Last Tuesday, March 28th, President Trump signed an executive order unraveling the tireless efforts of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. The order effectively pulled the US out of its international leadership role in the fight against climate change, instead establishing a precedent of ignoring the environmental impacts of carbon dioxide pollution.
In the wake of this executive order, it became clear to the student activists of Climate Justice at Boston College (CJBC) that silence was not acceptable. Instead, they opted to speak out by organizing an on-campus demonstration, officially dubbed the Climate Rally with O’Malley.
“CJBC started five years ago as "BC Fossil Free," a group pushing for BC to divest,” says current club member Matthew Barad, MCAS ‘20. “Our original goal was to appeal directly to administrators, shareholders, and the Board of Trustees, but it turns out that there are a lot of very staunchly anti-divestment members of the BC administration.”
According to Barad, University President Father Leahy is one of the more hardline members of the divestment opposition. CJBC has instead focused on hosting events like rallies and bringing in speakers in hopes of swaying other members of the administration to their side.
“We need [the administration] to see that divestment from fossil fuels is an ethical responsibility and it’s on the grounds of moral principles that the BC population largely shares,” continues Barad, “and we are falling behind nationwide.”
Divestment, defined by Fossil Free as “getting rid of stocks, bonds, or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous,” lies at the core of CJBC’s mission—and they argue that it aligns with the Jesuit value system, as well. This snowballing tension, paired with Trump’s recent executive order, came together to produce a campus climate ripe for rallying.
Held in the Vanderslice Hall Cabaret Room on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., the rally brought in former Maryland governor and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley—along with Chief Wompimeequin Wampatuck, Tribal Chief of the Mattakeeset Tribe in the Massachusett Nation—as a “call to action for new leadership and participation in the movement to fight climate change,” according to the event’s Facebook page. The rally was originally to be held in O’Neill Plaza, but was moved to the Vandy Cabaret Room due to the rainy weather.
Moods certainly weren’t dampened by the rain, however, as the rally kicked off with opening words from various CJBC members, including Barad himself, before segueing into a speech from Chief Wampatuck on the unique challenge faced by indigenous peoples in the fight for environmental justice.
“You all being here today is the first step toward reformation,” said Wampatuck. “The truth is, the EPA and [other organizations] have a lot of reformation and decolonizing work ahead of them. We must start from the grassroots and work our way up.”
Wampatuck went on to further stress the importance of reformation, but he particularly focused on the environmental racism that affects indigenous peoples—and on the lack of advocacy for the voices of indigenous peoples when it comes to making real policy decisions toward environmental justice.
Following Chief Wampatuck on the stage was Amelie Daigle, a member of Eradicate Boston College Racism, who spoke more directly to the importance of attending rallies and getting involved in activism both on and off campus.
“We live in a time when people who normally don’t speak have to start speaking, and people who normally don’t act have to start acting,” said Daigle. Her closing words marked a call to action: “Don’t let this be your only rally and don’t let this end when you go home.”
The rally then welcomed its namesake to the stage—and, upon taking the microphone, Martin O’Malley waved audience members up towards him.
“Come on up!” he called, bringing the student body closer together both physically and in spirit.
O’Malley’s energy and fervor created a hopeful mood despite the harrowing topic at hand. Even amidst hard-to-swallow facts on climate change and criticisms of both the BC and Trump administrations, O’Malley was able to infuse his words with a sense of humor and a heartening outlook toward the future.
“When you get down, when you read these dire statements from President Trump’s administration or the head of the EPA or—what’s the fella’s name who does the press conferences? Spicey?—take heart! Take heart. Darkness is a great canvas. And you have the ability, as Americans, to reform, to rebuild, and to make new.”
The former Maryland governor continued his speech by echoing this idea of the American spirit, noting that our most powerful agent of harnessing change toward climate justice is awareness, both of the problem and of the power of love in the equation—whether love for each other, for the planet, or for the generations to follow. His words were infused with a certain sense of spirituality and acknowledgement of the campus’ Jesuit context.
“Maybe next year at BC, we can give up fossil fuels for Lent,” O’Malley joked.
Closing the rally was one of CJBC’s founding members, Bobby Wengronowitz, whose final words on demanding change from the Boston College administration were profound and resounding as the event came to its conclusion.
“Boston College, Father Leahy, the Board of Trustees—they are engaged in violence when they invest in these companies that are causing violence to our home, that are intentionally, willfully, and knowingly destroying the planet,” said Wengronowitz. “We must compel Boston College to divest from fossil fuels. They have absolutely no power without our consent, without your consent.”
While many opted to congregate near the stage and exchange a few words with O’Malley after the event drew to a close, the other rally-goers filed out of the Vandy Cabaret Room where they were given the chance to sign CJBC’s divestment petition before ducking back out into the rain.
“The activist culture here can be so quiet,” says Barad of BC’s campus. “You have a lot of people who care a lot about issues and know a lot about issues, but for some reason that doesn’t necessarily manifest itself in going to rallies or things of that nature.”
His solution? It echoes the words of many of those whose voices rang loud and clear at the rally, as well: “If a BC student wants to help, they can do so just by showing up.”
The Gavel’s live stream video coverage of the event can be found on our Facebook page.