April 29, 2005

'Redbud Eight' Occupy Day Hall

Print More

At 11:30 yesterday morning, three students brought their concerns about the proposed Redbud Woods parking lot to the Day Hall office of President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 at a scheduled meeting. Eight students would leave the building six hours later with citations for trespassing and resisting arrest.

For those six hours, the “Redbud Eight,” five of them chained in a circle together with PVC piping in Lehman’s office, put Day Hall on an increasing lockdown, first inconveniencing University staff and eventually forcing the CUPD to turn away prospective students and even staff members from the offices.

“This has been in the planning for several weeks now,” said Aubryn Sidle ’04. “Specifically, to target Lehman, who makes the final decision about Redbud Woods and campus sustainability. We’ve been meeting with Lehman over the last two years and he has never really addressed our concerns or arguments.”

The confrontation has been the most dramatic showdown so far after years of student- and Ithacan-lead protests against the proposed 176-spot parking lot planned for the intersection of University Avenue, Willard Way and Lake Street, near the 660 Stewart Ave. Co-operative. Critics of the plan have said that it goes against Lehman’s stated goals of a sustainable campus and a sustainable world.

Hundreds of those critics gathered yesterday on Ho Plaza to protest the lot, while the Eight were cordoned off by CUPD, who locked the third floor doors of Day Hall, allowing only authorized personnel to enter. The morning’s events started at 11:30, when Fabian Canas ’07; Danny Pearlstein ’05, a Sun columnist; and Amelia Apfel ’08 met with Lehman to discuss the Redbud Woods’ future.

“Lehman gave us more of his time than he had planned, which was very nice,” said Canas. He said there were a lot of “very valuable advances in discussion” on the woods, and that leaving the discussion, he felt that the he had a better sense of why the administration felt as it did, and that Lehman better understood the student position.

“The meeting was very civil,” he said. “I think we came out of the meeting in a better place and in a better position than what we were in before.”

The meeting ended when Lehman had to go to work on a truss for Habitat for Humanity outside on Ho Plaza.

Canas left, but Pearlstein and Apfel went back into Lehman’s office, along with Patrick Young ’06, Laura McIntyre ’08, Jordan Wells ’07, Kjirsten Alexander ’07, Ethan Middlebrooks ’08 and Daisy Torres ’05.

Pearlstein, Young, Wells, Alexander and Middlebrooks formed a circle, “chaining” themselves together with PVC pipe. The other three protesters stood as support, getting the protesters food and toiletries as needed. They then demanded to meet with Lehman and they outlined a set of demands to the administration.

Speaking via cell phone while they were locked together in the office, the Eight said that they were prepared to stay until Lehman agreed to their demands.

The demands were five-fold:

“1. Redbud Woods will be saved and maintained. The University Ave. wood lot will be overseen by a specially appointed committee that includes students, faculty, and community representatives.

“2. No new parking-lots will be constructed on current green spaces.

“3. In an effort to rebuild Ithaca-Cornell relations after a lengthy and expensive legal battle, President Lehman will issue a public apology to the Ithaca community for three years of strong-arming the city.

“4. As a show of good faith in planning and development, President Lehman will publicly endorse the city’s proposed zoning restrictions calling for the University to respect local zoning ordinances.

“5. Complete amnesty for all Redbud Woods activists.”

Jason Mandell ’07, who was working with the Eight and a leader of the outside protest, said that they did not expect all of their demands to be met, but that they did not plan on leaving until at least the future safety of Redbud Woods was assured. To this end, he said the Eight had packed food to last as long as they needed to last.

“We’ve thought about this and to go to the bathroom, you don’t have to go to the toilet,” he said.

Meanwhile, professors, students and locals protested loudly on Ho Plaza. “Student democracy, not Lehman hypocrisy,” they chanted in between speakers. “When Jeff Lehman comes to get at you … Drop it like it’s hot, drop it like it’s hot!”

Prof. Tim Fahey, natural resources, said the Redbud Woods debate was a “pretty good symbolic battleground.”

He praised the student protesters, and said he was wrong in originally giving Lehman the benefit of the doubt.

He said that, during the early protests, he told Redbud Woods activist Elizabeth A. Millhollen ’05, “We have a new president, let’s cut him some slack, we don’t want to alienate him right away.”

“Liz, you were right and I was wrong,” Fahey said.

Millhollen was arrested in Nov. 2003 for refusing to leave a tree in protest of the planned lot.

Prof. Rob Young, city and regional planning, asked the crowd, “How come, if you’re committed to sustainability, you’re bulldozing a forest?” “Sustainability … is an idea that you can look into the eyes of a four-month-old child and tell her that idea, and that idea makes sense,” he said, holding his baby, Lucie. “So, look into her eyes and tell her which is more important, a forest or a parking garage.”

