May 5, 2005

Redbud Protesters Act Again

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After they coordinated a sit-in at the President’s office last week, the Redbud Woods Working Group orchestrated yet another demonstration starting at 1 p.m. yesterday afternoon. To best display their demands to the administration, the protesters dumped several dozen pounds of soil and plants at the entrance to the Day Hall parking lot, in addition to parking three cars on the sidewalk in front of the building.

The roof and trunk door of one of the cars were torn off to make room for the garden they had planted in the back seat and trunk, and was named “The Jeffrey S. Lehman Urban Garden.” This particular car was parked directly in front of the parking lot, while containing a wooden coffin with a tree branch from the Redbud Woods. The protesters had removed the wheels from the car and placed them on the driveway as barriers.

According to Susan Murphy ’73, vice president of student and academic services, this car was a fire hazard. She demanded that the protesters move it out of the driveway within 15 minutes or it would be forcibly removed. The protesters complied with Murphy’s request within five minutes by pushing the car out of the driveway.

After their compliance, Murphy said to The Sun that “if they keep it [set up] like this, they can continue through this afternoon.”

At about 1:45 p.m., a banner was unfurled from the top of the Statler Hotel building, declaring “Save Redbud Woods; Democracy; Sustainability; Community”. Half an hour after the banner was put up, the police demanded that the two protesters on the roof of the Statler Hotel remove the banner. The banner was eventually confiscated, but the protesters were not arrested. One protester described that the police had said after bringing the protesters off the roof: “The banner was on Cornell property and therefore it will be incinerated.”

Immediately prior to the banner’s confiscation, the protesters found out that President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 was at the time exiting a meeting at the Statler Hotel. Upon receiving this news, a dozen protesters rushed into the Statler Hotel lobby in search of Lehman to demand a meeting to negotiate.

One student was at the lobby to witness the chase.

“I was just sitting in the lobby [of Statler Hotel], and [Lehman] was talking about the meeting he was having and someone ran out and said ‘we have word that the protesters know of your location; we think you better escape the building.’ He ran to the other side of the building … and he was whisked away in a private car,” he said on condition of anonymity.

The protesters were able to reach Lehman outside the Statler and hand him a red piece of fabric before he was driven away. The red fabric was used by protesters to indicate their support of saving Redbud Woods. As he entered the car, Lehman cited his lateness to a meeting as the reason he could not meet with the protesters.

“Over the past three years, this administration has really failed to come to the table to negotiate with us in good faith. We’re trying to give them an incentive to come and sit down and talk to us. They’ve spent a lot of time talking at us but never with us,” said Patrick Young ’06, one of the Redbud Eight who sat in the president’s office last week.

According to Danny Pearlstein ’05, who is a Sun columnist and a member of the Redbud Eight, the group had spoken to Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67 earlier in the week. Hubbell then suggested that the group meet with Murphy. This meeting between Murphy and members of the Redbud Woods Working Group is scheduled to occur today, and the group hopes to talk about alternate sites for the parking lot at the meeting with Murphy.

“Susan Murphy’s always offering us a meeting because she just wants to get us out of the street,” Pearlstein said. “But we hope the discussion has changed. Every time we talk we say something different and every time the administration talks they say the same thing.”

“We’re hoping to reach some compromises … so we have developed comprehensive alternate plans that he may find attractive,” said Alex Rakow ’06.

Many critics of the previous protest have claimed that the Day Hall takeover last week diverted much-needed police efforts from finding the missing Cornell freshman, Dan Pirfo ’08.

“We were told that the search for the missing student had actually ended earlier that day before anything happened in the President’s office,” Pearlstein said in response to the claim. “We did not obstruct the search for the missing student. The Cornell administration who used the police on us did so; we never expected the police to get involved. We were there to negotiate. They refused and decided to use the police on us, which was unprofessional and stupid.”

Other critics have said that the protesters have been having difficulty articulating a clear and concise message with their protests.

According to most of the protesters, the group was not protesting just to save “a bunch of trees.” The goals of their protest include demanding democracy, transparency as well as sustainability.

“It’s really about transparency and democracy of this institution, and it’s just another example of how the administration can easily disregard the students’ voices,” said Jason Lee ’05, one of the protesters. “Primarily it’s not just about trees. I think that’s the first misconception of everybody who’s not a part of this movement. … This is an institutional problem.”

“I don’t know the details of the Redbud issue that well,” said Rafael Gonzalez ’08. “I’m here for democracy. I stuck around because I definitely believe in democracy and I definitely believe in students’ voices and from what I do know is that the Student Assembly twice decided to keep the Redbud. I think we need to be listened to because it’s a good idea to listen to students more often.”

“We do have a very large and heterogeneous group working with us so not everyone is on message all of the time,” Pearlstein said. “We feel that accountability is a central issue and we’re also looking for student and community democracy because the students and the community oppose the parking lot. We feel that should weigh into Cornell’s decision very heavily.”

The protest also found its fair share of critics arriving with their own posters declaring “Death to Trees!” and “Don’t Save It, Pave It!”

Eric Shive ’07, editor-in-chief of The Cornell American objected to the purpose of the protest because it was “blown completely out of proportion.”

“They’re acting like a bunch of fools,” Shive said. “They’re turning Day Hall into a shantytown.”

“This is more clever than a lot of other stunts I’ve seen pulled. They win points for creativity, but, at the same time, I don’t know if this is going to make the university more receptive to the idea to their agenda. It’s a little damned if you do, damned if you don’t, but it’s a hell of a nice garden,” said J. Peter Freire ’05. “Seeing this kind of just makes me laugh. It doesn’t make me feel like ‘yeah, democracy and sustainability in action.'”

According to Rakow, the students of the Redbud Woods Working Group are also in the process of building a faculty coalition of supporters for the movement. He said that a number of faculty had gathered money to fund the towing fee if the cars were eventually towed after yesterday’s protest.

“[Yesterday’s protest] was very successful, in just showing that we’re not going to be waited out on this issue; our determination now is the strongest it’s ever been,” Rakow said.

“We are holding Cornell accountable, which is something Cornell should desire,” Pearlstein added. “We demand to know how this parking lot is at all considered sustainable and whether the president is simply paying lip service to the concept.”

“It’s pretty outrageous that he can just make a decision like that without even considering the decision of the community and of the student body,” said Ding Kong ’08.

Approximately 50 students, faculty and Ithacan residents were involved with the protest. The car without wheels was towed away at approximately 4:30 p.m. yesterday afternoon, by which time most of the protesters had dispersed and a few students were cleaning up the pile of soil and plants in front of the driveway. The two other cars were driven away earlier.

Tommy Bruce, vice president for communications and media relations, could not be reached for comment. The police monitored the situation in front of Day Hall the entire afternoon.