Wednesday, March 31, 2010

WashU Students Protest Peabody and Tell Them to Get Out of their University

Written by Arielle Klagsbrun, a student at Washington University in St. Louis

After months of working on-campus to rename the Consortium for C!#@n Coal Utilization, here at Washington University, we decided to take our concerns to the source: the corporate headquarters of Peabody Energy in downtown St. Louis. Since our flashmob against our administration’s coal-sponsored “America’s Energy Future” Conference, a unanimous Student Union Senate Resolution calling for the renaming of the Consortium and a meeting with the head honchos of the Consortium have not yet yielded our goal – to remove the misleading term "c!#@n coal" from the Consortium's name – we decided to take our concerns downtown.

This past Friday, March 26, 2010, over fifty Washington University students and St. Louis community members gathered outside of Peabody Energy to protest the company's business practices. WashU senior Todd Zimmer laid out our demands for the crowd and for Peabody executives. “We want an end to dirty energy," he said, "we want an end to lies about c!#@n coal, ... And we want an end to the relationship between Washington University and Peabody Energy." Many St. Louis employees emerged from their office buildings to hear our chants of “C!#@n coal, hell no, that’s a lie, it’s got to go,” and “coal, coal, no solution, we are sick of your pollution,” accompanied by a drum set, full-size banners, and signs held by protesters.

While there were many police officers – both city and Peabody security – the protest remained wholly non-violent. We had expected the Peabody security contingent; earlier this week, after the protest was advertised on Facebook and in pamphlets, an anonymous Peabody employee leaked us an internal memo. This memo alerted employees about the protest, telling them to avoid the front entrance, and described us as “anti-everything” activists.

WashU senior Jennifer Marienau dispelled this notion. “We are not anti-everything,” she told the group in a speech, “We’re not anti-community. We’re not anti-solution. We’re for people power, not destructive power.” We students ended our peaceful demonstration with a die-in. With each iteration of the chant, “No joke, coal kills!” members of the protest went fell to the ground in a symbolic representation of the millions endangered by Peabody’s dirty practices and significant contributions to climate change.

Our protest was part of the People’s Settlement, a week of action highlighting the unethical behavior of corporations in St. Louis that continually to place profits over people. Peabody certainly qualifies as one of these unscrupulous corporations. This is a company whose subsidiaries engage in the destructive and dangerous practice of mountaintop removal. This is a company that has heavily funded efforts to block all climate legislation up to this point, and is now suing the EPA over its right to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. This is a company that has adamantly denied the reality of climate change, while developing their dishonest c!#@n coal marketing campaign. This is a company that recently blackmailed St. Louis, threatening to abandon the city and move its jobs elsewhere, unless it received $10 million for "office improvements."

And for those of us at Washington University in St. Louis, this is a company that has recently been given a great deal of undue power at our university. In December of 2008, WashU announced the formation of the Consortium for C!#@n Coal Utilization, funded with $5 million each from Peabody Energy and Arch Coal and $2 million from Ameren UE. Students, faculty, and members of the St. Louis community immediately opposed the Consortium because its name featured the term "clean coal," a disingenuous advertising slogan and a conspicuous feature in light of the Consortium's corporate sponsors. In August 2009, Peabody CEO Gregory Boyce and Arch Coal's CEO Steven Leer received spots on WashU's Board of Trustees. Peabody's Vice-President of Government Relations Fred Palmer serves on the Advisory Board to the Consortium.

At WashU, we will continue to push until the dirty money of Peabody Energy, as well as Arch Coal, is removed from our campus, and the name of the Consortium for C!#@n Coal Utilization is changed. As students warned this Friday, "Chancellor Wrighton, we be fightin', 'til the coal is gone!"

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