Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Hundreds turn out for fourth day of Whitmore occupation as no arrests made

By Brendan Deady

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Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

At approximately 6 p.m. Thursday evening, nearly 100 students and local residents filed out of the Whitmore Administration building at the University of Massachusetts shouting, “Ain’t no power like the power of the people ‘cause the power of the people don’t stop.”

The line of students, carrying orange signs denouncing the use of fossil fuels, were met by a crowd of similar size at the end of the ramp leading to the Whitmore Administration building. The crowd echoed the chants and lingered for nearly an hour after the building closed to listen to a series of speakers who denounced UMass President Martin Meehan for his alleged unwillingness to meet the demands of the organization.

The occupation of Whitmore orchestrated by the UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign continued Thursday, the fourth straight day, but did not result in any arrests. Thirty-four total participants of the protest, which is demanding that the UMass Foundation divest all funds from fossil fuel companies, were arrested Tuesday and Wednesday by the UMass Police Department on charges of trespassing.

Varshini Prakash, one of Divest’s members and a UMass alumna, said that although more people considered being arrested Thursday, the group decided it wasn’t necessary. Prakash said the size of the turnout was enough of an indication of the power of the group and that they’ve moved beyond the need for arrests to act as a tool to communicate their message.

In a statement to the crowd, Prakash said University officials would rather tear apart the fabric of the UMass community than act “on the right side of history.” She referred to two Smith College students and one Hampshire college student who were part of the 19 arrested Wednesday and received a no trespassing order that barred them from UMass’ campus for two years.

Stacey Schmeidel, a spokesperson for Smith College, said the college is not pursuing disciplinary action against its two students. A Hampshire College spokesperson would not comment, citing privacy matters.

Organizers promised to continue the sit-in on Friday morning and encouraged the crowd outside of Whitmore to return as another effort to get their message across to the Board of Trustees.

The University released a statement to Divest UMass’ organizers Thursday evening, stating it would place the possibility of divestment on the agenda for their next meeting in mid-June, according to the group’s organizers.

Kristie Herman, one of Divest’s organizers, shouted through a megaphone that “(A pledge) is not enough. It is not what we want. It has been on the agenda for three years and a pledge is not enough.”

At its height, nearly 120 students participated in the sit-in, according to campaign organizer Filipe Carvalho. Students lined the walls of the hallway leading up to Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy’s office, some slouched on the floor asleep or sprawled out with computers and books, silently awaiting instruction from the multiple organizers who walked the halls.

Blake Simon, a freshman political science major who described himself as “very conservative,” walked past the sit-in and expressed opposition to the group’s actions.

“I think the sit-in gives the impression that there’s more student activism than there actually is,” Simon said. “It gives our University a bad name, makes it look like the campus can’t contain itself. It looks like another waste of a protest.”

On Tuesday afternoon, members of Divest UMass spoke with Meehan and Chairman of the Board of Trustees Victor Woolridge about the possibility of the UMass Foundation withdrawing all investments from the fossil fuel industry.

Following the first day of sit-ins Monday, the University released a press release reading,

“UMass system leaders today said they would advocate for a policy that would see the five-campus UMass system divest and prohibit direct investment in fossil fuel companies.

Woolridge and Meehan said the step they were recommending represented ‘a logical next step’ on the action the University took last year when UMass divested its direct investments in coal companies.”

Meehan and Woolridge called their commitment to advocating for divestment both a proposal and a pledge in the release.

Divest UMass’ request included a UMass commitment to make a plan for divestment no later than June 1.

“We don’t want UMass officials to make a pledge,” Carvalho said. “We want them to divest.”
The UMass Foundation is a non-profit organization hired by the UMass system to handle the private investments of its endowment. The Foundation is entrusted to garner profit returns from these investments. It is not governed by the Board of Trustees but Meehan does chair its Board.

Carvalho said that throughout the day members were prepared to be arrested for their cause. He said they did not want to be arrested but would do so to prove their commitment to a “powerful social movement.”

Carvalho said the occupation and protests would end when President Meehan and Chairman Woolridge would make a concrete commitment, not a pledge, to remove all investments from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. Carvalho said that specifics regarding what companies received investments and the amount of those investments were difficult to obtain.

Caroline Murray, a local resident and UMass alumna, also spoke outside of Whitmore. She highlighted a sign she held that contained information regarding former General Electric CEO Jack Welch. While Welch, an UMass alum, oversaw GE for three decades, the company received multiple environmental dumping violations. The sign read that Welch had donated nearly $5 million to the UMass endowment. Murray joined the crowd in shouting the word “shame” after the figure was read aloud.

Welch has donated $5 million to UMass, but the funds are set aside for scholarship funds which are awarded to two students each year as $20,000 packages, according to a UMass press release.

Shortly after, the crowd began to disperse but organizers reiterated that they would return the following day with even larger numbers.

“We’re ready to do whatever it takes, we’re ready to escalate,” Carvalho said.

Kristin LaFratta and Marie MacCune contributed to this report. LaFratta can be reach at [email protected] and MacCune at [email protected] Brendan Deady can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @bdeady26.

 

5 Comments

5 Responses to “Hundreds turn out for fourth day of Whitmore occupation as no arrests made”

  1. Geoffrey on April 15th, 2016 1:09 pm

    Arrest and expel.

  2. Bobloblaw on April 15th, 2016 1:27 pm

    Libtaards and morons. Also poor grammar.

  3. JB on April 16th, 2016 11:30 am

    @Bob, you do realize that name calling (unoriginal and hacky names at that) just makes you and you look uninformed and childish. I don’t agree with these protesters, but throwing out insults hurts the entire side that you identify with.

    Again- “libaards”? at LEAST show some wit by coming up with something that is somewhat clever.

  4. rachel on April 18th, 2016 6:01 am

    I actually thought libtard was pretty funny. Its a conjunction of two offensive things put together..

    You have to love umass; students who are willing to advocate passionately against fossil fuels and kudos for their dedication I suppose.

  5. David Hunt 1990 on April 19th, 2016 9:50 am

    Arrest, press charges, and expel.

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




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