By Alexandra Rather, University of Missouri at Columbia, Columbia, MO
Last Thursday, Coal Free Mizzou showed up to a Board of Curators meeting with 50 people and over 3,000 petitions asking the university to move Beyond Coal. This was a historic event because it was the first time meeting with the Board and other University officials. This was also the first time since the ‘90s that this large state school has seen this type of engagement and activism— and they listened!
The Board of Curators, who oversee the University of Missouri system, gather to go over budgets, policy changes and other important decisions. On the morning of their meeting, Coal Free Mizzou leaders dressed professionally and respectively greeted the UM Board of Curators, the Chancellor of the University of Missouri and the President of the UM System as they arrived. We presented them with a “story board” of the life-cycle of coal—from extraction in Perry County, Ill., (where Mizzou imports its coal from) to the burning on campus, to the disposal of toxic coal ash. Each administrator was given a folder with Coal Free Mizzou’s formal ask, along with the true costs of coal on Missouri. The reaction of the administration was beyond anything we could’ve hoped for. We saw astonishment, disgust, disbelief, intrigue, and more importantly, realization.
Later in the day, before the Board meeting a sea of more than 50 yellow Beyond Coal shirts were congregating and rallying outside, preparing for our grand entrance into the public session. Chants of “M-I-Z-Be-Coal-Free” flew to the sky and across the courtyard; corralling last minute stragglers and exciting those of us who had looked forward to that moment to come for the past six months.
Led by a banner reading “Protect Our Health – Move Mizzou Beyond Coal” and followed by news cameras, the student leaders led the yellow mass into building and into the meeting room. Coal Free-ers filled the remaining public seats in the room and then proceeded to fill the back of the room with the banner held high. Aside from the soft talk of finances from the curators and other attendants in the front and clicks of news cameras from around the room, all else was silent.
What came next was a huge step for our campaign, the Chairman of the Board acknowledged our work and offered to meet with us, along with the Chancellor and President. In just over 3 weeks we have attained a new, respected reputation across campus and Columbia. Our core group has almost tripled in the same amount of time and we have never been stronger or more confident than we are right now. We see this as not just a victory for Coal Free Mizzou but for all Mizzou students. Our voices are our most important source of power and there is a way for students to make their voices heard without yelling, a way for us to be seen without conflict and a way for students and the administration to hear each other without an intermediary. We, the members of Coal Free Mizzou, would like to extend an enormous thank you to all of our supports, in addition to an unyielding vote of confidence to all other campaigns out there struggling to get heard. If you can’t seem to get your message to reach the right ears; say it louder, change the words, or find more voices.