First DivestFest brings together local activists

By MICHELLE LIMPE and JULIA CHOE | October 3, 2019

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NEHA SANGANA/PHOTOGRAPHY EDITOR Refuel Our Future hosted its inaugural DivestFest on the Beach this Friday to celebrate wins within the fossil fuel divestment movement.

Refuel Our Future, an environmental activist group on campus, hosted its inaugural DivestFest on the Beach this Friday. Organizers called on the University to fully divest from its holdings in fossil fuels, which Refuel Our Future has prioritized as their primary goal. The event featured local climate groups, food, games and music and coincided with the final day of the nationwide “Week for Future and Climate Justice” movement.

Refuel Our Future Co-President Elly Ren elaborated on the goals of the event and shared her optimism, citing the University of California’s fossil fuel divestment pledge two weeks ago.

“We had a huge win within the fossil fuel divestment movement,” she said. “So we’re just celebrating because we think we need a little bit more joy and celebration within the climate movement, and it’s vital we remember what we’re fighting for.”

According to Ren, Refuel Our Future has fostered connections with community organizers who helped support the event. 

Cristi Demnowicz, the founder and chair of Represent Maryland, a grassroots group formed in 2015 to fight the influence of large corporations in politics, explained the relationship between Represent Maryland and Refuel Our Future’s causes.

“We do have a position on institutions such as Hopkins that have money and power using their money and power to make more money and get more power versus help the communities that they live in and help the students,” she said.

Maddie Wolf, representative of the Baltimore InterCollegiate Alliance, echoed Demnowicz’s sentiments. The Alliance is a coalition of over 10 college campuses in the Baltimore region created to build relationships between students from different campuses. Wolf stated that the Alliance hopes to someday have a cross-campus divestment campaign. 

“Imagine if Baltimore schools altogether divested and the entire city of Baltimore had institutions that divested from fossil fuels. But what we learned was that you can’t have a good divestment campaign if you do not have the relationships between the folks who are doing it first,” she said. “We want this to happen one day.”

Refuel Our Future Co-President Colin Bowen expressed his desire to form more relationships with local organizers.

Although Bowen commended the formation of the Sustainability Leadership Council (SLC), he called on the University to further expand its efforts to promote sustainability. 

The SLC, which was announced in April, will bring together students, staff and faculty from all nine divisions to advise Provost Sunil Kumar on sustainability concerns. 

“They’re taking steps in the right direction, like the formation of the SLC, but I do think they could do more,” he said. “We want to see more, specifically on the fossil fuel divestment front.”

Evelyn Hammid, a member of the Sunrise Movement Baltimore’s outreach team, echoed Bowen’s sentiments, noting how the University’s Board of Trustees voted in December 2017 to divest its endowment from thermal coal following years of Refuel Our Future calling on the University to divest from fossil fuels. 

“You won a big victory and were able to divest the University from coal, but now oil and gas are next,” she said.

DivestFest organizers sought to celebrate the accomplishments of Sunrise Movement Baltimore and other youth climate groups. 

Ren considered DivestFest to be a success, citing the impact it left on the Hopkins community by spreading awareness on climate justice. 

“One of our members even messaged me afterwards saying the event really inspired her to get more involved,” Ren said. 

Freshman Emory Hsieh, a member of Refuel, agreed that the reception was positive.

“I had some friends come here and they were telling me how they never really heard about this issue in the perspective of the people, so I think it definitely did bring awareness to the issue,” Hsieh said.

Demnowicz said that she was satisfied with the support she received from Hopkins students.

“When we do a lot of other events that are maybe street festivals where it’s not necessarily students but older adults, they just don’t want to hear it,” she said. “The people here are a lot more receptive to hearing these messages, and they want to get involved and do something.”

Demnowicz added that getting big money out of politics can aid the push towards policies which are able to focus on targeting the adverse effects of climate change.

“The reason that fossil fuel companies are able to operate the way that they do is because they have the money to influence legislators at the local, state and federal level, and they’ve been able to get laws passed that benefit them, that allow them to operate... sometimes very, very close to breaking the law,” she said. “But it’s still often considered legal even though they’re doing a lot of damage to the world that we all share.”

Freshman Sofia Angel, attended DivestFest. Angel stressed the necessity of individual responsibility in fighting climate change.

“It’s important to keep the Earth green, especially because where we’re headed is really sad and we have a very limited amount of time to fix it,” she said. “And it’s up to each of us to fix it. So if we don’t get involved and actually learn about it, then there’s no way we can help fix it.”

Freshman Crystal Favorito wrote in an email to The News-Letter that before attending, she had not been aware that the University spent so much money on fossil fuels. She underscored the severity of the University’s impact on the environment.

Favorito expressed her appreciation of the positive outlook of the event.

“The climate change movement doesn’t celebrate its wins enough,” she wrote. “I appreciate that Refuel Our Future took the time to recognize the achievements of the UC system’s divestiture while working toward the same goal for Hopkins.”

Sabrina Abrams and Rudy Malcom contributed reporting.

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