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On April 15, 2015, 17 University of Mary Washington students and I exited the administrative building that we had been occupying for 21 days. We joined hundreds of our peers who gathered behind a wall of VA state troopers. Chants started as two students and a community member were pulled into the back of a paddy wagon with shackles around their ankles. The UMW administration, along with the board, had ordered us to end our sit-in an hour before in a drastic statement of defiance to the campus community’s continued demands for fossil fuel divestment.
On April 15, 2016, this same board voted 11-1 in favor of divestment. In exactly one year, those who stood on the side of repression—who decided they would rather arrest their own students than respond to those students concerns— chose to step onto the right side of history, making UMW the first public university in the south to cut its ties with the fossil fuel industry.
This complete shift in the position of UMWs decision-makers is a testimony to the the power of organized students who stand firmly behind their demands. DivestUMWs campaign serves as another example of the strides possible when students act in their power and are willing to step into the risk that accompanies it.
DivestUMW’s initial escalation of action came after years of administrative stalling. After the established bureaucratic channels had been exhausted, it became clear that the these processes provided by the administration weren't meant to generate change for students and the rest of the UMW community, and instead effectively protect the interest of board. . Our campaign grew tired of the inability of this method to truly challenge the entrenched hypocrisy that UMWs investments in this destructive industry indicated. As a former student organizer with DivestUMW, we decided that if things were going to change on our campus, we would have to force that change. The issue was not the silencing of student voices— it was that students walked onto campus without any recognition of a voice to begin with. Our campaign had to ensure we would be heard despite this reality, so we took to direct action.
DivestUMWs escalation planned to break the wall of passivity that our administration and board used to hide . We knew that the institution’s investments in fossil fuels indicated a stance of complicity with the destruction and violence that this industry generated--from famine and flooding induced by climate change to the the forced displacement of indigenous populations to make way for extraction. But UMW’s administration and board defended the “neutrality” of the endowment. They insisted investments didn’t indicate any political stance. Therefore, Divest UMW repeatedly pushed administrators and other decision makers to see that their investments were a political choice, and we prohibited them from using “neutrality” as an excuse not to divest from fossil fuels.
The series of injustices surfacing at UWM resulted in our extended sit-in on March 19, 2015 where nearly 200 students, faculty, and community members from eight universities across the state joined us in occupying the main administrative building on campus. DivestUMW continued aggressive actions on administrators by disrupting a board meeting in February where students took control of the conversation demanding that divestment come to an official vote by the end of the year.
On April 15, 2016, that vote was finally made in favor of the demands of the campus community. What began as a seemingly neverending series of rejections and dead-ends, concluded in the historic decision at UMW and for the entire divestment movement. This decision was made amidst a coordinated national escalation of divestment campaigns. In just two weeks, we’ve seen sit-ins at University of Massachusetts, Harvard University, Columbia University, New York University, Vassar College, and the University of Montana. Just as we saw at UMW, administrators have responded by repressing student voices through threatening to suspend, expel, or arrest students instead of siding with justice.
As an UMW alum, this victory is significant to me, and I know we can do more with the collective power of alums across institutions. It is only a matter of time until our university boards across the U.S. realize that divestment is not a choice, but a requisite to have mission-aligned campuses. Our movement is growing, and with the help of student organizers, alums, and supportive campus staff, we will keep winning campus by campus until we achieve endowment justice.
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We're looking for two Organizing Interns this summer to work at our office in Downtown Brooklyn. Submit your cover letter and resume by May 16, 2016.
Find out more by checking out the description at CONNECT > Jobs & Volunteering
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
APRIL 22, 2016
Nina Macapinlac, New Jersey Prison Divest
(973) 641-9735, firstname.lastname@example.org
NEW JERSEY PRISON DIVESTMENT COALITION LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN AND RALLY AT GEO GROUP HALFWAY HOUSE
Newark, NJ – Members of New Jersey Prison Divest, a newly formed coalition of community and student organizations, rallied today outside of the Newark Residential Reentry Center, which is owned by GEO Group Inc., the second largest private prison corporation in the country. This rally marked the launch of the coalition’s campaign against mass incarceration and criminalization in New Jersey.
