Student Activists Hold Fossil Free Fest Before Divestment Vote

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Student Activists Hold Fossil Free Fest Before Divestment Vote

By KAYLA LICHTMAN

In the days preceding the Trustees’ approval of Energy2028, the Sunday Night Environmental Group (SNEG) and the SGA Environmental Affairs Committee organized a series of events, called the Fossil Free Fest, designed to familiarize people with the proposed plan. The week of activism culminated in Sunday’s vote and Tuesday’s announcement of the board’s decision to adopt Energy2028.

On Tuesday, the groups held a “Divest Your Bank Account” information session about personal divestment from fossil fuels and on Thursday, they ran shuttles between ADK and Vermont Credit Union so students could open accounts there.

Also on Thursday, there was a panel about divestment in Dana Auditorium, moderated by Environmental Sciences Professor Dan Suarez and featuring SNEG co-manager Gabe Desmond ’20.5, Scholar-in-Residence Bill McKibben, founding member of DivestMiddlebury Jeannie Bartlett ’15 and Alyssa Lee of Better Future Project.

The organizing groups called for an Orange Out on Friday, Jan. 25, in which students were asked to wear the hallmark color of DivestMiddlebury in support for Energy2028. The same day, faculty, community members and alumni gathered in Mead Chapel for a letter writing and solidarity event. Orange-clad SNEG club members asked attendees to write letters to the Board of Trustees, thanking them for their support in making Middlebury an example of environmental leadership and sharing why climate change mattered to them. In the second half of the event, attendees were asked to share thoughts aloud at the podium.

Connor Wertz ’22, a member of SNEG, spoke of his first experience with activism protesting a gas pipeline in Massachusetts and expressed his commitment toward divestment.

“I will show up until people are no longer losing their dignity and their lives from climate disasters,” he said. “I will show up until humanity is placed above profit and community above greed.”

While club members spoke positively of how receptive the Trustees and the administration have been toward making the Middlebury campus a more sustainable environment, they also reminded the audience that in many places in the world, progress remains stagnant and climate change continues to disproportionately affect marginalized people.

Joining students on stage was Fran Putnam, a 71-year-old Weybridge resident and longtime SNEG member, who spoke of how climate change will affect her three grandchildren. Putnam offered environmentally friendly recommendations to the crowd, advising people to use public transportation and eat more plant-based meals.

Food Studies Professor Molly Anderson discussed climate change’s disastrous effects on water availability, food production and biodiversity. She referred to Energy2028 as an opportunity to “stand on the side of life” and “genuine economic development.”

The event highlighted the progression of DivestMidd over time, with several alumni returning to campus to stand in solidarity with current students. Isaac Baker ’14.5 and his fellow alums drove up from Boston to show their support.

“Energy 2028 is even bolder and more comprehensive than what was being considered at the time we were here,” he said.

“I hope that Midd is a place that supports its students to critique it, and push it, and support it to be the best version of itself,” said Greta Neubauer ’14.5 in her speech. Neubauer helped start the DivestMidd campaign in 2012.

At the end of the event, attendees walked silently as a group down to Old Chapel to hand their letters to the Trustees.

Even with the success of Energy2028, the students of SNEG will continue their activism. Future efforts include supporting the rollout of Energy2028, opening a Middlebury hub of the Sunrise Movement, an organization that advocates for the Green New Deal, and encouraging town members to vote for the Climate Solutions Resolution, which petitions for climate solutions on a state level.

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