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After Lull, Divest Harvard Plans to Refocus in 2016

By Ifeoluwa T. Obayan and Ignacio Sabate, Crimson Staff Writers

Last spring Divest Harvard—a group of students challenging the University to withdraw its financial investments in fossil fuels—drew headlines for a week-long blockading of Harvard President Drew G. Faust’s Office. But after a quiet fall semester, the group is planning to refocus its efforts towards a less flashy and more targeted approach to achieve its goals.

The semester will be a time for re-strategizing and reevaluating the role Divest plays on Harvard’s campus, according to Naima Drecker-Waxman ’18, a coordinator for Divest. Given the number of Divest members who have either graduated or will graduate this year, she said the group will emphasize regrouping, institutional memory, and event planning this spring.

“We are at a point in the campaign where it’s been three years since we started,” Drecker-Waxman said. “It’s also a time to really reevaluate the goals of divestment because ultimately divestment is a tactic and the goal is around climate justice.”

Despite the recent lull in action, Divest is planning more events.

Drecker-Waxman said Divest is “definitely coming back in terms of direct action,” although she declined to specify what events the group planned for the coming semester.

In addition to regrouping and focusing on event planning, Divest will pivot its priorities. The group will seek to reflect an expanded understanding of climate change in terms of “centering things like racial and economic justice and organizing around climate change.”

Divest is adding the Spectra pipeline—a natural gas pipeline that runs through much of the Northeast, including Massachusetts—to its list of projects it considers environmentally dangerous. The group plans on hosting educational events about the pipeline and Spectra’s plans for expansion.

The focus on the pipeline is part of the organization’s goal of expanding its activism outside the gates of Harvard, Drecker-Waxman said. While the group won’t abandon their push for tangible change from Harvard, Drecker-Waxman said Divest needs a new approach to working with University administrators.

“What we think immediate action would look like is entering negotiations as opposed to the same meeting that we’ve had 13 times,” said Drecker-Waxman, emphasizing the need to have a “serious conversation” around the next steps.

Alongside Divest’s new strategy for its campus activism, some of its members are also involved in a lawsuit against Harvard.

In late November 2014, the Harvard Climate Justice Coalition, a group of Harvard students including some Divest members, filed a lawsuit against the University for its financial support of the oil, gas, and coal industries. The lawsuit claims that Harvard intentionally invests in “abnormally dangerous activities.”

The suit was heard in late February, but the judge of the Suffolk Superior Court granted Harvard’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit about a month later. In response, the Coalition appealed and filed an appellate brief in October. The group is currently waiting for a ruling on the appeal.

“We think the trial court made an error dismissing the case,” Joseph “Ted” E. Hamilton, a Law School student and member of the Coalition, said. “We think the judge made some factual conclusions that really should be left to a jury.”

Kelsey C. Skaggs, a Law student and Coalition member, said the group’s appeal is currently pending before the Massachusetts Appeals Court. The group expects the court to assign the lawsuit a hearing date in the coming months.

If the courts do not grant an appeal, Hamilton said the group would likely appeal once more to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

—Staff writer Ifeoluwa T. Obayan can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @itobayan.

—Staff writer Ignacio Sabate can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ignacio_sabate.

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