A protest organised by Direct Action for Divestment Oxford will come to an end tomorrow at 2pm. By the time the protesters leave, they will have occupied the Front Quad at St John’s College for 96 hours and successfully brought divestment to the top of the agenda. However, the occupation failed in its main aim to force the College to “drop its investments” in BP and Shell and to call a climate emergency. St John’s has been criticised for investing £8.1 million of its £551 million endowment in BP and Shell. The College has also invested £1.5 million in British American Tobacco, as well as weapons firms.
Student representatives of the occupation met the President, Professor Maggie Snowling, on Friday. During the meeting, the President offered a number of small concessions. According to a press release from the College, she agreed to increase student representation in the Working Party on Ethical Investments, which is examining the ethical implications of College investments. St John’s College has refused to divest its endowment on an ad hoc basis, but the bureaucracy through which it prefers to work has been criticised. Ankit Ranjan, one of the student leaders of the protests accused it of moving at a “glacial pace”.
Prof Snowling also promised that she would no longer invite BP and Shell employees to advise on College investment practices. Previously, the College had sought to use communications from both firms to justify their investments.
Crucially, however, she promised that the Working Party would put forward a recommendation to the Governing Body by the end of the year, according to a press release from Direct Action for Divestment Oxford (DAD Oxford). When the protesters begun their occupation, they sought a similar “time-limited commitment” to divestment. Moving forward, DAD Oxford plan to concentrate their efforts on holding the College to this deadline.
In their statement, DAD Oxford credited the College for recognising “the importance of this issue”, before threatening that “if they do not (continue to make this a priority), we will be back.”
A difficult struggle
As the protest went on, it became harder for the occupiers to sustain their support. The group found it difficult to keep up their numbers. Initially a group of 20, many left St John’s to attend tutorials at other Colleges and struggled to return. Earlier today members of St John’s helped a large number of protesters re-enter the site. Further, the 4 student protesters attending St John’s had their fobs deactivated, preventing them from moving around College or checking their post in the pidge room.
Other students at St John’s were also antagonised by the protest. In response, the College shut at least five gates into College, including the main entrance. This made it difficult for a number of students in the occupied Front Quad to leave College. It also seemed impossible for students who required a mobility scooter or wheelchair to enter the main College site.
DAD Oxford criticised the College’s “antagonistic” response. They accused them of preventing supporters “from bringing food, hot water, and blankets in from outside.”
Onwards and upwards
Climate activists will greet the news with mixed feelings. DAD Oxford said that they reignited the conversation “not only within St John’s, but across the university,” citing expressions of interest from students at other colleges seeking escalations elsewhere. All will be eager to see the College make good on its commitments to pursue divestment by the end of the year.
By 2pm on Sunday, the protest will have come to an end. DAD Oxford is calling on all to join them for a show of solidarity at 1:30pm at St John’s College. As the College returns to normality, anyone wishing to attend will be able to enter St John’s through the main entrance once again.