Receiving a 'No'

Depending on how it is leveraged, receiving a ‘no’ on divestment from your administration can either be a fantastic opportunity to galvanize support for your campaign and grow it in size and power, or can take the wind out of your campaign’s sails. Receiving a ‘no’ should not be perceived as a negative, deflating event, but rather as an opportunity to grow and escalate. Remember that during the South Africa divestment movement, many campaigns heard ‘no’ before receiving a ‘yes.’ It was what happened in between that led to divestment wins. Below are suggestions on how to leverage a ‘no’ to your advantage.

Building Momentum

Leverage Media

  • Use this as an opportunity to expose aspects of the university and divestment process: Write articles that: address issues in the process that led to the administration’s decision such as lack of transparency and inclusivity; rebut arguments made against divestment; call out conflict of interests if they exist; frame their decision as standing on the wrong side of history; and activate people to escalate with you.
  • Remember and ‘redream’ the university: Universities were created to support a better future, create rational policy, cultivate reason, and do research to better human existence. Campaign messaging can be focused to highlight that the university is not taking in the facts that benefit its own structure. This can allow the campaign to communicate the value of educational institutions and the hypocrisy of the administration at the same time. See its purpose and greatness more clearly than anyone else on campus, especially the administration; articulate this in a way that makes their cynicism and media triangulation seems petty and inauthentic.

Grow and Leverage Support

  • Build student support by passing a student government resolution if you have not already done so, holding a student referendum, or increasing petition signatures.
  • Build alumni support; create an alternative donation fund (refer to the Alumni Toolkit).
  • Build faculty support by passing faculty senate resolution and circulating an open letter.

Sustaining Communication and a Fair Process

  • Instead of focusing on the ‘no’ decision, looking at the process of engagement can be helpful. What is the process for stakeholders to engage with the investment decisions at your university? Is there a process in place? If not, what kind of processes can your campaign help institutionalize?
  • Retaining a professional relationship can be helpful to maintaining a process of engagement rather than destroying all ties which can halt all future communication. Remember that the decision can only be mandated by the administration, but that students and other stakeholders are the constituents which they serve.
  • Maintain the legitimacy of the campaign. This does not mean that the campaign must follow all the rules of the administration, but that the campaign still holds clout and can be taken seriously through existing processes.

Escalatory Tactics

  • Before taking any escalatory action, be sure to check in with the campaign members. Evaluate if the action is strategically right for the moment and examine the pros and cons of various tactics. Be aware that large escalation tactics can greatly alter future communication with administration. Think about the appropriate actions that communicate a message that can serve your campaign best.
  • Another possibility is to hold actions that communicate to the administration that their decision will only result in growth in your campaign and increased pressure on them until they stand on the right side of history. These include sit-ins, blockades, rallies, interrupting meetings, etc.
  • Pursuing legal action:
    • Conflict of Interest: Exposing actual or perceived conflicts of interest can increase pressure on your administration and activate student, faculty, and alumni involvement in your campaign. Refer to the “Conflict of Interest Guide”.
    • Suing your school: Consider filing a lawsuit against your administration for breach of fiduciary duty for ignoring carbon asset risk. Work with law students on this.

Winning Partial Divestment

If you’ve won partial divestment, congratulations and kudos on the hard work and stellar organizing that has gotten your campaign this far! Now it’s time to develop your strategy for leveraging this win toward winning full divestment. Below are suggestions on how to capitalize on your partial win to grow your campaign and support the larger movement, and to push your administration toward full divestment.

Growing your campaign and supporting the movement

  • Leverage media to spread the news far and wide. A big media splash will support campaigns worldwide by pressuring administrations to follow suit, showing them that divestment can be done in a measured way. They have no more excuses. Make sure that your messaging is clear in painting this as a first step and not the end all, so as not to set a low standard for other administrations.
  • Capitalize on the momentum generated by your win to grow your campaign. Activate students, faculty and alumni to get involved as you move ahead on campaigning for full divestment.
    • Publish articles in your campus newspaper, faculty newsletters, and the alumni publication to educate students, faculty, and alumni about your school’s divestment decision, and as a call to action for full divestment.
    • Hold tabling sessions, class raps, and events celebrating your win and calling for more action.

Pushing for full divestment

Capitalizing on the momentum generated by your win, create a new campaign strategy not unlike the strategy that led you to this win.

  • Develop your framing. Draw on your school’s leadership to call for even bolder leadership that is aligned with the fossil free future we need.
  • You can create a new petition calling for full divestment.
  • Circulate open letters if you haven’t already.
  • Pass a student or faculty resolution of support if you haven’t already.
  • Create an alternative donation fund for divestment if you haven’t already.

Capitalizing on a 'Yes'

First of all, congratulations on winning divestment! You have undoubtedly worked very hard to get to this incredible point, but the work does not stop here. There are many things your campaign can do after receiving a ‘yes’ from your administration to help bolster the larger movement. Continue pushing the climate action envelope at your school and activate students, faculty, and alumni around climate organizing.

Bolstering the Movement

Our movement needs wins, and wins should be maximally leveraged when they occur.

  • Have a well-developed media strategy and coordinate with organizations to help you maximize media coverage. Some suggestions on media framing include:
    • Thanking your administration for exhibiting bold leadership and express commitment to working with them to institute other climate leadership initiatives.
    • Highlight the impetus and imperative for divestment.
    • Call on other institutions to lead.
  • Share your experience, best practices, and lessons learned with the movement via blog posts, webinars, and participating in trainings and panels.

Push the Envelope

Capitalize on the momentum for climate action at your school by pushing for more. Examples of things you could push for include:

  • A comprehensive ESG investment policy.
  • An ambitious investment plan. See the “Reinvestment Guide”.
  • The creation of an advisory body on investor responsibility if your school does not have one.
  • A carbon neutrality plan for your school that could include an internal carbon price.
  • Student involvement in all of the above.
  • Additional student representation in sustainability related committees.

Activating Students, Faculty, and Alumni

Utilize this as an opportunity to get more students, faculty, and alumni involved in climate activism.

  • Write an op-ed in your paper using your experience to inspire others to action.
  • Hold events on campus to educate the campus community on the divestment decision and ways to get involved in climate activism.
  • Organize a student-led class on climate activism.