About 130 students from Yale and Harvard ran onto the field after the half-time show at the annual playing of The Game between Yale and Harvard to hold banners calling on the two prestigious, almost unbelievably wealthy universities to divest their holdings in fossil fuel companies and Puerto Rican debt.
Divestment would help delegitimize the fossil fuel industry, which is doing everything in its power to obstruct the transition to renewable energy that is so desperately needed to prevent climate disaster. Puerto Rico, still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, urgently needs debt relief. Thus, the overall theme was “climate justice.” I was one of a handful of baby boomers who joined them.
Since becoming active in the anti-Vietnam War movement on one of the country’s most radical campuses – the University of Wisconsin in Madison (Go Badgers!) – I have participated in an untold number of protests, but this was perhaps one of the most impactful. Time will tell if the real-time coverage in outlets like The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian, as well as leading headlines in most of the state’s media outlets, and actual coverage by the sportscasters covering the game for ESPU (a sports channel dedicated to college sports) will help move Harvard and Yale to divest these holdings from their endowment ($39 billion for Harvard, $29 billion for Yale). But the action has already had an impact on me.
After we sat down in mid-field and prevented the second half of the game from starting, hundreds more students (and perhaps some non-students) flooded onto the field to join us. It was a beautiful sight. We chanted ‘til we were hoarse: “What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now! If we don’t get it, shut it down!” The game announcer pleaded, “Out of courtesy to the players and the fans, please leave the field. The game must go on.” The absurdity of prioritizing a football game over the survival of life on earth as we know it was not lost on us. I wonder how many people in the stands noticed.
Climate scientists say we have until 2030 to reduce the emission of global warming gases enough to prevent irreversible climate chaos. The students know they are facing a changed, diminished and very scary world. Despite the exuberance and joy we all felt in accomplishing our goal of reaching the field and unfurling our banners, the overall feeling is one of trepidation. But also a fierce resolve.
I love these young people with all my heart. I love their commitment, their love for each other, their welcoming elders like me into their bold, creative actions. I love that one of the organizers said we might have to run onto the field and asked me if I could run. You betcha I could.
Harvard and Yale always boast about what leaders they are in the worlds of government, business, technology, etc. Yet they are laggards in this critical arena. Hundreds of cities, businesses, a few whole countries and other universities have already divested – to the tune of $8 trillion, according to 350.org, the group that kicked off the fossil fuel divestment movement. The entire University of California system, including its flagship campus in Berkeley, just announced its plans to divest.
After 45 minutes, police threatened to arrest those who didn’t leave the field, and most did. Forty-two of us decided to stay and were detained. My arrest buddy and I were escorted by a Yale cop through one of the tunnels of the Yale Bowl to be processed, while fans on both sides of us applauded, cheered and returned the peace sign I made. On the outside, a few Trumpers at their tailgate party called us names. I felt sorry for them. We have to appear in court on the morning of December 6, which is the same day as another round of youth-led climate strikes. How fitting.
Oh, and Yale came back from a 15-3 deficit at halftime to win the game in double overtime – another historic aspect of this year’s Game. Maybe we inspired them.
Melinda Tuhus lives in Hamden.