Tamara Kamis / Sun Staff Writer

Climate Justice Cornell protesters block Thurston Avenue Bridge on Monday afternoon to call for fossil fuel divestment.

March 10, 2020

Climate Justice Cornell Protests Occupy North and South Campus Bridges, Disrupt Traffic

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Climate Justice Cornell protesters disrupted traffic near North and South Campus bridges on Monday afternoon, where they faced angry motorists and the Cornell University Police Department.

CJC protesters have blocked roads multiple times in past few weeks to “disrupt business as usual,” which they view as a way to advocate for fossil fuel divestment — Monday’s events were a part of  this series of protests.

The demonstrators occupied Thurston Avenue Bridge, at the intersection of Forest Home Drive and East Avenue from 4:15 to 4:45 p.m. and on College Avenue between Snee Hall and the Law School from 4:15 to 4:35 p.m. on Monday.

Even as some people drove their cars dangerously close to the protesters, no one was injured. Cornell police arrived within 20 minutes of protesting at each bridge.

“We are doing our best to minimize our impact on the people not making the decisions we are against,” said CJC organizer Nadia Vitek ’22, “but there is no such thing as a perfect disruption.”

Multiple motorists yelled at the protesters from their cars, including calls for the protesters to move to the sidewalk. One driver yelled, “Make America Great Again” as they turned their car around on the Thurston Avenue Bridge. A motorist on South Campus shouted, “I don’t care, I’ll run them over.”

Another motorist managed to cross the Thurston Avenue Bridge in a gap between the protesters and the sidewalk, pressing his car against CJC member Gabriel Ewig ’23, who attempted to block him but was forced to move. 

“He was almost through,” Ewig said. “I ran in front of him but he was going slowly.”

Cornell police parked its cars between the protesters and traffic on Thurston, blocking the road — only letting through another Cornell police car to block the street on the other side of the protest.

Meanwhile, a CUPD car flashed its lights at CJC protesters on South Campus, according to Vitek. The demonstrators slowly crossed the road back and forth in front of the parked police car for 15 minutes, stopping only when CUPD told them to stop to allow a car through the road.

“This is the most aggressive that CUPD has acted towards us,” Vitek said.

The CJC protesters allowed multiple TCAT buses through the North and South Campus bridges, as they have previously done. The protesters said they supported public transit as an alternative to individual cars, and generally aimed to minimize their impact on people and systems that they do not disagree with.

“The TCAT is not doing anything wrong,” Vitek said. “We didn’t want to disrupt that system.” 

Despite frustration with disrupted traffic, Vitek said she thinks CJC’s tactics are positively impacting the likelihood that Cornell will divest from fossil fuels by raising more awareness on the issue.

The fossil fuel divestment resolution has been passed by the Employee Assembly, University Assembly and Graduate Student Assembly, and will be voted on by the Student Assembly on Thursday. If all five assemblies pass the resolution, then the Board of Trustees will have to vote on it later in March.

Vitek added that most students had “no idea” when they thought of fossil fuel divestment last year. Now, she said, divestment has become a “hot topic” on campus.

“That type of awareness — and the anger at the administration that comes with that awareness — is how we will win,” Vitek said. “A big part [of our mission] is awareness, as well as disrupting business as usual.”