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Cambridge Mayor McGovern, Harvard Student Activists Rally for Heat Week

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17 year-old climate activist Jamie Margolin shouts at the Flood Harvard rally Friday. Margolin attended the rally while on spring break.

Nearly one hundred students, alumni, and Cambridge residents braved the cold and rain to rally for fossil fuel divestment in Tercentenary Theatre Friday, bringing Heat Week to a close.

Heat Week first began in April 2015 as a week-long protest organized by Divest Harvard — a fossil fuel divestment advocacy group. At the time, students and faculty members blockaded Massachusetts Hall for a week, occupied the Harvard Alumni Association headquarters for two days, and blockaded University Hall multiple times.

This year, after a week of panels, teach-ins, and civil disobedience training, ralliers gathered Friday to listen to speeches from climate change activists and Harvard affiliates; sing songs about the environment; and chant divestment slogans.

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Cambridge Mayor Marc C. McGovern speaks at the rally. The city council will consider a proposal to support Divest Harvard this week.

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Cambridge Mayor Marc C. McGovern, who spoke at the rally, called on Harvard and other local colleges and universities “to do more and to do better” and divest from the fossil fuel industry.

“I acknowledge the groundbreaking research and scientific advancements that are happening in our city,” McGovern said. “Those are important; those are important to further change in the world and improve things, but that’s not enough.”

“Despite the outcry, despite the science, they’re not listening to our voices. They seem to be blind to what is happening every day,” he added.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain referred to his previous statements about fossil fuel divestment.

“The University’s position, as it has stated previously, is that it should not use the endowment to achieve political ends, or particular policy ends,” Swain wrote in an email. "As President Larry Bacow has said, the University agrees with the urgent need to tackle climate change and has valued the opportunity to discuss the issues with members of the community. Harvard is committed to influencing public policy on climate change through scholarship and research.”

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A Harvard alum holds a sign proclaiming his support for Divest Harvard, an undergraduate-led effort to push the University to divest funds from fossil fuels.

At the rally, Divest Harvard organizer Ilana A. Cohen ’22 outlined the group’s list of demands regarding divestment. The list included pushing administrators to disclose the school’s investments in the fossil fuel industry, completely divest, and reinvest the endowment in “sustainable and socially responsible funds.” Cohen also called for the University to end its ownership of farmlands in California and other areas of the world.

She gave the University the deadline of Earth Day 2020 to meet these goals.

‘This is not a question of science, it is a question of will,” Cohen said. “We cannot wait for the President Bacows of the world to wake up and decide to do the right thing.”

Divestment activists for other causes also made an appearance at the rally. Salma Abdelrahman ’20, a member of the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign, spoke to the lively crowd about the group’s advocacy for divestment from companies with ties to the prison industry.

“We will continue to use civil disobedience as civil discourse until our voices are heard and until the University administration commits to a vision of our community that is not financed by the caging of black and brown people,” Abdelrahman said.

The HPDC and Divest Harvard teamed up earlier this month to interrupt an event at the Harvard Kennedy School’s John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum where Bacow was slated to speak. The event was moved to a nearby classroom after protestors occupied the stage.

Prior to the rally, Divest Harvard planned and executed a week of public actions and speaker events about divestment. At a press conference kicking off Heat Week, faculty members and prominent alumni urged the administration to divest. The group also invited former politicians, alumni, and activists to give advice to student activists on campus.

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Georgia K. Bowder-Newton '21 dances at the Flood the Yard rally Friday.

On Tuesday, Divest Harvard painted a globe in the middle of the Science Center and educated passersby about their cause.

Divestment even crept into discussions at Visitas, the College’s annual weekend for admitted students. At the President’s Welcome in Sanders Theatre Saturday, Bacow fielded two questions from prospective students about divestment. He argued that instead of divesting, the University should engage with the fossil fuel industry through its scholarship.

Bacow even mentioned that he is a vegetarian, citing this lifestyle as “one way to minimize your carbon footprint.”

Members of Divest Harvard and HPDC also hung banners in Annenberg Hall, the freshman dining hall, and passed out pamphlets about their movements to prospective students.

Cohen said she believed Heat Week was a success because it helped Divest Harvard educate more people about its mission.

“Even if they're not going to show up at the rallies, even if they're not the same people who are there organizing on a groundwork level, I think that we've brought new people into common spaces, and helped spread awareness of the work that we’re doing and the importance of divestment,” Cohen said.

—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at alexandra.chaidez@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.

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