Students protest ‘pervasive culture of corruption’ at Department of Interior

Media Credit: Keegan Mullen | Senior Staff Photographer

Members of Fossil Free GW joined two other groups to protest Secretary Ryan Zinke at the Department of the Interior Wednesday afternoon.

A crowd of about 15 people – including four GW students – stood outside the U.S. Department of the Interior Wednesday to protest Secretary Ryan Zinke’s environmental policy and allegedly corrupt practices.

The protest, co-organized by Fossil Free GW and Fossil Free AU, was billed as a “Corruption Clean Up Day of Service” to draw attention to the “rampant culture of corruption” at the Department of the Interior, according to the event’s press release. Demonstrators – who remained outside the building’s E Street entrance for about 30 minutes – criticized Zinke and his staff for improper spending and a lackluster performance protecting public lands and maintaining sustainable policies.

Zinke has been the subject of 14 federal investigations during his 18-month tenure, including inquiries into politically-motivated censorship of a climate report and $139,000 of expenses for office doors, according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonpartisan watchdog organization. Protestors held signs reading “Fire Zinke” and recited chants such as “use your powers of deduction, Zinke is straight up corruption,” and “public lands, get off of it – this land is not for profit,” to draw attention to the Zinke’s scandals.

GW and American University students were also joined by members of Friends of the Earth, an environmental advocacy group. Members of the organization held up yellow caution tape in front of the protesters.

Junior Matthew Zimmer, a member of Fossil Free GW, said the demonstration was organized to call on officials to remove Zinke and find a replacement who will stand up for the environment.

“Zinke is giving away public lands, opening up them up for oil drilling and acting ways that are destroying the environment,” Zimmer said. “That’s something that Fossil Free GW is fundamentally opposed to.”

Eden Vitoff, a junior majoring in political science, said the crowd of mostly college students also assembled to fight for environmental regulations that will preserve natural resources for the future.

“We know now is the time to move toward affordable renewable energy,” Vitoff said. “It’s time protect land and water for our generation and all generations to come. It’s time to work to craft policies to ensure that all communities are positioned to thrive and shift to a clean energy economy.”

Addison Keilty, a senior at American University majoring in environmental studies, said Zinke’s unpopular policies will continue to attract protests similar to Wednesday’s demonstration.

“There is an opposition to what Zinke is trying to pass and people are not supporting it,” she said. “They’re going to be vocal about that.”

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