As apprehension mounted amidst impending Claremont McKenna College (CMC) class presidential elections, aspiring student leaders scrambled to win over their peers. Some candidates promised to “have your back,” while others pledged to direct funds to cafeteria waffle makers. Although ten of the eleven candidates ran on relatively similar campaign platforms, one candidate took an unconventional approach to gain support from his compatriots; he vowed to take a stance against a private equity giant’s backing of the Coastal GasLink (CGL) Pipeline. According to said candidate, this stance will help us “live up to the expectations of anti-racism and sustainability,” expectations he claims have been undermined by the allegedly immoral ownership of the CGL Pipeline. The private equity firm is KKR & Co. The response to KKR’s pipeline investment by Claremont activists is a clear indicator of their position of privilege in the CMC community, a position which they use to make grave personal accusations that charitable members of their community are perpetrators of genocide and “profit-blind monsters.”
KKR was founded by two CMC alumni, George Roberts ’66 and Henry Kravis ’67, alongside Jerome Kohlberg. Roberts and Kravis combined have donated more than $100 million to Claremont McKenna, donations that support state-of-the-art classrooms and facilities, professorial endowments, and financial aid. Through their financial aid donations, Roberts and Kravis have opened CMC to many new prospective students, enabling anybody to receive a top-tier liberal arts education. Many consider the generosity of Roberts and Kravis an instrumental part of CMC’s development into the highly regarded liberal arts institution it is today.
In December of 2019, KKR acquired a majority stake in the Coastal GasLink Pipeline. The CGL pipeline, a natural gas pipeline spanning 417 miles across British Columbia, has been a subject of controversy following opposition by hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en citing environmental justice concerns. The pipeline is contracted to pay $620 million in wages to First Nations’ peoples, described by Wet’suwet’en First Nation elected Chief Vivian Tom as creating a “mutually beneficial relationship” between First Nations’ people and TC Energy.
Despite the project being formally approved by a council of 20 elected British Columbia First Nations’ representatives, including the elected representatives of the Wet’suwet’en people, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs oppose the pipeline on the grounds of Aboriginal Title rights granted by the Supreme Court of Canada in its 1997 ruling Delgamuukw v. British Columbia. This ruling grants indigenous peoples the right to “the land itself.” Although these rights are granted in the Aboriginal Title, which recognizes aboriginal governance structures, therefore granting hereditary chiefs authority over elected representative councils, the act states under an Infringements of Aboriginal Title clause that “aboriginal rights are not absolute and may be infringed,” in regards to, “mining and hydroelectric power, the general economic development of the interior of British Columbia.” A 2014 judgment elaborates on this infringement clause stating infringements are justified when “the benefit to the public is proportionate to any adverse effect on the Aboriginal interest.”
In this instance, the $620 million contracted to First Nations’ workers and an additional $400 million in employment opportunities for local communities alone would justify the pipeline construction. Despite the demonstrable legality of the pipeline, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs organized blockades of construction vehicles, resulting in the arrest of tens of protestors. These arrests impelled activists to invigorate the Wet’suwet’en resistance through waves of impassioned tweets and articles, all of which contain grave moral acquisitions obfuscating the fact that TC Energy is operating within its legal boundaries.
When CMC students learned of KKR’s 65% equity interest in the CGL Pipeline, they pursued countless avenues of protest, including the creation of the @KKRKills Instagram account. According to a July post by @KKRKills, KKR’s financial backing of CGL is a continuation of “the ugly death machine of the British Empire.” I would like to clarify to the administrator of the @KKRKills Instagram account that British Columbia, despite its name, falls under the jurisdiction of the Canadian government, not the British Empire. Regardless, CMC activists continue to voice their concern over this so-called racist, colonialist, and genocidal private equity investment.
The incessant complaining and astounding ingratitude towards our most generous donors by community activists have reached a point at which it has ceased to be political commentary and morphed into a din indicative of incredible privilege. This privilege is either not needing financial aid and demonizing those that provide it or receiving financial aid yet still making blanket statements about those that provide it.
The onslaught of anti-KKR, anti-capitalist sentiment is not grounded in a fundamentally sound injustice but instead on the basis of rogue actions by a small faction of hereditary chiefs acting in opposition to their elected representatives and the Supreme Court of Canada. Even if the CGL Pipeline was an instrument of injustice, hurling insults at members of the Claremont community and calling for the closure of their private equity firm would not be a productive method of voicing dissatisfaction.
What is a privilege if not calling a generous donor ‘genocidal’ from the shade of his very own building? The fact that Claremont activists jump to accuse Claremont alumni and supporters of grave moral atrocities testifies to their current state of privilege and entitlement. These actions reflect poorly on Claremont activists due to their ungrateful and acrimonious nature. Actions like these are detrimental to the Claremont community because they compromise the values of discourse and civility upon which all community exchanges are predicated.
Claremont activists enjoy the rare and expensive gift of a CMC education, a gift that derives its value from the support of its community. To preserve the value of their education, Claremont students must maintain the integrity of their community.
May Claremont students, and potential class presidents alike, continue to luxuriate in the spacious classrooms of the Kravis Center and the many gyms of Roberts. But while doing so, they should appreciate the privileges afforded by CMC. They should honor their community by engaging in civil discourse and pursuing diplomatic avenues to express their opinions.
Image Credit: @KKRkills on Twitter.com
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