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GCSA members risk arrest to protest divestment

Students sewed a banner to hang over Gates tower in support of divestment from fossil fuels. Photo by Fintan Mason.
Students sewed a banner to hang over Gates tower in support of divestment from fossil fuels. Photo by Fintan Mason.
Ross Floyd ’19, Lucid Thomas ’19, Holly Barton ’17, Eli Shepherd ’19 and Sean Haggerty ’19 risked arrest this weekend to protest the College’s investment in fossil fuels. Contributed photo.

From Friday at 5 p.m. until 8 a.m. this morning, a team of five students from Grinnell College Student Action (GCSA) — Holly Barton ’17, Ross Floyd ’19, Sean Haggerty ’19, Eli Shepherd ’18 and Lucid Thomas ’19 — camped out at Nollen House to demand the College financially divest from the fossil fuel industry.

President Raynard Kington is the primary intended recipient of the pressure resulting from GCSA protest, as well as student dissent voiced continuously since the 1990s — all in response to the College’s investment in the fossil fuel industry.  The campaign calls on Kington to support the College’s full divestment from fossil fuels and urges the Board of Trustees to withdraw over $100 million of the College endowment from the industry.

On Friday, the campers, Sandy Barnard ’17 and Nyx Hauth ’19 organized a 150+ person (students and security marshals) march to Nollen House, in which they effectively shut down the building until 5 p.m. Then, the peaceful protesters exited the building, leaving the remaining five students seated in front of Kington’s office and fully committed to risking uncertain consequences such as expulsion or even arrest. (“Divest or arrest!” was one of the loudest chants during the hour-long demonstration.)

Kington arrived around 6 p.m. and, according to Barton, the first thing he said was “So it’s come to this.”

“It was very tense … emotions were high on both sides,” Floyd said. “People shutting down his office isn’t something that happens very much.”

But later, things started to turn around. Once Kington realized the full commitment of the GCSA protesters, he returned to Nollen House. “He came back at 10 p.m., and that’s when the negotiating started about what we could do moving forward,” Floyd explained.

Kington returned a second time on Saturday at noon to continue the negotiations.

“We had pretty productive conversations both of the other times … we’re excited about the progress that’s being made with this, but we’re continuing to fight for full divestment and so that’s why we’re committed to stay until 8 a.m. tomorrow,” Haggerty said.

Even when approaching day three, the group’s clear fervor for climate justice remained strong. “The choice that President Kington has to make about the [divest] campaign is clear,” Floyd said.

By either agreeing or refusing to support full divestment, “[Kington] is either standing with the continuation of DAPL, the continuation of Keystone XL and a president that calls climate change a Chinese hoax  … or he’s standing with Iowa students and community members,” Shepherd said, explaining the intrinsic human rights issue of the divest campaign. “A corporate takeover of our government cannot be more clear than a corporation hiring a sheriff to take people off their land. That’s the choice President Kington has to make.”

This story will continue to be updated throughout the week.


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