Divestment & the DSA

The fossil fuel divestment movement is growing. So far, at least $8 trillion in divestment commitments have been made by pension funds, philanthropies, universities, and other institutions. Divesting sends the economic and political message that profiting off of fossil fuels is no longer a legitimate business model-- in fact, it is immoral and lethal.

As articulated by the Power Shift Network, “The power of divestment comes from the larger movement that surrounds the financial action. By challenging business-as-usual, we can remove the industry's social license to operate both in the market and in our political sphere.”

Here’s a step-by-step plan for you and your DSA chapter to get involved in the divestment movement.

Find out where you are a constituent and possess the most leverage

Divestment is a unique and powerful tool because it redefines constituent power. For example, a small group of voters in the state of California has little leverage to change a senator’s vote on the Green New Deal Resolution, and thus has little ability to influence large-scale climate policy. This same intimate group of people has the potential to enact consequential change in the context when focused on a fossil fuel divestment campaign. For example, a few outspoken and organized voices at a university can shape the conversation on campus to one of divestment and climate justice; and if they are successful and push their university to divest, that victory creates momentum for other campaigns in the movement to win.

The first step in divestment organizing is deciding what constituency you want to leverage. Where are your DSA members constituents of? Government employees or union members that want their pension divested? College students that want to divest their endowment? Community members that want their city’s finances to be fossil free? Find your frontline.

Connect with others doing the work

Once you decide your divestment target, search for folks currently engaged in the work and existing campaigns. There may already be a divestment campaign aimed at your target that your chapter can join and support. If not, your campaign can tap into the local or national divestment movement and discuss strategy. For example, Divest Ed is non-profit that supports college divestment campaigns across the country. Organizations offer resources, expertise, and connections to divestment campaigns that can help your chapter get started.


Gather information

After you discern what divestment work is already being done around your target and decide your chapter’s place in the movement; it’s time to gather information. First, identify who holds the power to divest. Then, reach out to set up a meeting with them. It is useful to know the following before crafting a solid campaign strategy:

  1. Where is the fund generally invested?

  2. How much of that fund is invested in fossil fuels? (Often expressed in percentage)

  3. Are the fossil fuel investments direct, indirect, or both?

  4. Who manages the funds? (Investiture, Cambridge Associates, etc.)

  5. Is the target sympathetic to your cause, or resistant?

Craft a strategy

After a period of information gathering, your chapter can adequately craft a campaign strategy. This means setting goals and creating a backwards timeline. When does your campaign want the institution to divest? What will be the precipitating event that will achieve this? It might look something like a two-hundred person sit-in or a week-long occupation. Then, backwards plan to strategize what milestones your campaign will need to achieve to realize that eventual large goal.

Organize, politicize & radicalize

Once a baseline strategy is outlined, your chapter can begin organizing! Divestment is an phenomenal tool for socialists; it politicizes and radicalizes folks who care about the climate. Divestment organizing vilifies fossil fuel corporations and exposes the decision-makers that protect their profit margins. Divestment simultaneously strives for concrete climate action while underscoring the fossil fuel regimes’ insidious influence and the inherent evils of an economy motivated by profit. Organizing, politicizing, and radicalizing are the key tenets in an anti-capitalist divestment campaign.

Win & reinvest

After a period of successful organizing guided by a backwards timeline, your campaign will hopefully be victorious! The institution’s divestment commitment does not mean the campaign is over, though. The fossil fuel divestment movement is guided by the Just Transition Framework, which urges the movement to “stop the bad” and “build the new.” Not only must institutions divest from the fossil fuel regime, but they must invest in equitable, just alternatives.

For example, Cooperation Jackson in Mississippi seeks to, “Replace the current socio-economic system of exploitation, exclusion and the destruction of the environment with a proven democratic alternative. An alternative built on equity, cooperation, worker democracy, and environmental sustainability to provide meaningful living wage jobs, reduce racial inequities, and build community wealth.”

As evidenced, the utopian ideals socialists value are already being achieved in frontline worker cooperatives. We should invest in these institutions to demonstrate the incredible potential of a regenerative, rather than extractive and profit-driven, economy. The existence of democratic and sustainable institutions renders large-scale socialist ambitions more attainable. After all, divestment and reinvestment are simply tactics to eventually realize an ecosocialist world of ecological, racial, economic and social justice.

Written by Gracie Brett. To learn more about Boston DSA, visit their website and follow them on Twitter.