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Columbia University Students Continue Civil Disobedience Fossil Fuel Divestment Protest

Over one hundred and fifty Columbia University students continue their civil disobedience protest in an attempt to force the university to fully divest from fossil fuel investments.

12107166_898833603538479_6356457768633514086_nAs part of a number of actions that took place on October 14 under the banner of People’s Climate Movement, over one hundred and fifty Columbia University students pledged to engage in civil disobedience “unless the university fully divests its $9.2 billion endowment from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies” — this, according to a press release put out by the newly-formed Columbia Divest for Climate Justice (CDCJ) group, which clarified that the students were committed “to participate in nonviolent direct action — anything from hunger striking to sitting-in” in an effort to convince the University administration of the need to divest.

“The fact that so many students are willing to participate in civil disobedience is a telling sign that students both care about climate justice and are ready for Columbia to take bold action on climate issues,” said Iliana Salazar-Dodge, a Columbia senior and organizer with CDCJ. “Students realize that Columbia is profiting off of the devastation of vulnerable communities. Responses to this pledge indicate that students are tired of being ignored and silenced. Columbia has the choice to wait and follow in other institutions or be a leader in the climate movement.”

More than 100 students had signed on to the pledge within 48 hours of its publication, with those involved committing to participating “in non-violent civil disobedience to protest Columbia University profitting off of, and therefore condoning, a business model that endangers public health, exacerbates climatic and political instability, and disproportionately harms people of color and low-income communities around the world.”

A heavy police presence accompanied the students on Wednesday, in an act later described as “disgusting” and proof that “the administration is either scared of us or trying to scare us. In any case, this means we are winning,” wrote CDCJ member Daniela Lapidous in an Op-Ed piece for the Columbia Spectator.

Whether or not their protest will have an impact is unclear at the moment, despite several meetings between the protesters and Columbia University President Lee Bollinger — meetings that were apparently friendly enough to include President Bollinger joking with the students that “I promise you, I will not starve you if you try to take over a building. Starvation is not a strategy I will follow.” (Bollinger was referring to an apparent starvation technique employed against students at Tufts University.)

Nevertheless, the Columbia students join a great many other students around the US who are actively participating in forcing their respective universities to divest from fossil fuel investments. Students from Harvard University only recently filed an appeals brief with the Massachusetts Appeals Court — with backing from luminaries such as climate scientists James Hansen, and the City of Cambridge itself, the home to Harvard University — to keep their lawsuit against the university alive.

MIT University is under similar pressure to divest fossil fuel investments from its $12.4 billion endowment, with a recent open letter signed by 33 prominent “interested scientists, alumni, and citizens” — including names such as James Hansen (again), actor Mark Ruffalo, MIT Professor Noam Chomsky, and Rockefeller Brothers Fund President Stephen Heintz — calling for action by the university’s administration.

These campaigns are hardly isolated incidents any more, however, with over 452 institutions (according to Go Fossil Free) — including everything from cities to faith-based groups and pension funds — committing to divest from fossil fuel investments — with an approximate total $2.6 trillion worth of investments divested by these institutions.

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