Divestment Campaign Chapter Reports from April 2022

Over the next several weeks, The Activist will be publishing a series of chapter reports written in April of 2022 by YDSA chapter leaders from across the country. They will be grouped either by category or region of the country and will be lightly edited for clarity. This selection will focus on divestment campaigns. 

Niko Johnson-Fuller, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

UIUC YDSA has developed to hold a large and important place in our school’s political landscape, but still needs some focus and coordination to achieve our goals. Our chapter has voted to prioritize fossil fuel divestment and we began this campaign about two months ago. We began by circulating a petition, engaging members by canvassing and talking to our classes. We have also been working to build a coalition on campus around fossil fuel divestment. We have learned the importance of cultivating the involvement of all of our members and list work as many in leadership are quite occupied running day-to-day operations. We hope to make this divestment campaign a central pillar of our chapter and show people how organizing is worthwhile and can make important changes on our campus.

Ben Campanella, UMass Amherst

UMass Amherst YDSA was reconstituted in Fall 2021 following the demise of the Bernie campaign and the brief suspension of in-person learning. Since then, we have established a consistent attendance of 10 to 15 members every meeting with around 30 people attending events featuring guests and speakers. UMass Amherst has contracts with the weapons manufacturer Raytheon – a Massachusetts based company – and the university gives Raytheon access to campus and digital vocational resources, allowing them to recruit graduating students. Our YDSA chapter is working to collect signatures – primarily from students in the engineering school – to demonstrate student opposition to the university’s ties to defense contractors. Additionally, the chapter has been building a coalition with other radical student groups and historic peace groups off campus. We’ve learned how to organize and develop a campaign from the brainstorming stage to something of a tangible reality. We’ve also learned how the university manages contracts and handles money, which will be useful information for future divestment campaigns focused on other issues. Through this campaign our members and organizers are developing the skills necessary to confront not just the university, but any institution that writes contracts in blood money.

Cory Plotzke, University of Michigan

University of Michigan YDSA has been thriving. Our chapter has organized around the Fight For 15 campaign, working to increase the minimum wage for campus workers. We have had volunteers spreading petitions around campus and campaigning for the Board of Regents to pass a resolution to increase the minimum wage. Simultaneously, we have been actively involved in trying to influence the next presidential and provost elections to pursue actual climate policy by instilling and supporting a carbon tax, divesting from privatized fossil fuels in favor of public municipal power and having a sustainability course requirement. Our members have gained experience by learning and advocating for each of these positions. I’ve learned that organizing continuous pressure on the school helps to show our presence and our priorities. Our chapter is developing lifelong socialist organizers by deeply supporting these causes for minimum wage, climate policy and sexual assault prevention through enegagemnt of our core members.