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UW Student Coalition Keeps Pressure on University Foundation to Divest

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Madison, WI – The movement to divest university endowments from fossil fuels continues to gain steam. Recently the student government at UW-Madison (the Associated Students of Madison, or ASM) overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on the UW Foundation to divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies over a five-year period.

 

 

The ASM resolution cannot force the university to divest, as the students do not have direct control over the funds. However, it sends a clear message: students do not want university money going to companies whose business model depends on destroying the planet’s climate.

 

 

The group of students that brought the divestment resolution to ASM, the Fossil Free UW Coalition, doesn’t plan to stop now. To keep the pressure on, they collaborated with the Overpass Light Brigade to bring three pro-divestment messages to the university’s campus, beginning at the top of Bascom Hill and ending at Science Hall.

 

 

The divestment push isn’t confined to Madison. At UW-Oshkosh, the Faculty Senate recently called on their foundation to divest, and their student governance body (the Oshkosh Students Association) also joined the call, asking the foundation to explore its divestment options in detail. There are also active divestment campaigns at UW La Crosse, Steven’s Point, Green Bay, Eau Claire, and River Falls. Around the world, groups at about 380 campuses are pushing for divestment, in a campaign spearheaded by 350.org’s Bill McKibben called Go Fossil Free.

 

 

The goal is to speed the transition away from fossil fuels. When universities and other institutions choose to shift their investment portfolios away from the top fossil fuel companies, they chip away at these companies’ credibility as sound investments and good corporate citizens. This can reduce the amount of money these firms have to work with, and also set the stage for broader policy reforms.

Universities that divest signal to other investors that these companies’ asset aren’t worth as much as the market thinks they are. Current stock prices assume these firms will extract and sell all of their fossil fuel reserves. However, to avoid catastrophic climate change, three-quarters of these reserves need to stay in the ground. The result is that these assets are currently overvalued, creating a “carbon bubble.” Someday this bubble will burst. By divesting, universities protect themselves from this risk. They also start to let the air out of the bubble, making it more likely that other investors will choose to divest as well.

 

 

The divestment campaign is already having an effect. For example, recently Bloomberg LP, a major financial information firm, launched a tool that allows investors to measure the risk of “unburnable carbon assets.”

History shows that divestment campaigns have been successful before. In fact, a recent study by Oxford University’s Stranded Assets Programme concluded:

In almost every divestment campaign we reviewed from adult services to Darfur, from tobacco to South Africa, divestment campaigns were successful in lobbying for restrictive legislation.

 

 

The results of the international fossil fuel divestment campaign are yet to be seen. However, the fact that many groups like the Fossil Free UW Coalition are working so hard to push their schools to divest is a hopeful sign. Let’s keep the pressure on UW-Madison and other universities to do the right thing.

You can view more photos from the Light Brigade action here.

13 Wisconsin Communities to Vote on Corporate Personhood April 1st

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Wauwatosa, WI - Last Thursday night the Overpass Light Brigade joined Grassroots Tosa in front of the Wauwatosa City Hall, where they gathered to shine a pro-democracy message before the April 1st election. With 12 other Wisconsin communities, Wauwatosa voters will weigh in on a whether to limit the influence of big money in politics.  The wording of the resolution, as it will appear on the ballot, is:

Resolved, the City of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin calls for reclaiming democracy from the corrupting effects of undue corporate influence by amending the United States Constitution to establish that:

1. Only human beings, not corporations, are entitled to constitutional rights, and

2. Money is not speech, and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech
Be it further resolved, that we hereby instruct our state and federal representatives to enact resolutions and legislation to advance this effort.

Twenty-eight Wisconsin Communities have already passed similar Move to Amend resolutions
calling for a constitutional amendment saying corporations are not people and money is not
speech. The 13 communities voting on April 1st could join nearly 500 towns, cities and other
organizations across the U.S. that have called for a constitutional amendment.
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One only needs to watch television in the months before an American election to see the
overpowering influence of big money. This problem has grown much worse since the Supreme
Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision.