Made up of 15 community and student organizations working on issues around immigrant rights and criminal justice, New Jersey Prison Divest held a community speak-out in front of the halfway house. Representatives who spoke included those from Pax Christi, New Jersey Communities United, Wind of the Spirit, Paul Robeson Prison Divestment at Rutgers University, and People’s Organization for Progress. These speeches included direct experiences of those who were formerly incarcerated or affected by criminalization and mass incarceration.
The coalition’s launch outside the Newark Residential Reentry Center highlights the expansion of privatization for the extraction of profit within New Jersey communities, as well as private prisons’ overall role in fueling mass incarceration and criminalization of mostly Black and immigrant communities. According to a report released by Grassroots Leadership, Senior Vice President and President of GEO Care Ann Schlarb remarked that the Newark Residential Reentry Center--a company-leased 240-bed residential reentry center under contract with the State of New Jersey--is expected to generate approximately $5.5 million in annualized revenues.
“For-profit prison corporations, like GEO, are no longer exclusively working in prison facilities, but are expanding further through privatization to make a profit,” said Natalie Casal, a national organizer with the prison divestment campaign. “With the pressure put nationally to cut ties with private prison companies, GEO has moved towards businesses like halfway houses, centers that are meant to assist folks into adjusting for life after incarceration. Just like the many examples we have of human right abuses from many facilities, we can expect GEO to put profit over people. We shouldn’t allow New Jersey to become a harbor for privatization, instead we should work towards genuine rehabilitation in our communities.”
The GEO Group Inc. is the second largest private prison corporation in the United States behind Corrections Corporation of America. Geo Group has federal and state contracts to manage security prisons, immigration detention centers, the transportation of those incarcerated and halfway houses in 17 states. The corporation also has an exclusive contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to provide supervision and reporting services for non-detained non-citizens in the immigration court system. Over the last ten years, GEO’s consolidated revenue has grown from $517 million in 2002 to $1.69 billion in 2014. In 2013, GEO Group and CCA successfully qualified as Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) under lax IRS guidelines; this classification allows both companies to dodge income taxes.
The Newark Residential Reentry facility is only one example of the privatization of treatment services for incarcerated and supervised populations in the state. Community Education Centers (CEC) is another controversial private company that operates halfway houses. In 2015, two inmates were found dead from overdoses and a CEC employee found guilty of sexual assault at the CEC-owned Albert M. "Bo" Robinson halfway house in Trenton.
The NJ Prison Divest Coalition is fighting to expose and oppose the financial ties and profit motive behind mass incarceration and criminalization in New Jersey. Targeting private prison corporations and demanding that their revenue stream be cut off is one step towards fighting the overall mass incarceration and criminalization of Black and immigrant communities. The NJ Prison Divest coalition’s overall objectives include the following:
Stop the contracting and outsourcing of treatment services like halfway houses and drug rehabilitation centers to for-profit companies
Divest the endowment of Rutgers University from private prison companies and their major investors, which include big banks like Wells Fargo and JP Morgan.
Target the private prison lobby and cut all private prison money out of politics
Invest state money in the genuine rehabilitation of Black and immigrant communities, like putting money into jobs, housing, and education.
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Today, Earth Day, REC celebrates 12 years of organizing students, alumni, and other university stakeholders across the country for #endowmentjustice. Since our founding, REC has grown to train and mentor over 3,000 student campaigners at over 50 schools annually, giving them tools for holding corporations and investors accountable. This work is more important than ever before and we are grateful that you are beside us, a part of the REC community.
