Divestiture programs have a proud history on college campuses, and it is encouraging that students at Williams College have joined the effort to persuade academic institutions to divest from, or not to invest in, coal producing companies. College students have a huge stake in the fate of the environment, and the industrial pollution that has already caused harm will do more unless there is dramatic change.
The most famous divestiture campaign was launched against the apartheid South African government in 1977 at nearby Hampshire College. It spread across campuses and then to businesses, municipalities and states, and by the time Washington joined in 1986, South Africa was reeling from the economic impact. While apartheid was brought down by the courage of South Africa's black majority, the divestiture program in the United States and other nations was instrumental in setting up the racist leadership for its fall.
Divestiture campaigns from fossil-fuel companies are underway at more than 300 colleges and universities and more than 100 cities and states frustrated by the failure of those companies to introduce pollution-reduction measures are considering divestiture or have implemented it. At Williams, the environmental advocates comprising the Thursday Night Group have been pushing for this divestiture approach, the College Council has endorsed the effort with a resolution and Williams should agree not to invest college funds in any coal-producing companies. Ideally, this will inspire these companies to implement the pollution-reduction measures they have been avoiding or opposing.
A divestiture campaign targeting gun manufacturers began shortly after the Newtown, Connecticut massacre but has lost momentum. This is unfortunate as it is the money provided the National Rifle Association by gun companies that enables the NRA to stall common sense gun reform measures backed by Americans by buying off politicians. Hitting irresponsible corporations where it hurts -- their profit margins -- is a powerful strategy for bringing about change.