The Charlottesville Retirement Commission Is Hopeless

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late.” –Dr. Martin Luther King

Over a year ago, members of the public brought to the Charlottesville City Council a demand that our money not be invested in weapons dealers and fossil fuel producers. The City Council listened. The City Treasurer listened. They supported divestment for the city’s operating budget and swiftly acted on it.

At the same time, they noted that the City’s retirement fund would be a separate question that would have to wait a few months for a key hiring decision. Meanwhile, the City Treasurer suggested that I join the Retirement Commission. I did so. I’ve spent hours and hours in committee and subcommittee meetings. Today I resigned.

Have you ever watched a glacier move? I mean before they started melting like a gelato dropped on Market Street in July? That’s excitement compared to this operation. We spent months and months and months gathering reports and tutorials. An endless stream of experts struggled and failed to produce any evidence that divestment from fossil fuels and weapons would risk any short-term financial loss.

The retirement commission is not greedy. It is legally bound to not risk losing any money. But it was given piles of evidence that it wouldn’t risk losing money, and still failed to ever wrap its collective mind around the possibility of doing anything. In fact, after months of endless theoretical discussions, the City Treasurer finally bothered to obtain a comparison from one of the investment funds that the retirement commission invests in, and its conclusion was that Charlottesville retirees would have had MORE money in 2019 had their savings been divested from weapons and fossil fuels in 2014.

All the evidence I’ve been shown, in fact, shows either a wash, or points to the risk of losing money by continuing to invest in weapons and fossil fuels.  The Retirement Commission is in fact in violation of its legal duty if it continues to invest in industries likely to continue losing it money — quite regardless of whether divestment doesn’t strike its calcified fancy.

Month after month after month we wasted hour after hour after hour on sheer nonsense, apparently for the express purpose of inaction. How could we divest given that the future can’t be known? I kid you not: that was a serious discussion. How can you invest given that the future can’t be known? Who knows! Or this: Why should we divest from evil industries given that others might not, or that yet other industries might be evil too? Or — this was a favorite time killer: Isn’t it possible to debate for eternity how to define what counts as a weapons dealer or a fossil fuel producer? Oh boy, yeah, let’s!

In the end, though, when pressed, commission members made clear that they want to further pursue contemplation of eventual consideration of possible planning of goal making for the announcement of a policy of ethical, sustainable, and good-governance investment that includes fossil fuels and weapons, because they like fossil fuels and weapons. Let me repeat that. They LIKE fossil fuels and weapons. That’s what it comes down to. It’s a cultural preference. And the reason they like weapons is that they believe their nation should defend itself.

Yes, I really did point out to them numerous times that the same companies arm both sides of every war, that much of the weaponry they think they need defending against THEY ARE INVESTING OUR MONEY IN. Doesn’t matter.

Wave flag. Play anthem. Shut off brain. Rinse and repeat.

They’re playing you, folks. Have you really not noticed? The same corporations are providing the weaponry to your frightening enemies, and turning around and winning your money with a few songs and some uniforms and a flag. How can you not be ashamed, if only for the embarrassment of being played like that?

And it’s not just the companies, but also your beloved government. As I detailed in 20 Dictatorships Currently Supported by the U.S., of the 50 most oppressive governments on earth, in the view of the U.S. government, the U.S. government sells or gives weapons to 82% of them, gives military training to 88% of them, and provides funding to the militaries of 66% of them, supporting in at least one of these three ways 96% of them, while also propping a number of them up with U.S. bases in their countries.

And they’ve got you trained to call all of that “the defense industry.” There is nothing defensive anywhere in it, and it will get us all killed. The Doomsday Clock is as close to midnight as it’s ever been. And you’re fiddling.

Today I proposed the following motion, which failed even to receive a second:

Whereas on June 3, 2019, in response to widespread public demand and against no opposition whatsoever, Charlottesville City Council passed a resolution that included: “NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, by the Council of the City of Charlottesville, Virginia that it declares its support and encouragement of any and all persons acting on behalf of City investment activity in regards to City operating funds, to divest all City operating funds from direct security investments in any entity engaged in the production of fossil fuels or the production or upgrading of weapons and weapons systems within 30 days,”

Whereas the Charlottesville Retirement Plan Commission has for over a year diligently researched the likely outcomes of implementing the same policy,

Whereas the portion of the Retirement Plan invested through Cornerstone — the only portion for which we have such a comparison — would have been larger on December 31, 2019, had such a policy been put in place on December 31, 2014,

Whereas the Retirement Plan Commission’s extensive research suggests that, to the extent predictions are possible, such a gain, or at least the absence of any loss, is likely going forward,

Whereas the weapons and fossil fuel industries are highly concentrated, with a large share belonging to a relatively small number of companies,

Therefore the Retirement Plan Commission will immediately direct the Plan’s investment managers to divest from the largest 25 weapons producers and the largest 25 fossil fuel producers in the world, with the divestment to be completed by December 31, 2020, and with the largest 25 weapons producers drawn from this data (to be updated as appropriate in future years) and the largest 25 fossil fuel producers drawn from this data (to be updated as appropriate in future years).


Latest listing of weapons producers:
Lockheed Martin Corp.
Northrop Grumman Corp.
General Dynamics Corp.
BAE Systems
Airbus Group
BAE Systems Inc. (BAE Systems UK)
United Technologies Corp.
L3 Technologies
Huntington Ingalls Industries
Honeywell International
United Aircraft Corp.
Harris Corp.
United Shipbuilding Corp.
Booz Allen Hamilton
Naval Group
General Electric
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries

Latest listing of fossil fuel producers:
(note that some are governments and groups of governments)
Former Soviet Union
Saudi Aramco
Royal Dutch Shell
National Iranian Oil
Coal India
British Coal Corporation
Russian Federation
Peabody Energy
Petroleos de Venezuela
Petro China
Abu Dhabi
Kuwait Petroleum Corp
Iraq National Oil Company
BHP Billiton


1 thought on “The Charlottesville Retirement Commission Is Hopeless”

  1. Thomas Schwertscharf

    As infuriating as this lack of action to do anything to divest from businesses that threaten human existence I find it equally ominous that mankind develops these systems and processes that create needless barriers to progress. Refusal to even consider that maybe they are wrong about dangerous investments reminds me of the fanatics that kept the Vietnam War going long after it was apparent the war “was lost.” I see the same irrational thinking in the Trump supporters who blindly follow their leader like lemmings to the sea. Knowing how tenaciously Mr. Swanson works for a better world for him to leave a project is a gold standard for how much any individual should be willing to put up with the failures of local government.

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