Last night I watched the presidential debate. While doing that, I drank six beers. I was consuming alcohol in the spirit of those Maker’s Mark commercials, advocating for the Cocktail Party. I thought it was funny, and I chuckled internally at the prospect of guzzling suds while watching a political event, as one would at a spectator sport. But after those six beers, I experienced a moment of clarity, a moment of sobriety, and it was harrowing in how obvious its revelation was:
Politics are not spectator sports. They are participatory.
I realized this when I saw how likely I was to be a loser due to the content of the televised conversation. And by loser, I don’t mean someone who might have better luck next year, but someone who is a victim, someone left crippled or dead by the contest’s results.
Both candidates are advocating for more combustion of fossil fuels in the now and are preparing for more in the future. That is criminally negligent. The locus of our present bipartisanship is mutually assured destruction, global suicide. Instead of playing Russian roulette, they are, we are, spinning a wheel of fortune that with each rotation is increasing the likelihood of unfathomable devastation, holocaust. That’s revolting; that’s WRONG.
This morning, I woke up determined to be not a spectator but a participant, to not die drinking but to die trying. I am a student at the California Institute of the Arts. I walked into the Student Affairs office armed with optimism, a pen, and paper. I asked Yvonne Guy, head of that department, “Can you tell me if the endowment portfolio of this establishment is a matter of public record?” She answered me with candor: “No.” I followed up with, “Then can you tell me who can tell me if the endowment portfolio of this establishment is a matter of public record?” She replied, “Yes, Don Mathewson, the new Vice President-Chief Financial Officer.” Then she coughed up an aside, “But you might want to visit Brenna Smith, the research librarian, to see if she can help.” With that I gave my thanks, made my exit, and walked down the hall to the library.
Brenna said she’d never seen the endowment portfolio and bumped me to Kathy Carbone, the institute archivist, whose office was next door. Kathy said she’d never seen it and bumped me to Karen Baxter, Chair of the Academic Council, whose office was a short walk down the hall, in the film library. There Karen told me she’d never seen it and bumped me to Patricia Gonzalez, Special Assistant to the President, whose office was adjacent to the President’s, one floor up. There Patricia told me she didn’t know. Oh what a treat even minor rewards can be when they are preceded by dogged effort: this meant Patricia had seen it. I smiled and followed up, “Can you tell me who can tell me if the endowment portfolio of this establishment is a matter of public record?”
“Don Mathewson, the new Vice President-Chief Financial Officer.”
She directed me to his office, and down the hall I walked, where I encountered a secretary-cum-bouncer. She helped me make an appointment and asked my cause. I was coy. I told her I wanted to know if the endowment portfolio was a matter of public record.
Having reached a temporary dead end, I went and sat outside. There I thought about logic and how to prepare it with premises so that it won’t blow up in your face like a muzzle-loading rifle will if fuck up your sequence: (1) Priming charge (2) Main propellant charge (3) Wadding (4) Projectile (5) Wadding… or…
(1) Education is an investment in the future.
(2) The combustion of fossil fuels is undermining the future.
(3) If an academic institution is invested in fossil fuel stock, it is undermining the use, the worth, of the service that it claims to provide.
(4) If an institution is jeopardizing its product, those invested in the institution ought to be outraged, because they, too, are being jeopardized.
(5) The folks invested in an academic institution are: employees, students, donors. They ought to act to defend their investment, themselves. They ought to demand divestment in companies doing business in fossil fuels.
Content, confident, I lay down and closed my eyes, mumbling a final conditional, “If reading is sexy then writing is kinky.” At that, I took a nap.
To be continued…
 For the sake of space and narrative flow, I don’t want to go into the premises behind that indictment, but I encourage you to read Bill McKibben’s Rolling Stone article “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math”.
Peter Nichols is a poet, rock climber, and vagabond originally from Toledo, Ohio.