This story has been updated.
Climate Justice Cornell blocked campus roads for the second time in less than seven days, demanding that Cornell divest from the fossil fuel industry and disrupting the commutes of students finishing classes and walking home on Wednesday afternoon.
This is the second time in the semester that CJC has staged a protest by occupying streets for divestment, delivering on their promise to disrupt “business as usual.” The roads were closed for around 45 minutes, reopening at 4:30 p.m.
At around 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, more than 20 CJC protesters briefly gathered in Ho Plaza where they discussed plans for the protest, chanting, “I believe that we will win,” and “Fossil fuels have got to go,” before marching to East Avenue.
Only 10 minutes later, CJC had blocked the East Avenue crosswalk next to Statler Hall, asking students passing by to sign petitions calling for fossil fuel divestment. At Statler, Cornell police cars blocked both ends of the road.
At the intersection, multiple protesters poured molasses over the heads of other CJC members seated in the middle of the road to simulate an oil spill, while others chanted, “We can’t drink oil,” and “System change, not climate change.”
Cornell sent out a road closure email alert at 4:15 p.m., stating that East Avenue and Tower Road between Garden and East Avenue were blocked to vehicular traffic. The CJC blockage also prevented access to Lincoln Drive, President’s Drive and the Day Hall loading dock. These same roads were closed last Thursday due to CJC’s first protest in front of Uris Hall.
This email was sent more than 30 minutes after the road had been blocked.
Alexia Ge ’21, whose car was stranded between the protesters and the Cornell police cars, said the protesters frustrated her. Ge had been driving to Collegetown to pick up glasses before a study session for an exam when the protest brought her to a halt.
“I feel like they can protest in a form that doesn’t affect other people,” Ge said. “People have prelims.”
For the protesters, however, the cause of fossil fuel divestment is critical enough to warrant disrupting traffic.
“We want Cornell University to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in local communities,” said organizer Nadia Vitek ’22 to the crowd.
Cornell is not the only University to be swept by climate protests this year. Harvard University has been swept by student’s demands for divestment, with protests disrupting the famed Harvard-Yale football game, The Boston Globe reported.
After much student protest, Georgetown University announced on Feb. 7 that it would divest from fossil fuels within 10 years, Georgetown’s student newspaper reported.
Many protesters performed jumping jacks, hugged each other and moved around to stay warm in the 25-degree air, until the protest ended at 4:25 p.m.
“We had a slight detour during this event, which was relatively brief,” said Patty Poist, the communications manager for TCAT. “Our supervisors and drivers did a great job in sticking to schedules to keep our service as fast as possible.”
Last Thursday, CJC disrupted traffic for two hours when the group occupied an intersection to stage a mock wedding between Cornell University and the fossil fuel industry. On Tuesday, the group silently protested in libraries, holding up signs that read “fossil free endowment,” and “Cornell stop funding the climate crisis.”
While CJC’s new pattern of blocking roads may seem extreme to some, Vitek said the group previously attempted to work with the administration on the issue.
“In the past, we have followed traditional routes within the administration,” Vitek said. “We met with chief financial officers, divestment has even gone to a vote with the board of trustees in 2016.”
Vitek recognizes potential public relations risks with escalating protest tactics, but believes the attention these tactics garner is worth the risk.
“Some people might get annoyed at us, but it is going to publicize this issue much more strongly,” said Vitek.
Every Cornell governing body is also hearing fossil fuel divestment resolutions this spring semester. However, Vitek believes that protests are needed to aid work done in more official avenues, because the last time all five governing bodies passed a divestment resolution, the Board of Trustees ultimately rejected it.
In order for a divestment resolution to be passed at Cornell, all five university assemblies –– the University Assembly, Employee Assembly, Student Assembly, Graduate and Professional Assembly, and Faculty Senate –– must approve, though the matter must ultimately pass through the Board of Trustees.
The Faculty Senate will vote on climate divestment on March 11. The GPSA and University Assembly both unanimously voted for fossil fuel divestment on Feb. 10 and Feb. 18, respectively.
“We are putting extra pressure on them because having [divestment] passed by shared governance wasn’t enough last time, and we want them to listen to us this time,” said Vitek.