#FossilFreedom

I haven’t promoted this blog reel at all because it has served mostly as a way for me to document the little things I have to say as I feel the need to say them. Today I want to express how proud I am to have been a part of the Fossil Free AU campaign at American University.

Back in January, I knew nothing about the fossil free movement. I didn’t really know what EcoSense was. I didn’t even know what ‘divestment’ meant. I’d been invited to a Facebook event to learn more about the fossil free movement that some students at AU were hoping to start, and my friend Sophie was going, so I decided to go also, just to see what it was all about.

At that first meeting on January 14, I knew about three people in a room of dozens, and I barely understood what everyone was talking about. I never considered the environment an issue I cared a lot about. As a Democrat, I cared about the environment insofar as I believed in global warming and tried to turn off the lights as often I remembered to when I left rooms. But I was always more into healthcare, education, and economic development. Learning the intricacies of divesting from fossil fuels would be a totally new topic for me.

So, Sophie and I sat in the general meeting and mostly listened. During the second half of the meeting, attendees were asked to split into groups so that work could be more effectively delegated to those who showed specific interests in certain areas. Sophie and I thought about the different groups that were forming, and I think we had this grand idea that we could lift this movement off the ground, give it wings, and let it fly [fossil] free. We barely had to say a single word to one another: She headed to the Outreach group, and I went to the Communications group.

I got to the Comm group and sat down with maybe half a dozen other people who were also interested in communications. At this point, the fossil free movement at AU didn’t even have a name. That’s how little footing the group had on campus. No name, no logo, no slogan, no Facebook page, no Twitter handle–nothing but a bunch of ambitious kids in a room. Let’s add that I still didn’t know what ‘divest’ meant, and that all I knew was that I wanted this group to succeed. I knew a good cause when I saw one. I was in.

The group of us, at this preliminary meeting, laid out the groundwork for a communications strategy. These kids were entirely un-hierarchical. It was all about equality and teamwork. Which is fine, usually, but not when it comes to comm. Comm is different. You can’t give all 50 kids administrative access to the Facebook page, or just hand out the password for the Twitter account. Messaging is all strategy and can’t be taken lightly. As much as I loved these passionate, well-intentioned kids, Marxism wasn’t really going to cut it here.

First, I designed a logo. (The original logo looked similar, but called the group “Divest AU,” which was struck down early in the process.) I designed a cover image for the Facebook page. I created a Twitter account. I set up a listserv. I opened an email account. I revamped the website. I designed about five different versions of a petition card that FFAU would use to collect over 600 signatures in support of a fossil free divestment referendum question on the April ballot. Today, the FFAU logo is one of the most recognizable symbols on campus. It pops up all over the internet if you search “fossil free AU,” and it has been translated to tons of giant posters that FFAU members have used for rallies, photo ops, canvasses, and other functions throughout the semester.

Once the ball got rolling with these comm/marketing things, I had to disengage myself because I had too many other responsibilities. The comm efforts kind of got away from me after mid-February, but it didn’t matter at that point because FFAU was already on the road to success and didn’t need me anymore. I always considered myself more of a consultant than anything else. I wish I could’ve been more heavily involved, but I had other responsibilities to worry about. I appeared in a few photos here and there, but didn’t really make a huge splash with regard to publicity.

My other role was completely behind the scenes. I didn’t get press coverage in the Eagle (AU’s newspaper), I was never mentioned in Facebook posts by affiliated organizations, such as 350.org. But I know that without the work I did in this respect, the fossil free movement at AU might not have been such a success. My second role was in Student Government.

From October 2012 to April 2013 I served at the Senator for the School of Public Affairs in the Undergraduate Senate. This role allowed me to take initiative in drafting legislation that would change everything for the FFAU campaign. With the help of a few other Senators, the then-Comptroller, and a couple founding members of the FFAU team, I drafted two pieces of legislation.

First, I wrote a referendum that we hoped to include on the ballot for the spring elections. Second, I wrote a resolution that, if passed, would express the Undergraduate Senate’s support for the Fossil Free AU movement. On March 24, 2013, I introduced both the referendum and the resolution (that’s me standing at the podium–super attractive, I know). Both passed almost unanimously (only the Senator who was serving as the Student Trustee on the Board of Trustees had to abstain from the vote, though he would have voted in support had he not held his position on the Board). Members of the FFAU movement showed up to that Senate meeting to offer their opinions during public comment.

FFAU kids campaigned for a long hard week. I only wish I could’ve been more involved in the campaigning; it looked like a lot of fun. They pulled out VoteBot‘s cousin, DivestBot. They took photos. They tabled. They were on fire. It was awesome.

On April 1 and 2, 80 percent of student body voted in favor of divestment. It was a big freaking deal. We celebrated by binge drinking (off campus, don’t worry), and the most dedicated members of the FFAU movement got to work again. This time, the goal would be to reach the Board of Trustees and AU’s President, Neil Kerwin, to persuade them to support a Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (CSRI) and hold an official campus-wide discussion on the merits of divesting the endowment from fossil fuels.

I cosponsored another resolution–a co-active resolution between the Undergraduate Senate and the Residence Hall Association General Assembly. The then-Comptroller of the Student Government created a petition to form a CSRI. FFAU launched its 50 Days of Fossil Free AU photo campaign, bringing in alumni to support the FFAU movement, ideally pledging not to donate to the university until the Board agrees to divest the endowment from fossil fuels. The month of May is/was dedicated to delivering a letter to Neil Kerwin, campaigning at commencement, meeting with the Board’s Finance Committee, and attending an open Board meeting.

The students executing all of these events, actions, meetings, canvasses, and social media plans are some of the most hard-working, dedicated, passionate, and intelligent people I know. I am so glad to have had a part in it, even minimally. I am, as we all should be, inspired by the work that these students have done for the FFAU movement. Amazing things truly can be accomplished when a group of creative people have a common goal and unparalleled ambition. This journey isn’t over, and I can’t wait to see what they can accomplish over the summer and what I can help with come fall.

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