Updated: Monday, Oct. 4 at 12:56 p.m.
Dozens of Sunrise GW protesters staged a mock funeral and blocked the intersection of H and 21st streets Friday as their first action of the semester to urge officials to reject fossil fuel research funding from companies like ExxonMobil and the Koch foundations.
Protesters dressed in black marched through campus while carrying a fake casket marked “Our Futures” Friday afternoon in an effort to establish a tone of “mourning” to mobilize students to fight against climate change. Sunrise GW leaders said they want to see increased transparency from University officials in regards to GW’s 2020 promise to divest the University’s endowment from fossil fuel industry companies by 2025.
Bella Kumar, a sophomore and a hub coordinator for Sunrise GW, said Friday’s somber theme was a departure from Sunrise’s previous protest in April when the organization led a “celebratory” march through campus that culminated with the organization’s pleas to administrators to reject funding from fossil fuel companies.
She said Sunrise GW hopes to build on the energy sparked by the protest to organize students to take action during the upcoming semester by asking professors to take a pledge and sign a petition to reject fossil fuel funding. She said the pledge, which launched last November, has gained more than 60 signees from programs like the Redstone Center and the Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program, and the petition has gained more than 1,400 signees.
“What we can control is the funding our University takes and the social license of the fossil fuel industry,” Kumar said. “It’s imperative for us to cut that tie.”
Kumar said she hopes students recognize the urgency behind the University’s role in the climate crisis following the protest and feel motivated to pressure officials to refuse fossil fuel funding and offer funding transparency.
“I hope people understand that we are going to die,” Kumar said. “And that it becomes a prominent issue for them and that they take control over what we have control over.”
Protesters marched from Kogan Plaza to the F Street House of Interim University President Mark Wrighton, where Sunrise hub coordinators and members urged administrators to sever ties with fossil fuel companies.
Marchers then shifted to the intersection of H and 21st streets, where they sat for about three hours playing live music, pasting sticky notes detailing future hopes and dreams onto a makeshift casket and delivering speeches to denounce GW’s Regulatory Studies Center, which accepted more than $1 million from ExxonMobil and the Koch network, according to a 2019 report.
Metropolitan Police Department and GW Police Department officers blocked traffic to the intersection, turning around vehicles when they approached the group.
Mary McManus, a sophomore and a member of Sunrise GW, said they left a note on the wooden casket lying at the center of the intersection detailing their hopes to one day have a family, a career and an advanced degree – goals they said are at risk if the climate change crisis isn’t immediately and thoroughly addressed.
“Everything my parents got to have will be dead and gone if we don’t do something about the climate crisis now, do something about it yesterday,” McManus said.
McManus said they hope GW follows Princeton University’s recent example in refusing research funding from fossil fuel companies after Princeton officials announced last week that they would dissociate from ExxonMobil, NRG Energy and 88 other corporations active in the fossil fuel industry.
“We’ve already achieved divestment, so I feel like GW could be one of the leaders in this movement,” McManus said. “I do have faith.”
Student Association President Christian Zidouemba attended Friday’s protest in solidarity with Sunrise GW and said his mission as SA president is to support any student organization in achieving their goals and making an impact on campus. He said he hopes the Board of Trustees and other officials will support the student body’s call for climate action by divesting money from fossil fuel companies, but noted the process would likely take years before seeing the benefits.
“When you have people demanding things and wanting a change, I think we have an opportunity when we bring a new president on campus to make our University a global hub for climate change,” Zidouemba said. “So hopefully, we can do that.”
Tara Suter contributed reporting.
This post was updated to correct the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported Mary McManus was a freshman. McManus is a sophomore. We regret this error.
This post was also updated to clarify information regarding Sunrise GW’s ongoing petition and pledge.