Hundreds of students, faculty, and Cambridge residents packed into Science Center Plaza Friday to raise awareness about climate change and call on the University to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry.
Friday’s rally coincided with climate strikes around the globe. Organizers estimate that more than four million young people took to the streets in cities including Berlin, New York, and Rio de Janeiro to urge leaders to take action on climate change.
With songs and chants, members of climate activist group Divest Harvard and the Organizers for Radical Climate Action joined students from the nearby Cambridge Rindge and Latin School to organize the rally. The groups hosted speakers including high school and University students, Harvard faculty, and Cambridge city government officials.
Divest Harvard member Ilana A. Cohen ’22 said that Divest Harvard — a group that advocates for the University to divest its endowment holdings in the fossil fuel industry — planned the rally alongside millions of others students worldwide also calling for action surrounding climate change.
“Today is the day of the global climate strike, and we view fossil fuel divestment as a baseline step in the movement for climate action and climate justice,” Cohen said. “We are a part of the greater, global, and intergenerational movement for change that we see around the world right now.”
Over the past year, Divest Harvard has ramped up its efforts to advocate for fossil fuel divestment. The group has recruited incoming freshmen, released petitions, and organized "Heat Week," a week of education about fossil fuel divestment that culminated in a rally in Harvard Yard.
University President Lawrence S. Bacow has repeatedly told student activists that he would not divest the endowment, following the precedent of decades of Harvard leaders. Last week, the Harvard Management Company — the University’s financial arm — joined Climate Action 100+ to push greenhouse gas emitters to take action on climate change.
University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain referred The Crimson to previous statements regarding its position on divestment, including an article written by Bacow published last week.
“We may differ on means,” Bacow wrote. “But I believe we seek the same ends—a decarbonized future in which life on Earth can flourish for ages to come.”
Student and faculty speakers, however, said that the University must divest from fossil fuels in order to make a significant impact on climate change.
Gabrielle T. Langkilde ’21, a student from American Samoa, said Harvard’s refusal to divest threatens her home and her family’s well-being.
“By choosing to invest heavily in the fossil fuel industry, not only does Harvard show us that it does not care about its students whose families and homes are directly impacted by climate change, but it is also actively participating in the destruction and displacement of our communities,” said Langkilde, who is also a Crimson Editorial editor.
English professor Ju Yon Kim said in her remarks that she had an obligation to support divestment for the sake of her daughter.
“I have this beautiful daughter who's almost two who loves being outside, and I work at one of the most powerful institutions in the world, actually the most powerful university,” Kim said. “How can I continue to say that I support her future if this university that I work for continues to invest in fossil fuels?”
Several faculty members have joined together in recent months to protest the University’s fossil fuel investments. Their movement originally started in 2014, but was reinitiated last year with Divest Harvard’s own reinvigoration.
Cambridge Mayor Marc C. McGovern also spoke at the rally and said the City of Cambridge’s elected officials will do all they can to fight climate change.
Dozens of attendees also came from CRLS. CRLS students who chose to leave school would not receive excused absences unless they had permission from a parent or guardian, according to a statement from school administrators.
Students said that despite the potential consequences for missing school, attending the protest was worth it.
“It’s so easy for me to do that because I’m so passionate about it,” Mattingly Wood, 17, a senior at CRLS said. “I’m willing to face those consequences, and I think we need to be willing to walk out of school."
At noon, roughly half the protestors marched through Harvard Yard to the MBTA station and traveled together on the T to a larger demonstration in downtown Boston.
Between 7,000 and 10,000 people gathered at City Hall to listen to speakers, and then march to the nearby Massachusetts State House. A few hundred protesters entered the State House and filled the atrium below the office of Governor Charlie D. Baker, Jr. ’79. They chanted their demands, including that Baker declare a state climate emergency.
Cohen also spoke at the Boston climate strike, calling on strike attendees to bring those around them into the climate activism fold.
“I’m asking you to bring your friends, families, and communities into this movement because if we want to secure a more just and more stable future, then today is only the beginning,” Cohen said. “Today is only the beginning, and we need everyone.”
—Staff writer Camille G. Caldera can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera.
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