A solidarity rally was held outside St John’s College today by Oxford Climate Justice Campaign (OCJC) to pressure the College to divest their £551 million endowment from fossil fuel companies. The College is known to have invested £8.1 million in the oil and gas majors Shell and BP and is suspected to have exposure to mutual funds exposed to the industry. The rally is the second big student movement in two days and is in support of the ongoing occupation of the Front Quad of the College.
Although primarily organised by OCJC, the ongoing protest is a collaborative effort working under the umbrella group of Direct Action Divestment. The event is also supported by a number of Oxford-based groups, including Trans Action Oxford; Oxford University Labour Club; Oxford Left Network; Oxford Migrant Solidarity; and Common Ground Oxford.
Speakers addressing the crowd pointed out the indiscriminate nature of climate change and emphasised that the campaign contained a diverse range of organisations, from Oxford Migrant Solidarity to Oxford Feminist Society.
The intersectional spirit was visible in the propped-up banners displaying the many organisations and societies who had come to lend support. One banner called on the College to “stop denying the Earth is dying”.
A crowd of around 40 stood next to the almost immovable wooden doors, turning St John’s into a sort of soft border. College porters are admitting only those with official or educational engagements.
Protesters in the encampment have had access to Wi-Fi cut and their fobs deactivated to stymie movement and coordination with organisers on the outside.
David Thomas, a spokesperson for the Oxfordshire Green Party, was one of many to come and offer solidarity. He framed the stand-off as emblematic of an institution unwilling to reflect on their investment choices: “they close their doors, hoping it will all go away. I’m here with the students to make sure it doesn’t go away”.
Fergus Green, one of the protesters who had spent the night inside the college, lauded today’s assemblage as a powerful statement of support. Despite the combative stance assumed on either side of the divide, he reported of high morale over the wall: “it’s like a mini festival,” he said with a smile, “we’ve got really cute tents up, we’ve got music playing, and even though the College is on lockdown we still have new people coming in all the time”.
It is clear that the protesters are determined to stay put on the lawn until they had made an impact. Fergus was sure that “we’ll be here for the next few days at least”.
These actions come in the wake of Balliol’s pledge to divest shares in fossil fuel companies last Monday.