A Trail of Dirty Money

by Swarthmore Mountain Justice

Hi all, Swarthmore Mountain Justice (MJ) here. We are a group that started out as allies to the anti-mountaintop removal coal mining movement, and saw Swarthmore’s endowment as a good way to bring that issue home to our campus in suburban Philadelphia. Since then, we have expanded our focus to include not only mountaintop removal, but also fracking, offshore drilling, and other exploitative methods of extracting fossil fuels. These various forms of extraction are similar in many ways: they all produce immense profits for a few corporate shareholders while devastating local communities, ecosystems, and the global climate. Another similarity also links these different practices—Swarthmore’s investments are funding these practices.

Community groups on the “frontlines” of fossil fuel extraction are fighting every day to stop the corporations that are literally killing their families. Swarthmore’s administration puts a lot of emphasis on being a “socially responsible” institution, so it is completely hypocritical for the college to actively invest in the destruction of frontline communities. We students are uncomfortable knowing that our educational experiences are being funded by these investments.

MJ isn’t sure yet how we want the college to address this glaring hypocrisy, though it is clear that something needs to be done. As we research and consider ways that Swarthmore can bring its practices in alliance with its admirable values, we are educating Swarthmore students and faculty about the college’s investments.

We kicked off this educational process about three weeks ago with a fun and creative tactic—proof that endowment activism doesn’t have to be boring! We mailed letters from the (entirely fake) “Committee on Investment Profitability” to the entire student body, along with some photoshopped “dirty investment dollars.” The following day, we published an op-ed explaining ourselves in the online student newspaper. The tactic engaged students in an unexpected way, and we got a great response, including an article in the other student newspaper.

Since we used this tactic, we have been hearing responses and questions from many different students and faculty members on campus. We are taking these comments into consideration to decide the next element of our strategy. Stay tuned! Please email us at [email protected] with suggestions, questions, or if you are thinking about starting an extraction-related campaign on your campus!

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