Divest Williams stages wedding of College, fossil fuel industry

On Friday, Divest Williams staged a mock wedding between the College and the fossil fuels industry to protest the College’s investment in that industry and call for divestment from it.

The wedding, which was attended by roughly 150 students, faculty, and staff members, followed mock weddings staged over the past few years by divestment activists at Whitman College and the Universities of Washington, Montana and Oregon.

Max Harmon ’19 played the part of the bride – the College, wearing a cow costume and veil. Linda Worden ’19, dressed as President Adam Falk, escorted him down the aisle. In front of them, Phacelia Cramer ’19 scattered fake hundred dollar bills like rose petals. Lili Bierer ’19 played the groom, representing the fossil fuels industry by wearing a suit adorned with the logos of large oil and gas companies and a tall hat made of smoke stacks.

The bridesmaids included Haley Bosse ’20, MaKaila DeSano-Smith ’18 and Suiyi Tang ’19, dressed as Michael Eisenson ’77, O. Andreas Halvorsen ’86 and Martha Williamson ’77 — three members of the Board of Trustees. The Board announced in 2015 that it would not be divesting from fossil fuels. Halvorsen stated at this year’s open forum with the trustees that the matter was a closed issue.

Ted McNally ’20, who played the celebrant, stood on a pedestal and spoke through a small megaphone. Wreaths of yellow roses and wads of bills gave Baxter Hall an air of elegance. Also present was a live string trio, consisting of Eliza Klein ’19, Adrienne Banks ’20 and Abigail Miller ’19, who played several traditional wedding tunes.

The marriage was the formal recognition of  “a relationship that has existed for many, many, many years” between the College and the fossil fuel industry,” said the celebrant. He also mentioned the bride’s past commitments. “I remember the very serious relationship between Williams and apartheid,” the celebrant said, referencing the College deciding not to divest from South Africa in the 1980s. “What a lovely couple they made.”

“I, fossil fuels, take you, Williams College, to be my partner,” Bierer said. “I will share my life and capital gains with you.”

“I’ll support you through times of trouble, and rejoice with you in times of prosperity,” said the College, played by Harmon. “We’ll show all those around that this is what commitment looks like.”

During the vows, fake hundred dollar bills rained from the second floor of Paresky Student Center. Then came the call for objections, of which there were several.

“This is a college, where we come to learn and prepare for our future!” Klein yelled. “How dare you destroy our chance of even having a future with your selfish actions! Forget about the future — how dare you harm people in this very moment! This [marriage] is not love!”

“You claim you’re committed to social justice,” Banks said to the College. “Do you have any idea of the colonial violence caused by fossil fuels? … You’re consummating this marriage with the disease, death, and drowning of indigenous people, people of color and the global poor! The only thing you’re confronting climate change with is elitist hypocrisy!”

As members raised other objections, Falk, played by Worden, grew irritated. “The College has offered the student body an olive branch by inviting them to this ceremony,” he said, “but you … continue to beat the same drum of divestment. As a result, you have all lost the opportunity for further dialogue.”

Falk, played by Worden, then returned to the vows. “The bride has already declared her consent to the union,” he said. “Groom, will you commit Williams College to a future implicated in the destruction of our planet and the perpetuation of exploitation?”

The fossil fuels industry, played by Bierer, shouted “I do!” to boos and hisses from the crowd.

With the ceremony over, the wedding party and many audience members sang, “We’re gonna roll, we’re gonna roll, we’re gonna roll divestment on … If trustees are in the way, we’re gonna roll it over them … If Falk gets in the way, we’re gonna roll it over him. We’re gonna roll divestment on!”

The mock wedding was one of Divest Williams’ more humorous actions, according to Worden. She said it is “important to employ different tactics throughout the year” because “different tactics appeal to different audiences. As a group, it keeps energy going to have a variety of approaches.”

According to Worden, the action was timed during Earth Week so that Divest Williams could best “leverage energy to move forward.” She feels that, despite the inspiring events of the week, there is still room to be critical. “The school is trying to sell us ‘Confronting Climate Change,’” said Worden. It’s important to “see past that and question what the College is doing.”

“We continue to call on Williams to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry,” Alexandra Griffin ’19 said. According to her, the goal of the action was “to mobilize the community around climate justice and call into question both the College’s investments and the broader patterns of corporatization and wealth accumulation of universities today.”