On January 23, within the first 100 hours of Donald Trump’s presidency, students across California walked out of their classrooms. As part of the first and largest youth-led mobilization under the new administration, students called on their institutions to resist and reject Trump’s unacceptable climate denial by divesting from the fossil fuel industry. As young people whose futures are at stake, students demanded that their schools stand up for younger generations and show what moral leadership on climate looks like.
photo Fossil Free UC Davis
The January mobilization built on years of student organizing within the University of California system to bring voice to student concerns and demand swift and meaningful climate action at the university level. Since 2011, California Student Sustainability Coalition’s (CSSC) Fossil Free Campaign, for example, has been pushing the UC system to immediately stop all investment in the 200 oil, gas, and coal companies with the largest carbon reserves and to drop remaining investments in these companies. Simultaneously, the campaign has been urging the UCs to align their investment portfolios with their mission statements and use their investments to promote the transition to a low-carbon and just economy.
Last November, students at University of California campuses helped organize a faculty letter to the UC Regents, which was signed by nearly 700 educators. The letter called for divestment, citing the University’s “tremendous moral responsibility not just to students, but to all living beings to utilize every lever of our institution to address the climate crisis.”
The letter was released soon after UC students took a pledge of civil disobedience at UC Berkeley’s Power Shift West, a November environmental justice conference co-organized by CSSC. Following the convergence and the release of the faculty letter, students attended the November UC Regents meeting, presenting their pledges to UC Regent Richard Sherman, chair of the Regents Committee on Investments.
The student- and alumni-run CSSC exists as a broad network of student sustainability organizations throughout the state. Given the challenging political times, CSSC’s mission to unite, connect, and empower students to transform their educational communities into models of ecological, economic, and social sustainability is all the more essential.
photo Fossil Free UC Davis
CSSC is dedicated to challenging regressive political momentum and contributing to a world where equity and solutions to the climate crisis are favored over corporate profits. The far-reaching organization is stepping up the pressure and demanding that educational institutions stand on the right side of history: They must not remain complacent in the face of Trump’s climate denial and the urgent climate crisis we are facing.
To that end, we are evolving. The project is currently composed of three main leadership bodies: the council, the operating team, and the board of directors. The council sets the main vision and direction of programs and campaigns, and councilmembers expand the CSSC network at the campus level. The operating team manages many of the day-to-day affairs of the organization and coordinates key events and activities, such as multi-campus convergences and leadership retreats. The board of directors helps to grow the organization by providing guidance, developing governing structure, and maintaining institutional memory for the organization as a whole.
Because of the essential place students hold in social movements, CSSC spent the last year examining the strengths and weaknesses of this structure, and re-envisioning organizational strategy to meet evolving movement needs. During that time, we developed a restructuring plan that amplifies the things CSSC does best and directly addresses those things we have struggled with. During the planning process, members came to the conclusion that CSSC’s values are best implemented by running campaigns that challenge and reform dominant institutional and social frameworks. Every aspect of CSSC’s new structure – from the role of leadership to day-to-day practices – must support campaigns that help achieve that vision. Any function that does not serve our overarching goals, and does not direct towards that vision, will be reevaluated and adjusted.
Last November, our leadership formally voted to adopt the campaign-based structure. We expect the organizational transformation to take upwards of two years, but our goal is to have acquired funding and staff to support this vision by the beginning of 2019.
CSSC is also evolving to reflect the needs and concerns of California’s diverse student body, with climate justice remaining front and center.
Among our many efforts to reshape CSSC’s role in the climate justice movement, our Solidarity Organizing Program (SOP) – which offers trainings for students around racial justice, gender equity, and disproportionate impact – has emerged as an impactful cross-movement campaign. One of SOP’s central achievements so far has been collaborating to convene the 2016 West Sprog (Summer Leadership Training Program), a grassroots leadership program for students. The California gathering, one of four Sprog events across the country, was led by Ryan Camero, an active CSSC student facilitator and 2015 Brower Youth Award recipient, in collaboration with CSSC’s volunteer training team and the Sierra Club Student Coalition.
To learn more about this Earth Island Institute project visit: sustainabilitycoalition.org
CSSC’s involvement with West Sprog sparked the development of several other SOP initiatives, which tackle everything from climate policy advocacy, to queer liberation, to rejection of industrial animal agriculture, to dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. Camero has also helped facilitate the design of original curriculum templates that CSSC will help disseminate as grassroots tools made for and by students. The curriculum so far covers subjects like “anti-racism vs. non-racism,” “inter-org action and the movement ecology,” and “decolonization, decarbonization, and decentralization.”
CSSC has always existed as an interdisciplinary organization composed of youth leaders shaping the future by asking important questions and applying pressure to decision-makers. Faced with the urgency of the climate justice movement today paired with a challenging political climate, we will continue asking these tough questions, which at their root, all come back to this: What does sustainability look like in all of its forms – economic, ecological, and equitable?
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