Divestment protests grow at UMass

19 more students arrested  

  • Students camp out in the Whitmore Administration Building at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to demands the university divest from fossil fuels. For the Recorder/Sarah Crosby

  • Students camp out in the Whitmore Administration Building to demands the university divest from fossil fuels. FOr the REcorder/Sarah Crosby

  • Students camp out in the Whitmore Administration Building to demands the university divest from fossil fuels. FOr the REcorder/Sarah Crosby

For The Recorder
Published: 4/13/2016 11:31:18 PM

AMHERST — A sit-in demanding the University of Massachusetts divest from fossil fuels that swelled to some 250 participants by late Wednesday afternoon ended with the arrests of 19 students who did not leave the building by a 6 p.m. deadline.

It was the second straight night of arrests at the Whitmore Administration Building after 15 protesters were arrested Tuesday.

All 34 people arrested face charges of trespassing.

Organizers of Divest UMass, in a statement released Wednesday night, vowed to continue their protest “until President Martin Meehan and (trustees) Chairman Victor Woolridge release a public statement committing to full fossil fuel divestment.”

UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski issued a statement Wednesday night reiterating that Meehan and Woolridge “have said divesting direct investments in fossil fuel companies represents ‘a logical next step’ to the action UMass took last year when it divested its direct investments in coal companies. Woolridge and Meehan announced their support for the new step as UMass trustees met at UMass Dartmouth.”

Divest UMass had demanded that UMass officials commit to divesting from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies by 5 p.m. Wednesday.

“If they do not give us a decision by the end of the business day at 5 p.m., we will continue with our escalation,” Divest UMass spokesman Filipe Carvalho said.

As occupying students, professors, alumni and community members faced possible arrest by remaining in the building after its 6 p.m. closing time, supporters from around the country — including some from as far away as California and Montana — called in pizza orders to feed the UMass protesters.

Approximately 200 protesters left the building voluntarily when police issued a dispersal notice about 5:45 p.m. As they left, a group of 50 people lined the entrance to the building and chanted to show support.

“We don’t want people to have to get arrested,” said Carvalho, “But the fact that people are willing to be arrested shows this issue is bigger than the university.”

According to Carvalho, five volunteers headed to the UMass Police Department to post bail for the 19 arrested protesters by 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. The group used money collected by a GoFundMe account. As of Wednesday evening, the account had raised $2,050.

Carvalho said the continued sit-in on Thursday is “likely to grow” due to social media and press coverage. He said the day will be similar to Wednesday, with a sit-in at Whitmore beginning at 8:30 a.m., trainings for new protesters all day, and a rally to show support for both those who leave voluntarily and those who may risk arrest on Thursday evening.

If the Divest UMass organizers do not feel their demands are met by the end of the day Thursday, a group larger than 19 plans to remain in Whitmore after it closes, according to Carvalho.

Divest UMass issued a statement Wednesday afternoon calling for a “formal commitment to full divestment … as well as a formal commitment to work with Divest UMass and other applicable parties to craft a comprehensive divestment and reinvestment plan.”

During the day, protesters filled the hallway leading to the chancellor’s office, extending the sit-in to the third-floor lobby of Whitmore and down the adjacent hallway. The students, faculty, and community members remained mostly quiet, eating pizza and using laptop computers. Some were barefoot, and many held orange signs to support the cause.

The continued sit-in followed the arrest of 15 students Tuesday night for occupying the administration building after it closed. Organizers felt dissatisfied by a phone call with Meehan and Woolridge at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

The students arrested received probationary terms in court Wednesday.

In Blaguszewski’s earlier statement, Meehan and Woolridge said the university leaders had pledged to “advocate for a policy that would see the five-campus UMass system divest and prohibit direct investment in fossil fuel companies.”

A rally was planned for late afternoon Wednesday outside Whitmore. Carvalho said he expected 50 to 100 people to attend.

“We want to make sure we show support for those at the sit-in,” Carvalho said.


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