Students participate in fast to support divest movement

On Oct. 22, 15 students fasted in solidarity with Harvard’s Fast for Fossil Fuel Divestment movement.

The participants were all members of Divest Williams, the student group dedicated to divesting the College’s endowment money away from fossil fuel companies. Most students began their fast after dinner on Tuesday and broke it 24 hours later. However, one student, Tara Miller ’15, fasted for three days, from Sunday evening until Wednesday evening.

The purpose of the fast was to show support for the Harvard community’s move to pressure its administration to divest from the top 200 pollution-emitting fossil fuel companies. Harvard’s campaign, which included 250 students, lasted for one week. However, the student group encouraged students to only fast for a maximum of three days.

“We’re at a different point in our campaign [than Harvard],” Miller said. Miles Horton ’15, co-president of Divest Williams, explained that a fast is an extreme measure for the College’s  campaign that started relatively recently. According to Horton, the decision to fast was spur of the moment and focused on standing in solidarity with Harvard and the global divestment movement.

According to Miller, Divest Williams’s current strategy is first to raise awareness and bring attention to the cause before taking any more significant steps. The group, which has grown to 30 members since the beginning of the year, is currently collecting signatures for a non-binding College Council (CC) student referendum. This petition is separate from the Williams Endowment Initiative petition, which is not restricted to student signatures.

Though Divest Williams  easily obtained the 200 signatures necessary to get on the ballot, they recently pushed the referendum back from November to an undecided date in the spring.

“The threshold is high, and we want to win,” Horton said. CC rules state that a referendum needs one-third of the student body to vote and two-thirds of that group to vote in favor in order to win.

The purpose of the referendum, and most of the work of Divest Williams, is to broadcast to the administration and the Board of Trustees that divestment is an issue students are passionate about; according to Horton, all of the students who fasted sent emails to President Adam Falk reaffirming their dedication. One of the participants, Katherine Preston ’16, wrote to Falk, “Today I am joining my friends in fasting to show solidarity with Divest Harvard. We think fasting demonstrates how seriously we are committed to our goal that the Williams trustees divest from the top 200 worst fossil fuel companies.”

Though smaller than previous fasts, this effort fits into a pattern of students at the College fasting as a part of a global cause: in 2006, 470 students fasted to support peace efforts in Darfur, and in 2000, 100 students participated in a 30-hour fast to raise awareness of world hunger.

In addition to wearing orange scarves, members of Divest Williams have passed out over two hundred orange felt squares for students to pin on their backpacks, the symbol of divestment that has spread through colleges and universities across the nation.

“If President Falk or the trustees are walking around campus, they need to see that people care,” said Horton, who has been fasting, gathering signatures and handing out orange squares in order to increase the visibility of the divestment movement. Horton said that the first time he brought up divestment with Falk, “He replied to us with a challenge: He wants to see serious commitment. So I hope this shows him we’re serious and we’re here to stay.”