“I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing,” Obama told a crowd at Georgetown University as he gave a hallmark speech on his administration's plan to deal with climate change.
Throughout the speech Obama alluded to young people’s ability to hold elected officials to task. It was as if the community organizer that had defined Obama in Chicago had reemerged to engage the entire country and world to take action on climate change.
Obama said, “Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest.”
The operative word here is "divest." Obama is the first U.S. president to support divestment from corporations that are unwilling to adapt to a changing climate.
On his trip to Africa this week, Obama told college students at the University of Cape Town that he first became an activist because of the injustice he witnessed with apartheid in South Africa. He acknowledged that he became involved in the “divestment movement” at the young age of 19. He, along with other dissenters, challenged the U.S. government and corporations to divest from South Africa in order to put pressure on the government to immediately halt its discrimination and segregation of people of color.
In his Cape Town speech, Obama reminisced that he felt relatively powerless initially, but eventually saw how a few small voices led to a vocal crowd's massive call for action.
Obama's endorsement of the practice of divestment is an indication of his strong belief that people’s individual actions can make a large difference in shaping policy. In his speech to students at Georgetown, he encouraged Americans to “remind everyone who represents you at every level of government that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote. Make yourself heard on this issue.”
Obama refers to a speech that Bobby Kennedy gave to the University of Cape Town in 1966: "Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
From his campaign to his presidency, Obama has effectively garnered grassroots support through creative and engaging mediums. It’s how he won the presidency. It’s how he’s governing as president. The young activist and community organizer Obama was is still very much part of President Obama’s leadership philosophy.
The president’s recent endorsement of divestment encourages Americans, especially young Americans, to demand action on an issue that has been frankly neglected for far too long. Young Americans are demanding the divestiture from corporations that are exploring for more hydrocarbons. According to the Go Fossil Free campaign, over 200 publicly traded companies hold most of the world's proven coal, oil, and gas reserves.
Obama shone a light on groups like Go Fossil Free, and through his words he encouraged millennials to be creative in the ways they demand action and rally their communities. His recent remarks show a renewed and reinvigorated interest in dealing with not only climate change, but also helping to energize young Americans to organize their communities for action.
This post originally appeared on Campus Progress.