Land Under Seige
Harvard Undergrads push for Recognition of Environmental Justice
By MARISSA GARCIA
“We need to wake up, we need to wise up,
Come on Bacow, do it now, do it now, now, now
We need to build toward a better future —
We need climate justice now.”
Originally performed by Sing for the Climate at a 2012 Belgium rally, the song “Do It Now” was instead resonating in Harvard Yard, bellowed by undergraduates resolutely gripping a sign emblazoned with an implacable, orange “DIVEST.”
With the lyrics tailored to address President Bacow, the Harvard Undergraduates for Environmental Justice sought redress for Harvard’s ongoing financial entanglements in Brazilian and Californian farmlands, making transparent Harvard’s privatization of land, which has convoluted many stakes in property rights, and breaches in public health standards due to pesticide usage upon these lands. The rally was in collaboration with the Harvard College Conservation Society, the Environmental Action Committee, ORCA, the Native Americans at Harvard College, and Fuerza Latina.
On February 8, 2019 beginning at 3:30pm at Smith Campus Center, James Walkingstick, the community chair for the Harvard University Native American Program, spoke to the tenuous claim by Harvard to indigenous land, professing, “And Harvard’s origin… they wanted to convert Native Americans to Christianity… and that’s the only reason why they wanted us.”
Vice President Ilana Cohen regarded Walkingstick’s inclusion as a speaker to be critical, imparting perspectives from groups who historically experienced the seizure of their property rights.
Coming from a family background of farming, Isa Flores-Jones spoke to her personal ties regarding the divestment, affirming, “I have been working on this issue for all four years here.”
Amongst the speakers was also Zoe Grodsky, the eminent student organizer for the Divest Middlebury campaign, a timely appearance in light of Middlebury College divesting from its fossil fuel divestments as of Tuesday, January 29, 2019, with over 80% of students voting in favor, according to the Burlington Free Press.
At Harvard College the first referendum for fossil fuel divestment occurred on the UC Ballot in 2012, with over 70% of the student body in support. The second referendum, proposed in 2018, still retained 70% of the student body’s favor, evidence that support has not waned. Despite this steadfast support from the student body, President Bacow remains openly anti-divest.
The students began the march from Smith Campus Center to Massachusetts Hall, now chanting “The People Gonna Rise Like the Water,” originally performed by Flood Wall Street in 2014.
“The people gonna rise like the water
We’re gonna calm this crisis down
I hear the voice of my great granddaughter
Saying climate justice now!”
The role of the climate-themed music was paramount. By inundating Massachusetts Hall – where many administrative offices, including Bacow’s, are housed – with the exhortation of the song “Do It Now,” their urgency for the administrative recognition was palpable. According to the Harvard Undergraduates for Environmental Justice, Bacow has still not allowed for an arrangement of a meeting between the two bodies.
Marissa Garcia ‘21 ([email protected]) took a class last semester about the collective power of music and politics and considers this HUEJ rally to be its embodiment.