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Saturday, October 31, 2020

Divestment protest comes Back2Bellingham

LEAD ART JFT online
Emily Krieger (right), playing President Bruce Shepard, hands over a bag of money to Brandon McNamara (left), playing Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden, while performing a skit about divestment on Saturday, May 16, in Red Square. // Photo by Jake Tull

Attendees at the Back2Bellingham festival were treated to an unlisted event when the Students for Renewable Energy Club (SRE) performed a demonstration calling for Western to divest from fossil fuels.

The demonstration consisted of a theatrical performance depicting President Bruce Shepard receiving money from Royal Dutch Shell oil executives on Saturday, May 16.

Despite music from the KUGS radio booth disrupting some of the dialogue, student performers explained the effects of investing in fossil fuels in order to convince the faux President Shepard to consider divestment.

At the end of the demonstration the role of President Shepard, played by Western student Emily Krieger, handed a money bag prop back to the oil executive, played by senior Brandon McNamara.

“Our main goal is to create a widespread negative stigma for being invested in fossil fuels, right now it is taken for granted,” McNamara said.

McNamara said students making their voices heard in these kinds of protests will encourage the university to act on its current policies.

Western communications director Paul Cocke said Western supports the kind of expression demonstrated during the event.

“Western is committed to freedom of speech, petition and assembly,” Cocke said in an email. “These are fundamental to the democratic process, they are also fundamental to the academic process.”

SRE president Marika Weber said the demonstration had been planned to take place during Back2Bellingham because it was an alumni-focused event.

“A lot of our campaign is reaching out to alumni and donors from the University. We need students, faculty and alumni [to encourage the school to divest],” Weber said.

In September of 2014, Western’s Governing Board of Divestment Study released a statement declaring that Western would not be divesting from fossil fuels.

According to the statement, the financial impact of divestment, including associated investment fees, would mean the loss of potential scholarship and faculty support.

“It is important to note that fewer scholarships for students impacts deserving students who may not be able to afford to attend Western,” Cocke said. “And less support for University faculty and programs will affect students by resulting in less money for important faculty research that actively involves students.”

Weber said the group initially thought of doing a flash mob form of protest, but ultimately decided on a street-theater theme.

Western student Neal Dickinson, who witnessed the protest, said he did not think the choice of venue was appropriate. He made a multimedia piece on the divestment issue for Viking Television and said he chooses to remain neutral on his opinion of divestment as whole to not compromise his work.

“I don’t think [Back2Bellingham] is the place for this,” Dickinson said. “They have a jazz band performing, a zip line. …This is a family event.”

SRE member Galen Herz said they are not just focused on divestment, but also climate change and the adverse effects it has on global communities.

Herz believes that the majority of students stand with the SRE.

“[President Shepard] needs to listen to the voice of the student body and stand with us on this issue,” Herz said.

Members of the SRE also passed out flyers directed at students and alumni encouraging them to become involved with the issue of divestment.

Herz said the SRE meetings are open to all members of the public. The SRE meets from 6 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays in Humanities 106.

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