Regarding recent protests toward Bank of America on campus

Rosemary Shanley | Class of 2014

Sam Wein reads aloud a prepared statement regarding Bank of America’s support of mountaintop coal removal. The speech was part of a protest staged by several of the green student groups on campus.

Last Thursday, I stood alongside Washington University students in protest. The demonstration targeted Bank of America’s financing of the coal industry; specifically, those corporations engaged in the hazardous and invasive practices of mountaintop coal removal mining in the Appalachian Mountains.

Our protest took the form of two separate demonstrations. The first was at an event called Meet the Firms, in which students and corporate representatives are encouraged to become acquainted. Here, student protesters took the opportunity to acquaint corporate representatives of Bank of America with their opinions regarding the company’s practices, speaking out against the financing of mountaintop coal removal.

The second protest took place at Bank of America’s informational session the next day. Prior to the demonstration, you could sense a clear air of apprehension amongst the bank’s representatives. They began by addressing the prior day’s protest—posing the question, “Did you get to see our friends yesterday?”—whilst evading mention of the specific issues prompting the demonstration. They noted that a security guard was on call in the event of another “incident.”

Mid-way through the session, students filed in to protest. There were more students in participation in the demonstration than were present for the meeting itself. Our message was clear: we will not stand behind organizations that enable the degradation of our health, our communities and our environment, or jeopardize the future of generations to follow.

Following our brief interjection, I was approached by the on-call security guard and informed that the police had been called and arrests would be made. While I cannot say for certain as to whether the police were in fact called, the threat was empty in any event. We were not violating any laws. Moreover, I seriously question whether it is in the interest of Washington University as an educational institution to penalize students for speaking out against social injustices.

We spoke up for the rights of those whose voices are being ignored; for the people in Appalachia whose communities have been destroyed and homelands polluted.

We stood up for the belief that corporations should be transparent in their practices, and accountable to the consequences of their actions.

We stood for the values of the Democratic system: a government by the people, for the people, wherein the voice of the people carries weight in the process of decision-making and policy development.

Finally, we stood in defense of a generation commonly criticized for an overly “apathetic” demeanor—a critique I find unfair. It is not that we are not apathetic; it is that we are over-stimulated and overwhelmed.

We are the first generation to have grown up in the presence of the Internet; to learn of the world under a constant bombardment of information. Everyday, tuning into world news promises a litany of horrifying stories and high definition glimpses into the most gruesome instances of human existence: victims of chemical warfare in Syria and disease-stricken slums of Liberia. There is more information than we could ever process, and our reaction too often is to subsequently ignore the issues altogether.

At some point, however, failure to act becomes your action. To ignore the issue of climate change is to resign yourself to its inevitability. We use feeling “overwhelmed” as a crutch to justify remaining uninvolved. Still, there is no excuse for inaction. If anything, the magnitude of an issue should provide more motivation to act. If we are to stand a fighting chance against climate change, we must be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that it’s going to involve far more than switching to reusable shopping bags.

Approaching an issue as goliath as climate change is daunting. However, if we break it down into challenges with clear goals and foreseeable ends, we can win. As young people, we represent the future of this nation. It is time we take accountability for our actions and rise above our reputation of apathy. If we are displeased with the nature of our nation, it is time we stand up and make our voices heard.

If you do not know where to begin, consider standing with us in our action towards Bank of America, or in Wash. U.’s campus-wide divestment campaign. Join the coalitions of students organizing on campuses nationwide to challenge universities and banks to divest from coal. Our mission will not necessarily be easy, but it is winnable. Through collective action, we can influence the forces of the change. Our future is at stake and the ball is in our court, friends. Let’s start making some moves.

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