Students stage a silent protest in the University's libraries, opposing Cornell's divestment into fossil fuels.

Mihika Badjate / Sun Contributor

February 19, 2020

Students Silently Protest in University Libraries, Demand Divestment from Fossil Fuels

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In protest, silence can be deafening.

On Feb. 18, 15 Climate Justice Cornell protesters demonstrated silently in Mann, Olin and Uris libraries, continuing efforts to push the University to divest from fossil fuels and boost funding towards renewable resources.

At 4:40 p.m., the protestors, clad in neon orange beanies and traffic vests, entered Mann Library. They walked slowly and deliberately across every floor, silently holding signs that read, “Fossil Free Endowment,” and “Cornell Stop Funding the Climate Crisis.”

“Putting pressure on the university to divest gives us the power to help stigmatize the fossil fuel industry and actually enable a transition to renewables, away from fossil fuels,” said Nadia Vitek ’22, a CJC organizer. “It’s really empowering that we can have that effect.”

Before leaving Mann, the demonstrators held their banners high across balcony railings, sending a bold and clear message to students studying below. At 4:55 p.m., they proceeded towards Olin Library, where they protested in the main entrance and throughout the stacks.

The activists’ efforts to spread word about their cause while keeping the protests silent was appreciated by student bystanders who were caught unaware by the demonstration.

“I was surprised to see them in there; I didn’t expect them to be protesting in the library,” Justin Wang ’22 said. “But the way they did was pretty respectful, non-distracting.”

Student witnesses to the protest also voiced their support for fossil fuel divestment.

“I agree that we should be divested from fossil fuel — we’re going to run out of gas in 10 years,” Keymani Dunkley ’20 told The Sun. “There’s no need for all of this anymore, especially a school that funds the public and has land grants should be more green energy and economy focused, so I support this.”

Library staff declined to comment, citing a library policy that restricts employees from speaking to the media.

After their last protest through Uris Library, CJC members disassembled to prepare for their general body meeting, bringing the silent library protest to a close at 5:30 p.m.

This week’s demonstration follows months of demanding that the University divest before National Fossil Fuel Divestment Day, an effort that culminated in a mock wedding between Cornell and Big Oil on Thursday.

“We’ve tried all the regular routes and now we’re just trying to put enough pressure on the administration that they realize how seriously we’re taking this, and if they don’t divest, we’re gonna keep this up,” Vitek said.

The Board of Trustees will vote on divestment during their March 20 meeting if the resolution supporting divestment passes through five governing assemblies –– the Employee, Student, University, Faculty, and Graduate and Professional Student Assemblies. So far, the GPSA has supported divestment, the U.A. was scheduled to vote on Tuesday and the E.A. is expected to vote on Wednesday.

If one of these bodies fails to pass the resolution, President Martha E. Pollack can still bring the issue to the table.

Vitek holds out hope that the University will respond to student activists’ demands.

“People are gonna realize that fossil fuels are causing our destruction, and at some point we’re going to have to stop using them,” Vitek said. “I’m very optimistic.”