‘We all came here because we’re environmentally minded, but that doesn’t mean we’re environmentalists or hippies, it just means we’re right.’
While this last weekend was certainly a shaky one globally, these words have stayed with me all week. They were spoken at Divestival, a festival to celebrate Waltham Forest council in London’s decision to fully divest from fossil fuels, as well as to inspire us to keep moving forward.
The day began outside Walthamstow Town Hall with a quick photo opportunity. Members of the divestment movement held up homemade signs (from recycled materials) and chanted. My favourite chant was ‘keep that oil in the soil, keep that coal in the hole’, because it wouldn’t really be British if it wasn’t a little bit cheeky after all. The spirit was one of celebration and hope in the wake of the divest decision, but also commitment to moving forward across London.
Everyone then moved to a nearby indoor venue, where we were greeted with live music and an array of delicious vegan treats (including multiple types of chocolate cake, it was almost too good to be true). The rest of the festival consisted of a variety of speakers, live music and performance, food, drink and fun. We talked about how Waltham Forest was the first UK council to divest, and has now been followed by Southwark, with the hope that there are more still to come. Here are some of my key moments from the speeches:
– Ellen from 350 talked about how divestment campaigns have managed to take something as dull as UK pension funds and transform it into a political movement. Across the world 5 trillion assets have been divested making this the biggest divestment movement of all time.
– Rob from the Waltham Forest campaign explained his reasons for getting involved in the first place, saying ‘if the government isn’t acting within my interests then I need to get involved with local actions’, a statement that seems particularly apt at the moment, and a strategy that has definitely proved effective in the past. Getting to know your community and starting to work on change where you are is much easier and more feasible than trying to change the world on your own.
– Lily, a 9 year old girl who lives in Southwark, told us about her involvement with divestment. After learning about it from her mum she collected signatures in her class and sold fossil free cupcakes that she made herself. Later she delivered a speech to Southwark council asking them to divest, which they did. She was incredibly happy and excited, because she felt like her local government was looking out for her and her future. She explained that ‘it’s fun trying to protect the climate, because you get to do all kinds of fun things’
– Simon and Yemi, both local councillors in Waltham Forest who sit on the pensions committee talked about their involvement in reaching the decision to fully divest: ‘You can’t be progressive unless you’re talking about the environment and acting to safeguard it.’ They talked about how to decision was easy to make, because they could make it knowing they were supported by the divestment group and they had an evidence base, whilst Yemi had spoke about the devastation her extended family had seen in Nigeria through the use of fossil fuels, and the health damage caused by air pollution. They knew that, as the first UK council to divest, Waltham Forest has proved that it can be done, and sets a precedent for all other local governments. They ended by asking: ‘Please continue to challenge us, and keep us honest.’
The day also included a raffle, with great prizes donated by local businesses, with all proceeds going towards legal funding for Standing Rock and those on the front line in Nigeria, performances from a local eco-poetry group, and discussions about what kind of city and world we have vision for once the use of fossil fuels has been eradicated. This felt especially important, as we can often spend so much time fighting against the bad, that we don’t have time to envision what the good could actually look like.
Overall there was a great sense of community and joy as well as an underlying determination and willingness to stick it out, despite how difficult some of these battles may become. As the day went on more and more people showed up, until the room was fit to burst by the end of the day, showing that communities really do care. Divestival was the perfect example of how breaking a huge problem down into something smaller and more manageable can work, and that divestment truly is feasible. In the era of the Trump presidency we’re already seeing local cities and governments stand against policies of division and danger to the climate, including Seattle’s recent decision to fully divest $3 billion from Wells Fargo because of their funding of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Divestival proves that change can be made, if we focus on the things we can do where we are, instead of feeling overwhelmed by the hugeness of the overall problem. It was a ton on fun, and a ton of good cake, and we left with refreshed vigour and vision. What more could we ask for?
Until next time, stay magic y’all.