Walking through Northeastern University’s main quad, it’s hard to miss the protestors camped out on Centennial Common. Student activists from DivestNU have been occupying the quad since Monday Oct. 3rd in an effort to pressure the university to cut its ties to the fossil fuel industry.
DivestNU, a student-led campaign, has formed a coalition of student organizations on campus, including the Northeastern Black Student Association, the Feminist Student Organization, Students for Justice in Palestine, the Progressive Student Alliance, Students Against Institutional Discrimination, and the Husky Environmental Action Team. This coalition is key, according to DivestNU organizer Austin Williams, because divestment isn’t simply a climate issue, but a social justice issue.
“The cruel irony of climate change is that the folks who have contributed the least to the problem are the ones who are going to be hit first and hardest by its impacts,” said Williams. “So we don’t think of this as a green or an environmental issue, but rather we try to frame it as a justice issue and focus on how climate change is going to exacerbate the existing inequities in our society.”
Nicole Erickson, president of the Feminist Student Organization, agreed, saying that, “[climate change isn’t] gonna be hard for President Aoun, it’s not gonna be hard for the people saying it doesn’t exist because they have all the resources to work around it. The people who are really going to be affected are the ones I’m out here for today.”
Those people, Erickson points out are those who historically get the short end of the stick: women, children and other marginalized people. Geographically, the areas most in danger are nations in the global south, from coastal flooding in South Asia to droughts in Sub-Saharan Africa. We see the effects with Hurricane Mathew–a rising death toll of over 400 according to the Haitian government. (Edit: as of Saturday morning, it’s over 800 deaths.)
Climate change-related disasters aren’t limited to natural disasters, but man-made ones as well. And that causes dangers for workers, making climate change an issue for labor rights groups as well, such as the Progressive Students Alliance, says Student Government representative Pratik Dubey, of PSA.
“Labor rights and climate justice are typically two fights that are pitted against one another but we recognize that in reality you can’t have climate justice without labor justice,” said Dubey. “Take for example, the Deep Water Horizon oil spill. The accident itself killed many workers, and in its aftermath, the spill itself ruined the livelihoods of all the people that depend on the Gulf Region for work.” (Mac McClelland has two great pieces on the DeepWater Horizon spill, the first on the runaround of the oil industry, the second on the effects on those living in the gulf. Definitely worth a read.)
When I asked protestors how long DivestNU would occupy Centennial, they said as long as it takes for the university to enact change. Let’s hope for their sake that it happens before the effects of Hurricane Mathew reach New England.