil fuels, rather this unwillingness is a deeply rooted symptom of the wider undemocratic governance of this university.

    These students have had countless discussions and meetings with admin, where they’ve been talked down to, dismissed, and often have to deal with casual sexism and racism. I am deeply saddened not only by the dismissive way the administration treats students who are fighting for climate justice (and despite it making you uncomfortable, it is a fight), but also that my fellow alumni feel the need to push down on students who already face many obstacles in this fight.

  5. I would like to thank these alumni for putting into words what I so far have failed to eloquently express in conversations I have had. Every cause needs champions, and I commend those involved in Divest for having the courage to fight for theirs, but I hated what I saw in that video. It made me beyond uncomfortable, and I found myself angry with the entire movement, even though I agree with the principles on which it is founded. To me, this seems a disservice to our generation because now it appears that I don’t support addressing the serious climate change problem we face, but really I just completely disagree with the visible methods that were used and shared with the student body. Just because I don’t agree with your methods, does not make me a bad person, a thought that I have seen purported on social media in the past few weeks. I hope that next time you live stream your conversations with the administration on Facebook, you think carefully about the message you craft, the words you use, and the plans you propose, because I would really like to get on board, but in this instance, I just couldn’t.

    1. I 100% agree. And I feel that the hostile reactions for people who agree with the cause but disagree with the methods is also unwarranted. The discomfort that you have felt was shared by many of my close peers and I know that many others have felt this as well. In the end, I’m sure everyone can agree, Divesting from fossil fuels is important. That being said, the process would be difficult. Divest MTA asked for an audience with Dr. Campbell and the way they acted when they didn’t hear what they wanted to hear was what I think disturbed a lot of people, such as yourself and me. I don’t care how much a person makes per year or the scale of influence they have on a decision, a shame chant and an accusation of assault (after the floor was covered with bodies that he tried to avoid) was completely inappropriate and disturbing.

  6. Another Alum here. I’ve never been involved with Divest but I have followed the work they did and continue to do. Divest wouldn’t be doing it the hard way if it could have been done the easy way. There is no negotiating with a president who is essentially an arrogant brick wall. Climate change activism is life or death. Maybe their protest tactics weren’t perfect, but who can blame Divest for becoming passionate about an issue of such magnitude.

    Fingers crossed here that a new president brings badly needed change.

  7. Your hysteria is ‘indoctrination’ by the university, most reasonable people have lives and real problems… your concerns about the climate are ill founded because you don’t understand the climate and you don’t understand the scientific method .. the science is not settled and the models used for climate analysis are flaws… all the rest is white noise … consistently putting out propaganda about the climate has created a sea of boring students who do not use critical thinking skills and do not seek answers but repeat what their ‘instructors’ shovel at them.

  8. Putting your concerns into context, you’d all do well to find a new hobby and learn about the benefits of fossil fuels to our modern advanced society… instead of destroying what is something you ‘think is bad and don’t like’ perhaps you could learn to be about creating positive chance and promoting energy development and innovation instead of being tantrum-y .. its immature the way you approach your cause and its telling that you think you are being stalked Tina Oh [you’re not; no one plans to harm you or issue death threats but you do have to be acknowledged as a troublemaker in town] .. what happens is obvious: when someone throws legitimate criticism at your activism you play a victim card .. just as the Perkin did … after having watched your group’s video where you invade the Regents meeting and some of you are seen to openly make fun of, deride, and mock Robert Campbell as a group is it any wonder people do not take you seriously but find your behaviour unacceptable.. Robert is leaving Mount Allison and I can’t help but wonder if the harrassment by your group is the reason.. he was a fiscally responsible President and well respected and well liked during his time here with the exception of angry divest protestors who quite frankly are still a shrill minority… You’re removing a lot of comments on this article.. it shows your lack of courage and dedication to free speech and open discourse.. Good luck with that…

  9. TLA is committing to supporting fossil fuels development in Canada.. its a patriot duty for those who are true stakeholders in the nation … as an advocate for Canada Action in our region I would encourage anyone interested in the cause of ‘ethical oil for Canadians by Canadians’ to sign up at Canada Action dot ca .. and finally, Tina Oh, you have never been threatened by me nor have you been harassed.. you have been criticized for your tactics, aggressiveness and divisiveness in a small town .. your group has bullied our town hall into opposing a pipeline that our government, Brian Gallant, is on record supporting .. Energy East .. because its good for Canada we HAVE A RIGHT TO SUPPORT IT and you believe your small noisy activists can take that right away.. you can’t. If you persist in sending the RCMP to my house and wasting their time .. You will only be putting yourself into a more uncomfortable position in our small town.. Keep that in mind.. and conduct yourself with respect at all times – there are other viewpoints out there in the country — use your summer break to connect with Canadians and leave your ‘divest’ echo chamber.. I wish you well.

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