On Friday, Daniela Lapidous ’12 visited the upper school to speak to Harker’s Green Team about her personal experiences in environmental activism, with a focus on her efforts to get her alma mater, Columbia University, to divest from funding in the fossil fuel industry.
Lapidous, who is now a deputy field director at Green New Deal Network and worked for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, discussed how she became involved with the organization Barnard Columbia Divest (later renamed Columbia Divest for Climate Justice) after her first year at Columbia and began participating in protests, including one in Washington, D.C., attended by 10,000 people.
One of the most significant protest actions she participated in was the eight-day occupation of Columbia’s Low Library in 2016. She and other CDCJ members staged a sit-in at the library in an effort to persuade university president Lee Bollinger to make a pledge of divestment from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. Lapidous said the occupation was supported by many students, who provided food to the occupiers and attended teach-ins on climate justice.
Earlier this year, Columbia ended direct investment in publicly traded oil and gas companies. Lapidous noted that while there are some caveats (exceptions may be made for companies with a “credible plan” to bring business to net zero emissions by 2050), the progress was heartening. She also highlighted the massive mobilization that took place over nearly a decade for the progress to happen.
Members of the Green Team sought advice from Lapidous on how to achieve their own goals. “In my own organizing, I have found that having conversations with decision makers is great,” she said. “When you come to a difference of values or priorities then it is helpful to have support from students and faculty.”
She also said that setting an example can be inspiring to others: “Even if you start small, seeing other people doing the work can inspire more people to come in.”