University presses charges against GU Fossil Free for demonstration at climate change event

On March 18 as part of the Georgetown Global Futures Initiative, President of the World Bank Group Dr. Jim Yong Kim presented a lecture on climate change. At the end of speech, members of Georgetown University Fossil Free (GUFF) walked up on stage carrying a banner with a quote from Kim and an appeal for divestment—and they are now facing charges from the University.

GUFF, which has demonstrated a committment to divestment advocacy and awareness, orchestrated this protest because climate change is a highly relevant topic to their mission as an organization. Although the group was present at Kim’s lecture at Georgetown earlier this semester, they wanted to make their presence more known at this particular event.

“We decided to make our presence stronger at this action because [Kim] directly was discussing the gravity of climate change and the need for change,” Chloe Lazarus (COL ’16) of GUFF explained in an interview with Vox. 

So not to interrupt Kim’s speech, three members of GUFF quietly and peacefully walked up on stage after he finished and presented their banner. The quote on the banner read: “Corporate leaders should not wait to act until market signals are right and national investment policies are in place.”

As they walked up on stage, GUPD officers, as well as Director of Student Conduct Judy D. Johnson, immediately followed them and proceeded to kick them off. They told the GUFF members that they were not permitted on stage, but they could instead demonstrate quietly in the back of Gaston Hall.

Although they complied with this request, Johnson later approached the GUFF members yet again, both to order them to leave Gaston Hall and to inform them that they were not allowed to protest inside or outside of Gaston.

For GUFF, this incident at the World Bank Group lecture is more than just an issue of climate change; it is a violation of free speech.  “This act of peaceful protest complies with the University’s policy on free speech and to limit it was a violation of that policy,” Lazarus said.

Currently, the three demonstrators are facing two charges from Johnson: failure to comply with University officials or University policy, and unauthorized access. GUFF has released a statement citing their disapproval with Johnson and her attempt to restrict their right to free speech.

“This University has a poor reputation of restricting and censoring free speech from voices that administration may feel uncomfortable with. GUPD does not have a perfect track record on removing individuals from spaces that are protected under the Speech and Expression Policy without proper authority,” Lazarus told Vox.

The overall student reaction to this event has been mixed, and Lazarus attributes this to the lack of activism on Georgetown’s campus. Regardless of the outcome, GUFF will continue to organize and campaign for the University’s divestment.

“We know our actions fully complied with University policy and were an act of free speech. We believe we have a right to speak up against the injustices Georgetown promotes and make the University realize its own hypocrisy,” Lazarus said.

Photo: Carley Tucker/The Georgetown Voice

One Comment on “University presses charges against GU Fossil Free for demonstration at climate change event

  1. A speaker you disagree with is coming to campus. What’s an activist to do? You could either:

    A) Organize outside the event, creating MORE speech, showing you have support for your ideas.
    B) Temporarily interrupt an event you weren’t invited to, proving that you don’t have enough supporters to get your message out through route A.

    Taking route B has nothing to do with free speech, nor is it protected by the speech and expression policy (which it appears neither Vox nor GUFF has actually read). There are universally-recognized time and place restrictions on speech, which GUFF seems to think don’t apply to them.

    Next time GUFF organizes an event, I’d like to see them shouted down by their opponents because they apparently think that the speech and expression policy gives anyone the right to interrupt speakers they disagree with.

    Also nice job on not including any quotes at all from administrators. That’s journalism, right?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>