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Q&A with Alyssa Florack, Student Activist of Climate Justice @ Boston College

Alyssa Florack—known more commonly as “Flo”—is a senior at Boston College studying Environmental Studies with a concentration in Political Science. During her time on the Heights, she has been an active member of the Climate Justice club, which aims to empower BC and other universities to take action on the issue of climate change by divesting its assets away from the fossil fuel industry. In this exclusive interview for BC Magazine Journalism 2017, Flo weighs in on free speech at BC, divestment, and the culture of activism in today’s politically charged climate.

Q: Tell me a little bit about Climate Justice at BC, including your involvement with the group. How did you first become interested in joining the movement?

A: The club started here at BC in 2012, and I arrived in the fall of 2013. It was originally made up of mostly grad students—kids who had previously been involved with activism on their undergrad campuses. Now, it’s primarily made up of undergraduates like myself.

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Flo, pictured here at a recent march for climate justice. (Photo courtesy of Alyssa Florack)

As for me—my family has always been really outdoorsy, but not really activists; however, there’s a lot of activism in the Green Bay area, where I’m from. When I came to BC, I attended a lot of lectures freshman year, including a talk by Bill McKibben about the divestment movement. (He’s basically one of the guys who founded it.) Some members of BC Fossil Free were there—which was name of the group before it changed to CJ@BC—so I went to check out one of their meetings, and I’ve been involved ever since. Technically, I’m now one of the co-presidents of the group, but there’s really no hierarchy or formal structure on the board, and my role varies on a day-to-day basis. I’ve been a bottom-liner for a lot of the events we’ve held, basically just working behind the scenes to make sure they happen and run smoothly.

Q: How effective has CJ@BC been in getting its voice heard by the administration? What is some progress that you have made, and what challenges do you still face as a group?

A: For so long, we were fighting the administration to become a registered student organization, and conquer the issue of lack of free speech at BC. Without RSO status, we weren’t allowed to meet as a group, post flyers, or host events. After an event would happen, people in the group would get e-mails from administrators identifying them as organizers of events and put them on disciplinary probation. We applied 4-5 times, but there was always a different reason for why we couldn’t be an RSO. It wasn’t until 100-200 people who weren’t from BC came to campus to protest at the Rights on the Heights rally that we finally won that battle.

Now that we are a legitimate group in the administration’s eyes, we are looking more specifically at divestment. We haven’t yet been successful in having a constructive conversation with Father Leahy or any other senior leaders on the matter.

Q: What do you think is the possibility of BC divesting the endowment away from fossil fuels?

A: During the spring of 2014, we were surprisingly able to meet with Father Leahy. As soon as he walked into the meeting, he immediately told us that BC was never going to divest. That was obviously tough to hear, and it’s been hard getting to him since then, as he never responds to e-mails or letters to follow up. We also can’t talk to the board of trustees—no one really knows who exactly is on it or when they meet, and they will never contact you back.

Even if we never get BC to divest, that’s no longer really how I measure the group’s success. We know that we are at least somewhat of a threat to the administration, and we’ve received big coverage in Boston media (including the Globe). We’ve also made activism more of a culture on BC’s campus, as well as general climate awareness.

Q: Do you think people will be more willing to protest now that, in the wake of the Women’s and #NoWallNoBan marches, it has become more of a mainstream occurrence?

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Scene from the 2014 Rights on the Heights rally. (Photo courtesy of Emily Akin / The Gavel)

A: Yes, in the sense that people are more willing to get active; but on the other side of the coin, people see more pressing issues than climate change nowadays, which is more of a long-term problem. It’s hard to foster a sense of immediacy around the cause. Plus, there are a limited number of people that are willing to participate in these kinds of things, and it can be preaching to the choir. We need to bring more people in from outside the activist bubble to make a greater impact.

Q: For those passionate about climate justice, it’s safe to say that a Trump presidency is pretty terrifying. What fears and hopes do you have for his time in office (as it pertains to climate change)?

A: National policy is looking bleak, with censorship on the EPA and similar agencies. It’s pretty clear to people that federal action on climate change is unlikely for the next 4 years. That was the message of our recent walkout: even if we are stuck nationally, we need to do what we can at a local and campus level. This administration makes it even more important to work from the bottom-up, with people-based movements.

One of the best places in government right now is city politics, so I hope that they will be stepped up in the coming years, and will create their own climate change policies (even without federal action). And we can only hope that all the other countries in the world continue to progress without the U.S.

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