By Alec Connon
Six months ago, I attended a 350 Seattle monthly meeting. At this meeting I stood up in a room of about fifty people and announced that I wanted to get the world’s largest charitable foundation, the Gates Foundation, to divest from fossil fuels. I only knew a couple of people in the room. I babbled for a while about how the Foundation had $1.2 billion invested in fossil fuel companies, about divestment being an important part of solving the global warming puzzle, and about how I had a cunning plan to make Mr. Gates see sense on this issueMy plan, I told the room, was that I was going to write a letter!
Someone coughed. People shuffled their feet.
‘But that’s not all,’ I said. ‘I will get that letter signed by other Seattle organizations as well and then … and then … well and then I’ll post it to the Foundation!’
Silence filled the void.
I smiled, looked out at the room of bemused faces, and sat down.
For reasons that I still don’t fully understand, 6 people joined me that evening.
6 months later and I am standing outside of the Gates Foundation HQ in Seattle. It’s a hot, clear day. I’m nervous and a little sweaty from the bike ride here. I hold in my hand a 13,000 word report entitled The Case for the Gates Foundation’s Divestment from Fossil Fuels. Since that first evening, over 250,000 people have signed a Guardian petition calling on the Foundation to divest – and 24 Seattle-based organizations have endorsed our campaign and signed our letter. I bounce on my toes, try to dispel the nervous energy. The report I hold in my hand was co-authored by myself and UW Divest leader, Fulbright scholar, and PHD student Alex Lenferna. People walk past. A bird sings. The report argues for the efficaciousness of fossil fuel divestment as a strategy to prevent the worst ravages of global warming. It argues that by influencing market sentiment and drawing attention to the carbon bubble the Gates Foundation’s divestment can go a long way to helping enable the IPCC’s recommendations that $37 billion worth of investment capital be removed from the fossil fuel industry every year.
I check the time. I’m early. I watch a dog pee against a tree. Then I look up and see my friend, Mike, the popular former mayor of Seattle, approaching on his bike.
And this is why I’m here today: Because Mike has read and agrees with the report that we’ve written – and what’s more, he’s going to help us deliver it to the Foundation’s CEO, Ms. Susan Desmond-Hellman.
He seems a touch red-faced when he clambers off his bike. ‘It’s a long way,’ he says as explanation. And then, after we have collected ourselves and posed for a couple of photos, we take a deep breath and move toward the Foundation.
At the desk the two receptionists recognize Mike straight away – he was mayor until two years ago, after all. They seem a little flummoxed though. They can’t accept just anything, they tell us, we need someone from within the Foundation to come down and collect our documents. I get the distinct feeling that had I been here alone that would have been an end to it. But looking at Mike, they tell us they’ll make some calls.
To my astonishment they try to call Ms. Desmond-Hellman’s PA. ‘I have Mike McGinn in the lobby here saying that he has a report for Ms. Desmond-Hellman,’ I hear one of them whisper into the phone. ‘Someone will be down in a minute,’ they tell us a few moments later.
And so it is with my heart in my mouth, questioning how we got here, I watch the former mayor of Seattle deliver a report that I’ve co-authored to the CEO of arguably the world’s most influential Foundation.
A moment later we walk out smiling. The job’s done; the package delivered.
They know who we are.
They know that we’re a movement.
They know that we’re coming.