People across Wisconsin and the nation have fought back by passing local resolutions calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Check to see if there is a resolution on a ballot near you. If there isn’t then find out how you can take action.

***Update*** There will be a canvass in Waukesha next Saturday.

398 Arrested in Keystone XL Civil Disobedience Action at White House

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Washington, DC - This past weekend, over one thousand young people converged on Washington, D.C, to protest the proposed construction of the controversial Keystone KL pipeline. These are the people that climate change will most directly affect, and they wanted President Obama to hear their concerns. We hope he was listening, as the weekend’s events, dubbed “XL Dissent” proved to be quite powerful. After all, the students and activists brought their urgent message right to the front door of the White House.

On Saturday, students poured into the Thurgood Marshall Building on Georgetown University’s campus to engage in a Divestment Meet-Up. The building filled up continuously throughout the day as students discussed the power of pushing divestment in fossil fuel companies on universities across the nation.

A group of students designed banners, signs, and creative hazardous material suits to be used in the action the next day.

Following the meet-up, organizers of the XL Dissent weekend began several training sessions for the main focus of the weekend, a massive civil disobedience action at the White House. Students received training on how the action would be carried out.

On Saturday night, Wisconsin’s Overpass Light Brigade (OLB) made an appearance on Pennsylvania Avenue, where they collectively held a lighted message in front of the White House to help kick-off the next day’s action. They were joined by OLB – Chicago, as well as two members of the MICATS ((Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands).

Sunday morning, students and other supporters showed up at campus of Georgetown University to rally before marching over two miles to the White House.

At the completion of the rally a massive crowd had formed and the lead banners made their way off campus en route to the White House.

On the way to the White House the march made a stop in front of Secretary of State John Kerry’s home, where an oil spill was laid in down on the street in front of his home. Kerry and Obama have the final say on whether or not the pipeline in approved.

Once the march arrived at Presidents Park, across the street from the White House several speakers talked about the importance of stopping the pipeline, including Chris Wahmhoff of the MICATS, who spoke about three women pipeline activists in Kalamazoo, Michigan facing 2-3 years in prison, for peacefully disrupting an Enbridge pipeline there.

After the rally, students armed with zip ties made there way over to the White House fence. The students locked their hands to the fence, while other activists in front of the zip-tied protestors laid down another oil slick. Those wearing the student designed hazmat suits walked onto the oil slick, where they collapsed to the ground, simulating the horrors of endless pipeline spills resulting from unprecedented amounts of toxic tar sands.

Police started to barricade in the protestors and declared that anyone positioned inside the barricades would be subject to arrest. Each announcement was met with cheering and chanting exemplifying the students’ belief in what they were doing. Five warnings to vacate were announced over police bullhorn and after a long standoff the first woman was asked to stand and was arrested.

The arrests continued through the afternoon and well into the cold and rainy evening until 398 student activists were arrested. The police were very deliberate with the arrests, making sure to take considerable time to arrest each student. One after another proud, smiling students were handcuffed and hauled away in police vehicles, as well as city buses to be processed. It was very apparent that each and every one knew they were doing the right thing and had zero qualms with being arrested for their conviction. At 8:15, 350.org posted the following Tweet.

Most organizers were expecting a few hundred to show up, but none expected the large group that finally showed up in DC to express their opposition to the pipeline and were willing to risk arrest in doing so. Whether President Obama received the message remains to be seen, but the youth of this country are clearly not willing to continue along the same unsustainable path. Thanks to all who made the journey to make your feelings known.

See more photos from the two days of actions below.

XL Dissent training and divestment meet-up photos can be found here.

Sunday civil disobedience action at White House can be found here.

Overpass Light Brigade visit to the White House can be found here.

