PROTESTERS: Listen to the students, divest now. Listen to the students, divest now.
(Chants continue under narration.)
ROBYN (narrating): Friday, February 10. 10 a.m. Kogan Plaza. About 20 students in wind breakers and pea coats stand around the clock tower. Lots of picket signs and Starbucks cups. It’s cold for D.C. and early for students but, as you can hear, they’re excited. I meet Logan Malik, a [Student Association] senator and divestment advocate.
LOGAN: It’s been almost two years 71.7 percent of students voted in the highest turnout election in GW history to divest from fossil fuels. Since then, we’ve exhausted every possible pathway through the establishment of this university. Today, the Board of Trustees is meeting and we’re going to show them that this is an issue that’s serious to us.
PROTESTERS: What do we want? Climate justice—
ROBYN (narrating): The plan is to do some speeches and chants in Kogan, walk to the Marvin Center, crash the meeting there, read their demands, then leave and go on with their days. But that’s not what happened. Right before they’re supposed to leave, they get news that the board has moved into a closed session. Now, I did email a GW spokesperson about this, and she that this is how the meetings always work: they start with an open session for general updates, then they move into a closed session. But on the other hand, these students have been working for this for two years, so they’re not gonna let a couple of doors stop them. So they start walking to the meeting to chant outside the doors and on their way in, this happens—
GWPD OFFICER 1: This is private property, sir.
STUDENT 1: Sir, we’re from GW.
(Voices overlap in confusion.)
GWPD OFFICER 2: No signs—that’s university policy. No protest signs in the building.
STUDENT 2: Since when?
STUDENT 3: Can you show us the policy?
STUDENT 4: Hand over the signs. Hand over the signs.
ROBYN (narrating): In case you missed that, a GWPD officer stops them and says they can’t bring their signs in. None of the students have ever heard of this rule, but in the end, they just ditch the signs and go upstairs to chant.
(Footsteps of students walking up stairs.)
STUDENT 5: You know what to do.
PROTESTORS: It is necessary for our university
STUDENT 5: To affirm the true gravity of human made climate change
PROTESTERS: To affirm the true gravity of human made climate change
STUDENT 5: With not just words
PROTESTERS: With not just words
STUDENT 5: But deeds
PROTESTERS: But deeds
STUDENT 5: President Knapp and the Board of Trustees
PROTESTERS: President Knapp and the Board of Trustees
STUDENT 5: Must declare intentions
PROTESTERS: Must declare intentions
STUDENT 5: To permanently phase out investments in the fossil fuel industry
PROTESTERS: To permanently phase out investments in the fossil fuel industry
STUDENT 5: By February 28
PROTESTERS: By February 28
STUDENT 5: Or face escalating interruptions to business as usual.
PROTESTERS: Or face escalating interruptions to business as usual.
(Protesters cheer and clap.)
ROBYN (narrating): The protest lasted about 15 minutes. And then, they had one last message for the Trustees on their way out.
STUDENT 5: We’ll be back.
PROTESTERS: We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be—
(Protesters cheer as they begin to walk out the door to the stairwell.)
STUDENT 6: Think about your grandkids.
ROBYN (narrating over silence): The Trustees were still in their meeting when I left, but, like I said, I did email their spokesperson. Here’s what she had to say: “Our students have a history of peaceful protest on campus and that happened again on Friday at the Board of Trustees meeting. The university’s protest policy states that the university community may demonstrate in support of or opposition to any issue of interest to them, provided that such activities do not endanger the safety or security of the university community. Accordingly, the university maintains the right to define the time, place and manner in which protests, rallies or equivalent activities occur on its campuses and at its facilities.”