Divestment hunger strike outside Old Schools

Will Bennett 16 May 2018

Three students from the Zero Carbon Society have gone on hunger strike outside the Old Schools building this afternoon.

After a sustained effort to persuade the University to divest has been met with no reward, students are refusing to eat until the University commits itself to divestment.   The students are demanding full divestment by the year 2022 and no punishment for students engaging in direct action. 

When the subject of punishing the students involved in direct action was raised at the second open meeting between students and Vice Chancellor Stephen Toope yesterday evening, it was laughed off by the body of students present.  Toope himself did not rule out the possibilty of punishing those who carried out the graffiti earlier this week.

The hunger strikers have released a statement, while the Zero Carbon Society say they are "deeply proud" of their actions.  Included in the statement is an outline of the strikers perception of the University's current situation with climate change and a description of the avenues for change they have pursued so far.  Of themselves, the strikers said, "The coming days will be a difficult experience for us, but whatever action students take now is insignificant in comparison to the suffering of the millions of people in the global south who are already affected by climate change, and the global disaster and broken world we will all see in our lifetimes and that our children will inherit. We must do all in our power to prevent this disaster and create the just and sustainable world we need."

The University has said that "We are aware of an ongoing protest outside Senate House yard. We are monitoring the situation and the wellbeing of the students involved."

This week has also seen just north of 30 students graffiti the walls of the Old Schools building with the words “Cambridge divest from fossil fuels”.  Efforts are still in progress to have their words removed.  Activists have offered to help remove the graffiti once the University commits to divestment.

Earlier this year students also occupied the Old Schools buidling for five days, making headlines across the country.  A protest was also launched at the Boat Race in London, where students set off flares and threw a banner over the side of Hammersmith Bridge which read "Oxbridge Divest".

The news comes after last night's meeting between students and Vice Chancellor Stephen Toope, in which Toope refused to comment on his personal attitude to divestment. He reinforced that "[he] cannot answer the question today whether we have any investments specifically in fossil fuel companies."  Transparency has been high on the agenda of Toope as well as student activists in the recent past.  Toope said only that there is "a lot of work being done", explaining that he was unwilling to speak on behalf of the Council, with whom the preliminary decision about divestment rests.  He added that a "complex evaluation" was required.  

Toope did bow to students' demands slightly however when he conceded that he too is committed in trying "to recapture a narrative about social values in higher education that is not simply about economic growth”.

Zero Carbon Society's representative on the university working group, Alice Guillaume, left her post earlier this year following a leaked report suggesting that the University would turn down divestment again, opting instead for a 'partial' divestment plan.