“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme” Mark Twain.
Following the same approach as students during the South African Apartheid, the Divestment of Fossil Fuels movement has now shifted nearly 5 Trillion dollars away from the Carbon Underground 200. Having previously been involved and still currently an advocate for, the divestment of fossil fuels movement, I know that divestment is an important piece of the puzzle. Yet, a larger conversation about where we invest next, and what we do with the current infrastructure is just as important. Divestment by itself won’t be enough to get rid of climate injustice.
Injustice - which takes a form of all shapes and sizes - is where I start the conversation of private prisons for this post. The United States is the country with the highest number of incarcerated individuals. The US is home to 5% of the world population, but 25% of those incarcerated. The prison industrial complex marginalizes black, latinos, and people of color in ways that are black-and-white clear. If we are serious about addressing climate change, we need people - all people- working sustainable jobs ASAP.
When I organized the divestment of fossil fuels campaign at Portland State, I attended a conference which convened foundation staff, financial experts, and higher education administration to discuss sustainable investments. The audience had different reactions to prison divestment, they questioned if divestment is the route to address the prison profiting or rather legislation work.
Just like divestment of fossil fuels has achieved some victories, we are still emitting considerable amounts of greenhouses gasses, future wins in prison divestment will only be the beginning.
The City of Portland may become the first major city in the US to divest from private prisons. Currently, the city holds millions of stock in companies like Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, HSBC, and the Bank of NY Mellon. These banks are major funders for private prison companies GEO and Corrections Corporation of America, two companies which hold a great majority of the prison centers around the U.S.
City Hall order for a committee to convene to research divestment of private prisons, having previously divested from fossil fuels. The recommendation by the committee, add the prison profiteers to the Do-Not-Buy-List, was open to public testimony on November 30th, 2016. I attended the hearing at Portland City Hall, and let the council know my full support to the recommendation.
Acknowledging that Portland is not my home town. I think that it would be in Portlands interest to be investing in its future, and given that a great portion of the Portland population is youth of color, that means divestment of private prisons. For a future that - I hope - takes place outside of bars, rather than within.
Stay tuned as City Council will vote on a decision on December 15, 2016. Update, the vote has been post-poned until new Mayor Administration takes over.