by Catie Kline
art by Olive Polken
I was lucky enough to speak with members of Students for Energy Justice (SEJ), Oberlin’s climate justice action group. We discussed SEJ’s initiatives and goals, ethos, work with the Oberlin community and various climate justice organizations, and their recent trip to Atlanta to defend the forest. SEJ is hosting a Direct Action Training on Saturday, November 12 at 3pm and a talk with activists from Defend the Atlanta Forest on at 5pm Friday, November 4th. You can follow SEJ on Instagram @sejoberlin for further information on meeting locations, future events, educational resources, and more ways to get involved.
CK: Thank you so much for doing this! First off, could you speak a little bit about what SEJ is?
SEJ: SEJ is a group of students who are fighting extreme energy extraction and climate injustice. We support various groups who are on the frontlines of these efforts. In addition to fighting extractive industries of harm, we’re interested in exploring what energy justice can look like in local communities. So, we’re working to break down harmful industries and also build up sustainable and resilient communities.
CK: Could you speak about some particular initiatives you’ve done in the past or are working on now?
SEJ: We do a lot of work with the Indigenous People’s Day Committee of Oberlin. We have a really good connection with various members of the council, including some Indigenous elders. We helped organize and facilitate their rally on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we advertise for them on campus, and we help sell homemade jewelry made by a member of the committee. That’s a really good partnership that’s been going on for a while, and it feels really good to be able to support the work they’re doing in Indigenous sovereignty, which is definitely in line with our ethos of climate justice. That relationship really shows how extensive energy justice and SEJ is with our goals and our actions. We’re not just an environmental advocacy group, we want to help people in many different aspects. Supporting Indigenous sovereignty might not seem directly applicable to SEJ at first, but it’s all interconnected. That relationship initially came out of fighting a pipeline here in Oberlin. SEJ really seeks to connect the college campus to the greater Oberlin community.
CK: Do you have any events coming up in conjunction with these organizations?
SEJ: Yes, we’re hosting a Direct Action Training on Saturday, November 12 at 3pm. An activist will be speaking about what it means to be on the ground and doing direct action resistance, and how to safely and intentionally engage. As part of a school that says to be promoting an activist community, we should uphold that by providing opportunities for students to gain Direct Action skills to bring to their communities at home, or wherever they end up in their lives, so it’s not just centered around this space, but it can create a network that extends elsewhere. We’re connected with Defend the Atlanta Forest, which is fighting against the Atlanta Police Foundation’s efforts to bulldoze the forest and replace it with a tactical training compound, including a fake city for police training. A major film production company, Blackhall Studios is also planning to build a soundstage and an airport on forest grounds. So, we’re bringing some activists connected with that project to Oberlin, and they’re going to speak about what it means to be on the front lines of that type of work, and how people can get involved. That event is happening on the evening of Friday, November 4th.
CK: I understand that a group of SEJ members actually went to Atlanta recently to support the Defend the Forest movement. What was that experience like?
SEJ: It was a really cool experience. We were there to support and learn from the Forest Defenders, people who are living in the forest to stop the construction from taking place. We learned a lot and helped out by doing construction, cooking, dishes, just whatever we could do to help. Some of the people we’ve met have been there for nearly a year, and it was a great space for lots of skill-sharing. Every anarchist brought a different skill, whether it be art or construction or writing or natural dyeing, and it was a space for exchanging those things along with the actions they have against the cops. The way they move through their days and approach activism doesn’t necessarily have a strict agenda, it’s more like, ‘how can we build resilient activist spaces that move at the pace of the people that are doing it?’ Otherwise, it won’t last as long as it has. It was really cool to be a part of that.
CK: Could you speak a little bit more about what you have gained from being in SEJ?
SEJ: Something that’s really great about SEJ is our focus on relationship building. We work really hard to create a sense of community and friendship, inside and outside of organizing. That also extends to how we engage with the groups and movements we’re a part of. We want to build genuine relationships with the people we’re working with. That forges connections between us as a college with people in the broader Oberlin community. That awareness and seeing that in practice has just been really lovely. Organizing can only move at the speed of trust. The outcomes we look for and the relationships we make depend on building trust within our communities. Coming back from the pandemic, right now we have a mostly young organization, and one that’s pretty demographically homogeneous. Pre-covid, there was more of a variety of people and we’re really trying to rebuild that. We’ve been having a lot of conversations and meetings about dismantling whiteness and understanding how whiteness influences organizing spaces.
CK: What can students do to get involved with SEJ?
SEJ: Well, we’re selling some of Miss Jean’s jewelry on Instagram right now. We have open meetings every Sunday at 2pm. They have rotating facilitation, and it’s a really chill space, and your commitment can be whatever you want it to be. For specific information about meetings and locations, you can DM our Instagram at @sejoberlin or email firstname.lastname@example.org.