Here's what is new at REC:
Fossil Fuel Divestment Campus Escalations
It's an extraordinary time in the fossil fuel divestment movement. In the past month, both the Pratt Institute and the University of Mary Washington have committed to divest entirely from fossil fuel holdings and Yale announced it would be divesting from coal. And we are presently in the midst of a major escalation across campus campaigns: close to 80 students have been arrested at Divest UMass' organized sit-in at the Whitmore Building; NYU Divest held a 33-hour sit-in at the Bobst Library; and Columbia Divest for Climate Justice has occupied the Low Library since Friday, April 15. These courageous students even got a shout out from presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and actor Mark Ruffalo! (Photo from NYU Divest)
Prison Divestment National Week of Action 2016
This week, across the country, campuses and communities have been mobilizing to build power for their campaigns and eliminate tax breaks for private prison companies. As part of the Prison Divestment National Week of Action, sign the petition to demand the Joint Tax Committee revoke private prisons’ REIT Status and end tax breaks for private prisons here: www.tinyurl.com/NoPrisonTaxBreaks
If you are interested in attending the 2016 Prison Divestment Youth Retreat, please look out for our application in the next week or email us at email@example.com .
REC is a proud partner of Divest for Democracy, Invest in a Just Transition, a new initiative that connects the power of the fossil fuel divestment movement with campaigns calling on the US government to do its part to divest the economy from fossil fuels and invest in a just transition to a clean, renewable energy future. Follow @democracydivest and #Divest4Democracy and join us on Tuesday, April 26, at 11 AM EST for a Twitter Town Hall. We'll be discussing the route to a #FossilFreeDemocracy: fighting #dirtymoney in politics, ending subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, stopping oil and gas extraction on public lands, and securing public investment in a just transition to a clean, renewable energy economy.
International Solidarity Program
This June, REC will connect fossil fuel divestment organizers with frontline communities in the Philippines through our first International Solidarity Program. Our team of staff and students will be visiting communities affected by coal fired power plants in Batangas, integrating with Typhoon Haiyan survivors in the Visayas, and finally seeing the Lumad struggle against foreign multi-national corporations in Mindanao. Please consider making a donation to support this program and help build the international solidarity necessary to achieve real climate justice.
Summer Organizing Retreat
Our annual flagship program will be held from July 18 to 22 in New Jersey. This program is ideal both for students who want to learn the basics of endowment campaigning or those who want to take their existing campaign to the next level. Our application to participate will be available next week, so keep your eye out and be sure to spread the word! Space is limited.
Thank you again for what you give to the REC community. Onward!
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Photo from Columbia Divest for Climate Justice Facebook page
The Responsible Endowments Coalition supports the students of Columbia Divest for Climate Justice (CDCJ) on the fifth day of Low Library's occupation.
The fossil fuel industry drives the climate crisis, exploits and oppresses communities along its entire supply chain, and has captured our political process by buying off our politicians. We commend Columbia Divest for Climate Justice for confronting their administration’s complicity in this destructive industry by demanding their university cut financial ties with the top 200 dirty energy companies.
President Bollinger must publicly recommend full fossil fuel divestment to Columbia’s board of trustees, and have the University divest its British Petroleum and ExxonMobil shares.
We applaud CDCJ for organizing and mobilizing students, alums, and faculty at Columbia University. Low Library’s occupation by CDCJ is an incredible show of student power and discipline. REC sees students demanding #endowmentjustice as the first step campuses are taking across the nation to ultimately turn to a cooperative economy powered by democratically controlled renewable energy. REC will continue to support these campaigners until all CDCJ’s demands are met and Columbia University is fossil free!
Support this action and Columbia Divest for Climate Justice by sending donations directly to student activists here.
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"Marcie Smith, Executive Director of the Responsible Endowments Coalition, calls this a 'rage-inducing picture.' 'Universities raking in a record $40 billion in 2015, Wall Street stacked boards of directors approving self-dealing investments, all while tuition continues to rise, student debt continues to mount, and value of a college degree declines,' she says. 'The state of higher education is yet another example of austerity in America, and signals the dangerous creep of a free market fundamentalism that thinks all institutions in society exist to enrich the bankers.'
This week, REC's Executive Director, Marcie Smith is quoted in The Nation in Astra Taylor's article, "Universities Are Becoming Billion-Dollar Hedge Funds With Schools Attached." Check it out and share!
(AP Photo / Elise Amendola, File)
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17 students were arrested at the Department of Environmental Quality in Richmond, VA. We must do everything in our power to ensure that Dominion Energy is not be permitted to dump coal ash into Quantico Creek on Wednesday, March 9, 2016.