by Heather MacLeod
The California Science Education Conference was held October 2–4 in Sacramento, sponsored by the California Science Teacher’s Association, and Fossil Free California was there.
Two volunteers from 350 Sacramento, Jaime Gonzalez and Megan Elsea, joined me at our table in the exhibit hall, and we asked science teachers to sign our divestment petition. We talked with teachers from Downey and Delhi and Dixon, Laguna and LaGrand, Pajaro and Paso Robles, Woodland and Whittier, as well as from larger districts.
We had signs that said:
Some comments we heard were:
- “Teachers don’t know where our money goes.”
- “I’m so glad you’re here.”
- “I didn’t know I was supporting that [fossil fuels].”
- “Take my money out of there!”
- “Five years is not fast enough.” (Our petition states that we want STRS to divest from the 200 largest fossil fuel companies within 5 years.)
- “We did it with guns, we can do it with fossil fuels.” (CalSTRS divested from companies that make and sell assault weapons in 2013.)
- “What really bothers me is that my savings are going to companies that promote climate misinformation, and to elect senators and congresspeople who vote against environmental protection.”
- “I came over to have a fight with you when I saw that your sign said ‘Fossil fuels don’t cause global warming…,’ but then I read the small print and realized you’re with us. Sure I’ll sign!”
Of course, not everyone agreed. The most interesting was a young man who teaches at a high school in Kern County. Although he initially wanted to sign the petition, on second thought he declined because Chevron sponsors the geology program at his high school, and he didn’t want to risk losing his funding. He insisted, though, that just because Chevron supplied the funding, the schools were still independent. He didn’t seem to notice that his decision about signing the petition was, in fact, completely dependent on Chevron’s funding.
A couple of enthusiastic AFT (American Federation of Teachers) members in Salinas were interested in getting their union to work more actively on divestment. As they left our table I heard them brainstorming about which teachers at another school in their district would be on board! A couple of high school teachers in Sacramento said that the issue of divestment has come up in their CTA chapter before and that this may the year to push it forward.
A student teacher at Cal Poly told us about her work with the student divestment movement at Cal Poly and was excited about getting teachers in her teacher education program involved. Preservice teachers from CSU Fresno and Santa Barbara also asked us to stay in touch with them.
We also met a member of the CTA’s State Council of Education who seemed a bit exasperated. She pointed out that CTA was aware of the fossil fuel divestment issue, and it comes up every year, but they couldn’t do anything until the unfunded liability was addressed. I’m not sure what the unfunded liability is, but it sounded a bit to me like one of those problems that won’t be solved for a long time. It also sounded like CTA was unaware that fossil fuel investments are actually LOSING money for us right now. Whatever an “unfunded liability” is, I don’t think that losing money will make it better.
Even teachers who weren’t vested in STRS signed. Two teachers at Catholic schools, who also attended Catholic churches, were interested in getting their schools and their churches active.
We met a board member of an outdoor education nonprofit, and he said that he’d ask his board if the organization would endorse divestment. We didn’t meet any members of the California Science Teacher’s Association (the sponsors of the fair), but it would be good to see if they might endorse divestment—although the fact that Chevron was a corporate sponsor of this conference might make it hard for them to decide to endorse.
We got 152 new signatures for the petition, and about 49 people who were willing to do more, even if it was just to connect us with the Eco Club sponsor at their school. This includes two teachers who told us that they wanted to get active AFTER they got tenure.
Now we get to figure out how to engage the gifts and connections of our new allies, keep in touch with them, and get active together!
Heather MacLeod, a member of CalSTRS, was a third-grade teacher and is currently a tutor in Oakland.