by Allyson Gross, class of 2016
Hillary Clinton has, in my lifetime, been many things. From First Lady to Senator to Secretary of State (and email aficionado), she has been a constant presence in the public eye, and though perhaps more tangentially, my life overall. Several Christmases ago, my conservative grandfather ironically bought me a Ready for Hillary t-shirt, and I once mused as a naive first year in the Bowdoin Democrats that I would work for “whatever campaign Hillary was running” upon my 2016 graduation. In all of that time, I never really imagined I’d ever meet her—much less personally confront her.
One week ago today, that scenario became reality, as I and seven other members of Bowdoin Climate Action disrupted Clinton’s campaign stop in Portland over her wavering and unclear position on the Keystone XL pipeline. When her speech mentioned climate change, we rose from our seats and held our folded signs, calling on Clinton to “say no to KXL.” As she exasperatedly asked us to sit down, I interrupted her to ask her position on the pipeline. The rest of the scene is well-documented, both in video and print.
There are myriad reasons why we interrupted her, and why students and organizers around the country have been confronting her about the pipeline for months. Because her climate plan doesn’t address fossil fuel extraction as the root of the crisis. Because in a demonstrated lack of leadership, she was the only presidential candidate not to make her stance on the pipeline clear. Because Keystone, a shoddily-made tar sands export pipeline, comes to an end only a short drive away from my family’s home on the southeast side of Houston. That home is what has spurred me into action, both on campus and off, for climate justice in the campaign for fossil fuel divestment. Keystone does not directly relate to Bowdoin’s endowment, and Clinton has no say on the removal of our investments from the fossil fuel industry. However, the intentions behind the political pressure leveraged on both the pipeline and the candidate also correspond with the very point of divestment. To target the fossil fuel industry on all levels is to build a powerful movement contesting its longevity.
Though many may get caught up in the specifics of the tactic itself, divestment is just that—a tactic—and its meaning stretches far beyond the actual movement of money. The goal behind it is to build popular support against the fossil fuel industry. That means challenging extraction projects on the ground, pushing our institutions to cease monetary support and even, on occasion, directly interfering in the speeches of politicians with less than stellar climate policy. Our work on campus is one subset of a much larger push to shift public opinion on what it means to take climate action. From the President of the College, to the potential POTUS, I expect those who hold power to wield it in favor of a just and stable future. We must do more than just convincing them of our position. In the end, we must put social pressure on them.
This Tuesday, it was announced that endowments representing $2.6 trillion have been divested from the fossil fuel industry since 2011. Later that afternoon, Clinton announced in Iowa that she was, in fact, in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. The fight may not be over, but there’s proof that this movement is powerful. Thanks to thousands of organizers across the country, Clinton may still be many things, but after this week, a supporter of Keystone XL she is no longer.