Dear student climate justice organizers everywhere,
My name is Miles Goodrich and come May, I will graduate from Bowdoin College. The turning of the tassels at commencement will mark the end of one chapter in my life. It will not, however, mark the end of my organizing for a just and sustainable future through fossil fuel divestment. I am graduating from Bowdoin; I am not graduating from the climate justice movement.
The quick turnover of students on campus from orientation to graduation means that administrators need only wait out matriculated rabble rousers: if a demanding academic curriculum won't silence the issue of the day, the logic goes, then maybe handing it a diploma will. The task of the campus organizer, then, consists of simultaneous effacement and empowerment. Constant leadership development combats the vagaries of campus graduation rates while building power for change. If I am unnecessary for the smooth functioning of Bowdoin's divestment campaign, I will have done my job.
And yet this does not relieve me of responsibility. Dangling off oil rigs—sexy direct action—first attracted me to activism. But it is organizing, the building of resilient relationships and deliberate communities, that commits me to the movement for the long haul.
I saw my first coal plant in Ohio on a training program for organizers. It was dark, satanic, and horrifying, something that should have been relegated to imagination, not dreamed up and built next to humans. The danger the coal plant posed to the community around it was sickening—literally. I felt nauseous despite spending only a few hours roaming around a closed down high school, which had been abandoned due to its proximity to the fumes. A weathered sign solemnly commanded “no idling,” a warning to bus drivers to turn off their engines while waiting in the school parking lot. The noxious clouds from the plant's stacks continued to stream out, unabated.
Against the coal factory that seemed to consume the landscape with its dominating stature, I felt tiny, insignificant, and helpless. My purpose that day, however, was to meet a real-life organizer. Jane, a member of the community who had cut her teeth taking on fracking projects, shared her story with me. Though she had been diagnosed with breast cancer—a disease undoubtedly linked to her proximity to the plant—she still energetically organized her neighbors against the toxins endangering their homes. Organizing does not pay her medical bills, but it targets the source of them. Anything a corporation can build, even as imposing and terrifying as a coal plant, can be torn down by real people standing united with their communities. Then, she said, the real work of building something new, and better, begins.
Crucial to organizing is bearing witness, which stems from the Quaker tradition of practical theology. Bearing witness means opening ones' eyes to injustice, particularly to those innate to extractive economies which exploit both people and planet. To bear witness is to refuse to look away out of convenience or apathy. Once Jane opened my eyes to the harsh realities of fossil fuel production, I knew I would not be able to close them.
Bowdoin has started asking graduating seniors to donate to the College. The most important lesson I have learned on campus is to value both friendships based on shared principles and intentional communities founded on common vision. I have learned that tempered patience can lead to urgent action, and that strategy is destiny. In short, I have learned the importance of organizing in bending the moral arc of the universe a little more towards justice.
It is a lesson worth so much to me that rather than give money, I will give the rest of my life.
Bowdoin College 2015