Voucher School Takes Money, Dumps Student

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Voucher schools have long been known to “dump” children with special educational needs and at-risk behaviors, even after accepting taxpayer money to educate those students. The public rarely sees this happen, or is faced with the hardship this creates for children and their families. However, the letter below provides a glimpse into how voucher schools inflate their reputations by ridding themselves of unwanted students.

In contrast, public schools must educate ALL children, including those experiencing academic, behavior, or parental issues. Increasingly, they are also forced to pick up the students expelled by outfits like Mount Olive, without any compensation from the state because the school already cashed the voucher.

This is unfair. It hurts the expelled students and their families, humiliating them and forcing them to change schools. It hurts public schools, both financially and by concentrating the share of at-risk children. Finally, it hurts the public, as taxpayer money is siphoned off for private gain.

A common argument of voucher school proponents is that these schools create competition for public schools, thereby increasing achievement across the board. However, when your “competitior” can skim the cream off the class crop, that’s far from a level playing field. It’s hard to imagine how this type of “competition” would be healthy for anyone.

With their unfair advantages, you’d think that voucher schools would at least appear to be doing better at educating students than public schools. However, often that’s not even the case. The same MPS school that enrolled the student identified in this letter received another student from a different voucher school that same week, which had been closed down because its operators left for Florida to start another voucher school. The closure forced MPS to absorb its 66 students, only one of whom tested “proficient” on the most recent Wisconsin State Concepts and Knowledge Exam (WKCE).

The result for MPS is an overall special needs population of well over 30% and decreasing financial resources. Public school educators do their best to provide quality education for their students, but this becomes more challenging with every passing year. Though voucher school proponents love to talk about “choice” and “achievement,” the real story is that these schools do a serious disservice to students, families, educators, public school districts and state taxpayers.

Despite these glaring problems with the Wisconsin voucher program, legislators in the state capitol continue to look for ways to expand it. It’s time Wisconsin taxpayers stand up and tell them no! How many more students will we let schools like Mount Olive dump before we fix the problem?

Iron Mine Resistors March On Site in Penokee Hills

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Penokee Hills, Northern WI - On Sunday, two separate marches crossed the pristine, snow-laden landscape of northern Wisconsin, and converged at the proposed site of the Gogebic Taconite (GTAC) iron mine. Participants walked miles down wintry roads before uniting in opposition to the proposed mine, to the ecological damage it threatens, and to the company’s unsavory collusion with state lawmakers to rewrite Wisconsin’s mining laws in their favor.

The site of the proposed mine stands at the headwaters of the Bad River, where toxic runoff would threaten both the people of the Bad River Tribe and the waters of Lake Superior. The company has recently begun core sampling (video), increasing the urgency of the fight against the project.

The company has claimed an off-limits perimeter around the mine site, and has succeeded in formalizing it via state legislation. However, the gates demarcating this “forbidden zone” were not enough to stop the marchers on Sunday.

The marchers announced their arrival at the gates through music, as young and old alike raised their voices in defense of the Penokee Hills. A group of musicians and Solidarity Sing Along participants led those assembled in several songs, pairing popular melodies with lyrics about the mine. As the songs unfolded, the banners that had led each march were tied to the gates.

Several marchers asserted their right to the land by continuing past the company’s “no trespassing” signs and down the path to the mine’s site. They made clear that they will continue their resistance and will not go away quietly.

Marching to Stop the Penokee Hills from Occupy Riverwest on Vimeo.

The evening before the marchers gathered at the GTAC site, members of the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe held their annual Mid-Winter Social and Pow-wow in nearby Hayward. A major focus of the gathering was how to organize against the mine and its life altering, treaty breaking presence in the Penokees. Near the end of the event tribal youth took the stage, holding four different illuminated messages in their native Ojibwe language while the words below were spoken aloud.

Poster courtesy of the Overpass Light Brigade.

Poster courtesy of the Overpass Light Brigade.

Gego moonakeg!
Don’t go digging!

Gego googiibike!

Don’t dive into the metal!

Zongide’e”

“don’t” when others “do”

“Minobimaadizi”

How is your path?