Wednesday, November 4, 2009

VIDEO: WashU flashmob confronts Coal Executives

Something loud is afoot on our sleepy campus in St. Louis. Washington University students are beginning to re-discover what connects them. Students that have never successfully worked together have just executed the largest direct action on our campus. The target: big coal’s influence on our institution.

At the end of this summer, Washington University appointed two new members to its board of trustees, Gregory Boyce, CEO of Peabody Energy, and Steven F. Leer, CEO of Arch Coal. As you most likely know, they are the one-two of coal mining who together preside over 13 billion tons of proven coal reserves. They are both deeply involved in mountaintop coal mining, destroying communities and ecosystems across Appalachia. For years they have lobbied against positive protective legislation, including the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. Now, they check our chancellor’s every action and shape the future of our institution. This comes in the wake of the formation of the Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization (CCCU) last December. This research group, funded by (guess) Peabody, Arch Coal, and the local utility Ameren, plans to build a 1 megawatt demonstration carbon capture & sequestration plant on our campus. To read more about the truth, see here.

And this last Monday, our administration organized “America’s Energy Future,” a symposium to which Steven F. Leer of Arch Coal and Fred Palmer of Peabody Energy, among others, were invited to discuss our energy “future.” It was a five-hour-long symposium culminating in a reception in the new student center (to see a program description, see here). We saw presentations on “Green Coal” where earth movers the size of houses were depicted moseying through fields. There were a couple champions of reality, but the overarching theme was deceit. There was nearly zero representation from renewable energy companies. What is the “future” according to our administration? Well, it looks a lot like our present: coal, oil, and nuclear. This is not OUR Energy Future.

To coincide with the conference, we held a rally, a press conference, an alternate symposium titled “OUR Energy Future,” and executed a silent flash mob and banner-drop to challenge Big Coal on campus!

We had unsuccessfully lobbied to change the name of the Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization and remained silent since the appointing of the trustees. We really couldn’t take it anymore. We saw an opportunity- and they just made it so easy.

A coalition of student groups, including the student-run farm The Burning Kumquat, Students for Endowment Transparency, and Green Action planned a direct action to challenge our university’s failure to recognize the legitimacy of renewable energy. During their plush reception in our student center, over 100 students entered the building and dispersed themselves among the assembled crowd. Along the balconies lining the reception were five two-person banner drop teams. On a signal, four teams dropped their banners over the balcony, baring messages including “Coal Is Never Clean” and “Our Energy Future.” At the same time, the 100 assembled students raised their fists to display yellow wristbands made of global warming crime scene tape and held up yellow signs with the “Beyond Coal” logo. The final banner was dropped over the main staircase bearing the words “Power Beyond Coal” painted among students’ signatures. A student addressed the silent crowd with a megaphone, “We present to you a banner bearing our signatures as a petition on behalf of this and future generations. We will not stand aside while executives from Arch Coal and Peabody paint a dirty energy future for our school and our nation. We believe that America's real energy future uses renewable, socially responsible energy sources," and invited them to our alternate symposium. It was fantastic- ethereal- and it’s all on tape.

Where do we go now? Our Student Union Senate plans to pass a resolution denouncing Washington University’s use of the “clean coal” marketing slogan, supporting Monday’s direct action, and demanding the university change the name of the Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization. We will maintain the alliances we have developed and work on involving more students to feed off of the energy we have created. We will push forward, gaining momentum in our rally against the unjust actions and policies of our administration. This is the beginning- AND WE WILL CONTINUE TO KICK ASH!

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