This guest post was written by Rick Beckel, a sophomore at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and a leader of the divestment campaign Fossil Free Mac. A lifelong environmentalist and political junkie, the fossil fuel divestment movement has given him the opportunity to use his passion for campaigning to participate in climate action on a grassroots level.

Fossil Free Mac in action. The author as giant whoopee cushion.

Fossil Free Mac in action. The author as giant whoopee cushion.

Last Monday, Macalester College witnessed a unique celebration of April Fools’ Day – Fossil Fools’ Day.

As part of a week-long publicity campaign about the Divestment campaign at Mac, Fossil Free Mac took over the patio in front of the campus center to talk to students about climate change, the culpability of the fossil fuel industry, and the hope that the national divestment campaign represents. Since it was April 1st, we delivered our messages in funny and surprising ways to encourage everyone who came by to come talk with us.

To represent the foolishness of the fossil fuel industry’s practices, everyone carrying our divestment petition wore clown noses, which attracted many students who would ordinarily have passed us by. I got stuck inside a life-size whoopee cushion, and supporters took their pictures with me carrying a sign that said “I Pass On Gas.” Other passerby were solicited by Fossil Fool “Executives” (wearing suits and the requisite clown noses) from BP and ExxonMobil, who were ostensibly recruiting students for unpaid summer internships.

The messaging surrounding Fossil Fools’ Day is part of a larger two-part strategy we’ve taken at the school. First, we’ve found the best way to engage our student body and talk about the issue is by making the campaign accessible and fun. Obviously climate change is no laughing matter, but satirizing the fossil fuel industry and designing ironic posters about the seriousness of the issue is an effective way to talk about an issue that is otherwise formidable and disempowering. Also, we’ve tried to keep the language surrounding the movement administrative-positive, and have framed divestment foremost as an opportunity for our school, rather than a present inadequacy. This keeps us on a good rapport with campus officials, and also makes students with lots of school spirit sympathetic to the campaign.

Fossil Fools’ Day and the strategy in the months leading up to it paid off – we’ve gotten nearly half of our school of 2,000 to sign our petition, and the visibility of our cause on campus prompted the Student Government to pass a resolution in favor of divestment 20-2 on April 2nd. Not bad for a bunch of fools!