As a mostly retired journalist and a climate activist, I had my own moving encounter with this cohort in New Haven this week, when I joined four dozen Yale students in occupying the lobby of the building where the Yale investments office traffics in fossil fuels and Puerto Rican debt. The students’ demands were that the university divest from its holdings in at least $678 million in fossil fuel stocks and cancel the holdings that some of its fund managers have in Puerto Rican debt, since the island – a territory of the U.S. – was forced into bankruptcy inn 2016. The students are demanding that the Puerto Rican people – not wealthy investors – be first in line to get the resources they need to rebuild their shattered island after Hurricane Maria hit in September 2017.
We sat in for five hours, and the students had a five-hour “lesson plan.” Four students did a teach-in about the colonial status of Puerto Rico and the resulting horrors. For example, about a third of the island’s women of child-bearing age were sterilized without their consent between the 1930s and the 1970s, and many were used as guinea pigs by pharmaceutical companies developing their birth control pills.
Another student talked about her senior thesis on the history of Yale’s now-$29 billion endowment.
There was a Skype chat with Bill McKibben, co-founder of the global climate movement 350.org and the guru of fossil fuel divestment.
There was a guided meditation and a time to stretch and dance (we were sitting on the floor, and it got uncomfortable after awhile, at least for me). There were beautiful songs and energetic chants, and toward the end the organizers spread out a 30-foot roll of paper on which we were asked to draw something we’ll miss as a result of climate catastrophe and something we will hold dear going forward, which we shared with a partner.
At 5 p.m., Yale police announced the building was closed and we were being charged with trespassing. As each pair (the organizers had buddied us up) stepped up to get processed and receive our $92 citation, everyone sang, “Courage [their name], you do not walk alone. We will walk with you and sing your spirit home.” My arrest buddy was Justin Farmer, a student at Southern Connecticut State University, a Hamden town council member, and a person who shows up when it counts (our selfie above). When we walked out the door, we were greeted with wild cheers by a hundred people who had attended a rally that began at 3:30 p.m. and waited in the cold for us all to be released around 6 p.m.
These young people know what they’re up against, and they talk about the stress and the fear and the anger they feel. But I’ve never met a group more full of love and joy. I honestly don’t know how they do it, but I sure was happy to be in close proximity to that for an afternoon.