By: Casey Xu and Emme Laundry
On October 14th, 2021, students across the 5Cs demonstrated in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en land defenders protecting their sacred headwaters, Wedzin Kwa, from being drilled by the Coastal GasLink Pipeline project funded by Claremont McKenna College trustees Henry Kravis CM ’67 and George Roberts CM ’66. Roughly fifty students stood in the quad by the Cube and the Kravis Center while lead 5C Divestment organizers held a banner inside Roberts Pavilion.
The subject of this campaign, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR), is a global private equity firm founded by Henry Kravis and George Roberts. The two have donated more than $100 million to CMC, with buildings across the campus named after them. In December 2019, KKR purchased 65% of the Coastal GasLink Pipeline, which is being built on Wet’suwet’en land despite the project violating Wet’suwet’en, federal, and international law and already spilling 1,000 liters of contaminants during the construction process.
Isabella Garcia PZ ‘24, a lead organizer of KKR Kills, shared why she thinks many 5C students actively support divestment campaigns at the Consortium.
“I feel like it makes a lot of students uncomfortable that we’re going to these institutions and supporting these institutions that are contributing to these terrible things that are happening in Indigenous communities and to the environment, and I think a lot of us are really passionate about that,” said Garcia.
According to Garcia, seven KKR Kills organizers peacefully entered Roberts Pavilion with a banner reading “ALL OUT FOR WEDZIN KWA” and presented it at the window between the first and second floor. Shortly after they arrived, Campus Security came to intervene.
“Camp Sec came, and there was definitely a feeling of power over us right as they came in… One man wasn’t even wearing a mask, and one of the Camp Sec ladies came really close to us. So it was kind of like, you’re telling us that we’re breaking policy, yet you’re literally breaking these COVID guidelines, which in my opinion are more severe,” said Garcia.
A video posted on KKR Kills’ Instagram page shows the maskless officer, CMC Director of Public Safety, Brian Weir.
“You could tell they just didn’t like what we were saying, the message that we were sending because it puts pressure on the school, and it shows that they’re not doing great things…We thought there’d be power in silence and just not reacting… Then we got word that they had called Claremont PD… We planned on staying until 7 PM, but we left around 6:45 PM, ” said Garcia.
Garcia summarized the big picture goals of her involvement with divestment movements at the 5Cs.
“We want three steps: one is transparency, so basically we want the schools to be transparent on where their investments are going because we don’t know so much. And then two is obviously divestment. And then three would be reinvestment, so we want the schools to be able to reinvest ethically,” said Garcia.
Jess Grady-Benson PZ ‘14, a co-founder of the 2013 Claremont Colleges Divestment Campaign, addressed the importance of divestment campaigns.
“Money is political, and investments are political. In every way, …endowed institutions should be moving their investments in alignment with their values… Divestment from one institution or industry is not sufficient. We must also be clear about what we are reinvesting into and use the opportunity of divestment to shift wealth into community-owned and governed solutions on the frontlines of racial and climate injustice,” said Grady-Benson.
Grady-Benson’s 2013 Divestment campaign was ultimately successful, making Pitzer College the first higher education institution in Southern California to commit to divesting its endowment from fossil fuel stocks. However, she acknowledged that there is still work to be done on reinvestment.
“Building a just transition is a process of navigating layers of emerging contradictions. As we win one victory, new contradictions emerge–just as Pitzer divested from fossil fuels and invested in BlackRock’s fossil-free fund, we are seeing more clearly that BlackRock is a bad actor,” said Grady-Benson.
Students Demanding Change has raised awareness about this contradiction since September 2019, when a message on the free wall first called widespread attention to it. Amanda Gómez PZ ‘23, a co-founder and leader of the BlackRock campaign, expressed her frustrations with Pitzer’s ties with BlackRock.
“So Pitzer can co-opt all these movements and talk about their support for those movements when it’s beneficial to them… But when it comes to divesting from fossil fuels and companies that trample over Indigenous sovereignty, divesting from private prisons and detention centers and Arctic drilling… they’re not willing to take that step,” said Gómez.
Speaking from her activism experiences at the 5Cs, Grady-Benson shared some advice for current student organizers.
“Learn the history and context of organizing on your campus… Build a base by building relationships… Building power and pressure on your targets is the most important element of your organizing strategy… Take care of each other. Student organizer burnout is so real,” said Grady-Benson.
Casey Xu ‘25 has always had a hard time answering the “Where are you from?” question. She is obsessed with The Dodo and spends more time planning out her work on her calendar than doing the actual work.
Emme Laundry ’25 is from Seattle, Washington. She loves cats, cooking, and listening to audiobooks. She hates writing about herself.