My name is Sean Estelle and I am an alumnus of the University of California, San Diego (Class of 2013). I am the National Divestment Campaigner for Energy Action Coalition, and I’m building a long-term movement for student power to transform our institutions of higher education until they are as truly committed to issues of climate justice and social justice.
While I was in college, I saw the power of students coming together to speak truth to power on a whole range of issues, both campus-specific and on a statewide level. At UC San Diego, as a member of the Student Sustainability Collective, I was committed to an intersectional vision of environmental, economic and social justice that worked on issues from fossil fuel divestment, to supporting AFSCME 3299 service workers on strike, to supporting the Black Student Union in their demand for a Black Resource Center. Campus administration would often try to limit the work we did as a student group to band-aid solutions, like recycling initiatives; however, we knew that the necessary solutions to transform our campus, and the University of California as a whole, would take multiple forms and deep fights in order to win the victories we wanted to see. Our campus community was able to come together and organize multiple divestment campaigns, in relationship to one another, and pass fossil fuel divestment and Palestine solidarity divestment resolutions in under a month. By demanding accountability from the administration on multiple fronts, with multiple issues, we were able to build our power as students and unify the culture of shared community and support that already existed, while also providing a model for other campuses to move forward campaigns of their own.
During my freshman year of college, I came out as queer. It made me completely re-assess my values, the path I wanted to pursue in my life, and my relationship to everyone around me. I organize students and young people because I want them to have access to the same transformational experience that I had; I also know that because of the way the climate crisis is rapidly affecting all the institutions our society is built upon, including higher education, that avenues for critical thinking and self-discovery will come at a higher price (both ecologically and financially). Our system of higher education, which has so often been a site for bold new vision, is currently helping to support the status quo with its financial investments and institutional priorities. My stake in building a movement for divestment and climate justice on campuses is to ensure that institutions of higher education are investing all of their resources into the vision of a just and sustainable future that I am fighting for.
Right now, California is facing a drought so severe that some experts are saying that the state has approximately one year of water left. Although I no longer live in California, this has directly impacted both family members and friends of mine throughout the UC system and beyond. Meanwhile, the UC Office of the President, although having pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025, refuses to listen to Fossil Free UC organizers and move forward tangible goals for fossil fuel divestment. The University of California’s commitment to divestment from companies profiting from South African apartheid was a true example of leadership, and it should be a leader again for divestment from another rogue industry.
As the alumnus of a privileged institution like UC San Diego, I have a responsibility to the communities most affected by the dirty money my university is invested in - whether that be oil-hungry fossil fuel companies, or defense contractors profiting off the suffering of the Palestinian people.
As such, I pledge to remain committed to the movement for fossil fuel divestment and to organize for climate justice far beyond leaving college. I am dedicated to building the power of our movement over the long-term because injustice is not an investment. I will not graduate out of this movement.
I also pledge to withhold donations from UC San Diego, and the University of California until it commits to divestment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies with the largest reserves, and commits to sustainable investments that comply with the demands of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement for Palestinian solidarity.
I take this commitment very seriously, and I hope that you will also pledge to fight for the future of current students and of generations to come. Will you join me to build our power for the long haul?
UC San Diego, 2013
National Divestment Campaigner - Energy Action Coalition