In December 2013, I joined more than 150 students from Boston-area schools to march from Harvard Square to the Charles River, calling for fossil fuel divestment. I remember the excitement I felt upon realizing that the movement was not solely confined to the roughly 30 members of Tufts Divest, now known as Tufts Climate Action (TCA).
But what I remember most vividly has nothing to do with climate change. What I remember is the homelessness we encountered during our march. Chanting about our schools’ unsustainable investments, we walked past dozens of homeless people sitting silently in the cold December air.
While I’m not sure what we could have done to acknowledge or somehow aid those homeless people, I feel self-righteous and phony reflecting upon it.
I want to urge anyone who’s read this column, as this entry will be my last, to recognize the limitations of whatever causes we aim to stand for and improve.
Consider the term ecofeminism, for example. It’s been such a useful lens for me when talking about feminist and environmental justice issues, but it’s also kind of a mouthful, and it sounds pretty elitist and jargon-y.
Sometimes, in my efforts to stand for x, y and z, I forget to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. While I think speaking out about what you believe in is incredibly powerful and important (and I don’t think campus activism has “gone too far” or become “too PC”), it’s important that anyone who writes or protests like myself is not blinded by their causes, and doesn’t claim to be better or smarter than anyone else who isn’t doing the same thing.
People have plenty of reasons for not being activists, or even just purported drivers of change. Some people need to focus on their mental health or life goals instead, and that’s more than okay. Others don’t participate in activism because they don’t understand the complicated buzzwords used by some activists, and they’re afraid to ask them what they mean.
It’s great that some college students want to do something so badly. But while they care deeply about the problems of the world, they’re restricted in their ability to act, and so often they take on symbolic causes that they interpret as “solutions” to huge problems. After TCA’s sit-in last year, one member of the group who was put on probation for participating recalled how his parents asked him what he was thinking when he sat in.
His response was that he didn’t know what he was thinking, that he had been told divestment was the way for students to address climate change. So he was ready to sacrifice time, energy and emotional wellbeing for it.
I don’t want to abandon the causes and problems of the world when I graduate and/or become jaded. Rather, I hope I will always speak out about what I believe in without becoming a slave to any system, and I’m not just talking about capitalism or white, patriarchal academia. I want to question everything, including the dogmas and so-called gods of whatever movement or cause I gravitate to — the Bill McKibbens and Gloria Steinems of the world. I want to always recognize the limitations of any movement, and the people and concepts that every movement leaves out.
I don’t ever again want to find myself trying to make change while ignoring the homeless people right next to me.