Harvard Kennedy School Lecturer Offers Activism Advice at Divestment Talk

Divestment Protestors Interrupt Harvard University President Talk
Amy Y. Li


Harvard Kennedy School lecturer Richard Parker offered advice to students hoping to persuade the University to divest from companies tied to the fossil fuel industry at an event at the Center for Government and International Studies Tuesday.

More than a dozen Harvard affiliates and college students from nearby universities attended the event, which was organized by Divest Harvard, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Action Coalition, and Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers. Parker is an economist who co-founded the left-leaning magazine Mother Jones and served as an economic advisor to Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou.

Divest Harvard — a fossil fuel divestment advocacy group — has recently stepped up its efforts to encourage the University to divest Harvard’s nearly $40 billion endowment from fossil fuel-related companies.

On April 4, roughly 30 protesters from the Divest Harvard and the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign interrupted a John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum event. A week later, Divest Harvard and the Harvard Political Union held a forum on divestment attended by University President Lawrence S. Bacow. Parker has not been a part of the previous events.


Parker said that while it might not be evident that students could match the power of the University’s administration, they had “already won” in one respect.

“I promise you, [there are] hundreds of millions, if not billions of people on the planet who think the same way you do,” Parker said. “Bacow and the Overseers know that they're outnumbered.”

Parker drew on his experience as a Civil Rights protester during the 1960s to suggest that students should not focus on persuading the Harvard administration, but, instead, “the ones who walk by when you’re handing out leaflets.”

“What you need to be doing is thinking about how many of those people you can cause to pause long enough to at least embarrass them into a kind of engagement that signals to the Bacows of the world, ‘Oh my god, they're building even more support,’” Parker said.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain referred The Crimson to Harvard’s previous statement that its endowment should not be used to “achieve political ends, or particular policy ends.”

“There are other ways the University works to influence public policy, including through scholarship and research,” Swain wrote in an emailed statement.

Arielle Blacklow ’21, one of the founders of Harvard Undergraduates for Environmental Justice, said the event — which was attended by students from several Harvard schools — was important to “build a coalition” between graduate students and undergraduates on the issue of divestment.

“When we think about the components of this movement, and our strategy, and who we're bringing together, everyone has a role to play in all of the different schools and colleges on Harvard’s campus,” Blacklow said.

Caleb D. Schwartz ’20, a former Crimson photo editor and organizer with HUEJ who coordinated the event, said the talk served as a “unique” way to engage activists because it focused on “how to actually get things done.”

“I think a lot of events that we have been holding have been focused on, you know, why the University should divest, bringing attention to everything, so it was nice to kind of take a step back,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz also said the event was part of the lead-up to next week’s “Heat Week” — a week-long series of events co-sponsored by HUEJ and Divest Harvard that aims to “draw attention to the severity of the climate crisis and raise the call for Harvard to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry,” according to HUEJ’s website.

—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.