Nate Shinagawa ’05 said that it is up to students to bring about change. “This issue is also an accountability issue,” he said. “They may say these things, but it requires the student body, students like us, activists, to do something about it.”

At about 2:45, the students moved from Ho Plaza to Day Hall, entering first through the back entrance, where they were turned away. They then stormed the front entrance, banging pots and shouting: “Hey hey, ho ho, this parking lot has got to go.”

The rally inside Day Hall lasted about 15 minutes before many of the protesters left the scene.

Meanwhile, inside Day Hall, the lockdown was increasingly strict.

University officials told The Sun that negotiations were underway, and that a statement would be made when they were completed. By this point, access throughout the building was restricted. The elevators were disabled, forcing one employee to carry computer equipment up several flights by hand.

While previously students with official business were allowed into Day Hall, more and more were being turned away.

Inside Lehman’s office, the Redbud Eight said that no negotiations were taking place. Instead, they said that they had received several warnings about possible consequences, including arrest and referral to the Judicial Administrator.

Sidle said that the Redbud Eight were prepared to stay in Lehman’s office as long as they had to, but she worried about supplies.

“Now they’ve basically locked us out of the building,” she said. “Lehman can’t let students on this campus starve inside a campus building.”

Tristan Jackson ’05 and Kirby Fowle ’07 said they thought campus support for the Redbud Woods would increase due to the rally and the Redbud Eight’s actions.

“We don’t want to be the activists,” Fowle said. She said she feels the majority of students do support the preservation of the woods, but they are not as vocal about it.”

“The time for people to show their support is now,” Jackson said. “I don’t know if they’ve noticed up there [in Day Hall], but there haven’t been any pro-parking-lot rallies.”

As the afternoon progressed, supporters of the Eight held signs: “The University Has A Commitment To Sustainability,” and “Honk If You Love Trees.”

About eight counter-protesters also bore signs: “We Want Attention,” “Honk If You Want Parking.”

One protester wryly observed that you could tell which sign drivers would honk at by whether or not they were driving an SUV.

Ethan Rainwater ’06, one of the rally’s leaders, said he thought the rally would help raise awareness, but that he also feared it might have some negative consequences.

“Maybe it could possibly frustrate negotiations a bit,” he said.
Negotiations with the Eight, however, seemed non-existent. At approximately 4 p.m., Simeon Moss ’73, Cornell press office director, told The Sun that a press conference would be held at the Cornell Press Office, located at 312 College Ave.

At approximately 4:15, a Sun reporter, who had been remaining in the Day Hall stairwell outside Lehman’s office since 2:40, was told to leave or to face police action. After a brief discussion, the reporter left.

During the press conference, Tommy Bruce, vice president for communications and media relations, said that the eight students in the president’s office were in violation of Titles II and III of the Campus Code of Conduct.

“This event is a drastic departure from the kind of behavior we are accustomed to at Cornell,” he said. “We respect students’ creativity and advocacy, but today they crossed the line. They crossed the line to a place where Cornellians don’t go.”

He said he had no sense of when the students would leave.

“We’re going to wait patiently until they leave,” he said. “The most important message: we have this situation and expect students to realize what they are doing and move on.”

Back at Day Hall, shortly after the press conference ended, McIntyre, Apfel and Middlebrooks, who had been the support people to the other five protesters, came out of Day Hall with police escort. Pearlstein and Wells were forcibly put into a waiting police car.

According to the Eight, the police forced them to move by using pressure points on the protesters’ faces. All comments from the CUPD come through the Cornell News Service, and Moss said that the University had no comment outside of the press conference.

According to Pearlstein, he and Wells asked for their plastic handcuffs to be taken off as their hands’ circulation was being cut-off.

About 70 protesters, however, blocked the Day Hall drive. They were told that if they did not move, they would face J.A. disciplinary action.

Ross Blankenship ’05 spoke briefly to the protesters, telling them that they were tying up police forces that would be better spent searching for Dan Pirfo ’08, who has been missing since Sunday.

After a long standoff with the protesters, the police removed Pearlstein and Wells from the police car and took them back into the building.

Pearlstein and Wells were charged with trespassing and resisting arrest, along with the others who had been bound together, Moss said. The support persons were charged with trespassing.

Pearlstein said that they will have to appear in court on May 4, but that they were free to go that night.

The Eight and their supporters vowed to fight on.

“You have disgraced the University today,” Pearlstein told Susan Murphy ’73, vice president of student and academic services, and Kent Hubbell ’67, dean of students, after Pearlstein was released. He said that Murphy had watched as he was cuffed, and then denied him the use of a camera to photograph his wrists. She did not deny the charge.

“When it comes to the parking lot, we are not changing our position,” she said. “We believe in the design of the parking lot as part of the West Campus Residential Initiative.”

Archived article by Michael Morisy
Sun News Editor
and Yuval Shavit
Sun City Editor