Your most important vote was not cast on November 8th. Even if every Democrat under the Princeton umbrella swapped to Trump, New Jersey state totals would not change by a single percentage point. Who Princeton voted for did not matter, and we can use this to dodge responsibility. But a far greater responsibility falls to us, because our most important votes will be cast today and tomorrow, next week and next year. These votes aren’t made through immediate demands for change and mobilized protests, but rather through incremental but persistent action on a daily basis.
Our democracy empowers us not because it is a democracy, but because of capitalism. Your political opinion does not matter as much as that of Carl Icahn or Peter Thiel. But, your decisions as a consumer have a much more stark effect on politics. In this context, Princeton University can be an exceptionally powerful vehicle for change.
Princeton is not influential because it modifies its legacy and social mission to reflect a progressive agenda. Princeton can demand change because of its wealth, which numbers in the hundreds of billions when both direct holdings and the distributed network of alumni are taken into account.
So how can we begin to effect change through this vehicle?
Let’s start with beer. As alma mater to Frank Yuengling and host to reunions, one of the largest beer drinking events in the world, Princeton is a prized customer of Yuengling brewing (a Trump endorser). If Princeton were to suddenly cease its almost exclusive ordering of Yuengling because the company endorsed a message of hate, you can be sure a lot of heads will turn (Yuengling is also terrible. But that’s only my opinion). In the grand scheme of things, this is a minor change in consumption for Princeton that has the potential for a larger multiplying effect.
But beer is a bit of a whimsical start for a more serious discussion.
I firmly believe that Trump’s legacy in 50 years will not concern social or political issues. Rather, it will be the dismantling of climate legislation at a time when the United States was poised to sign on to the Paris climate agreement, one of the most powerful and sweeping climate treaties to date. When every other country in the world realizes the necessity of climate action, we still treat it like a partisan issue. Make no mistake: the other issues at stake in this election pale in comparison to the disappearance of entire countries and cultures when sea levels rise by another four feet.
This is our most important vote.
To cast it, we need to continue to do all the individual actions we know we should be doing anyways – like buying from local and responsible companies – on a daily basis. But that’s not enough; we need the clout of Princeton University.
We have so many options requiring so little effort. New Jersey law makes it incredibly easy to swap energy providers. Let’s put in a small effort to make a huge change — swap the default provider for apartment rentals from PSEG (42% of energy from fossil fuels) to a 100% renewables company. Prohibit departments from purchasing bottled water. Begin updating all vehicles on campus to electric only. Make a supercharger available on campus. We need to tell the government that climate policy isn’t in their hands — it’s in ours.
With a budget comparable to some small countries, Princeton can cause huge effects with minor changes in consumption, but only if its students demand such change. So please, instead of thinking that you can only vote once every four years, use your dollars to vote today and ask that Princeton do the same for you.
Mark Esposito GS is in the Molecular Biology Ph.D. program from Cazenovia, N.Y. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.