On Friday, four students at the College were arrested in Washington, D.C., and charged with disruption of Congress and unlawful conduct. Sara Finkle ’14, Sasha Macko ’11, Alex Manter ’13 and Jennifer Rowe ’11 were protesting in the name of climate change.
The students ventured to Washington for Powershift, a conference arranged by college-aged climate activists around the country. Students entered into the gallery of the House of Representatives during debates about the federal budget.
“This is about building political power for the youth,” Macko said. “The action that we took was in expectation that it would spark more energy for [Powershift] and encourage people to take a stand even though they might be afraid of the consequences.”
At Powershift, keynote speaker Bill McKibben addressed 10,000 students acknowledging the protest: “I’m awfully glad some of you went up to the visitor’s gallery to make yourselves heard,” he said.
One by one, students stood up and began to recite lines of a revised version of the “Star Spangled Banner.” The protest was premeditated but not planned by any specific group, according to Macko.
“Everyone who stood up did so intentionally and with the understanding that they would be arrested,” she said.
In total, nine individuals were arrested for unlawful conduct in Congress. One by one, they were escorted out of the viewing area of the House of Representatives.
“We did not resist arrest or try to run away,” Macko said. “The point was that it was non-violent, peaceful protest. We continued to sing as we were escorted outside of the viewing room.”
The students argued that the federal government’s rejection of their voices prompted them to take this action. “Our voices weren’t being heard through canvassing, letters to representatives and marches,” Rowe said. “We were being overshadowed by other groups, like corporations, fossil fuel advocates and lobbyists.
“The political process is designed to reflect the status quo and we needed action to disrupt that,”Manter said.
The students’ crime will be processed as a misdemeanor, according to Macko and Rowe. “We ended up getting taken into the Capitol police office – a small processing office, not a jail,” Macko said.
Macko, Rowe and Finkle were all held in one cell for about an hour prior to being separated. Finkle was handcuffed to a wall for part of her time under arrest.
As a consequence of their citation, Macko and Rowe will return to Washington on May 3 for an arraignment and Finkle and Manter will do the same on May 5.
“I actually haven’t decided how I’m going to plead yet. I’m going to talk to the rest of the group and think a little bit more about the implications,” Finkle said. “It’s my understanding that pleading guilty would involve some sort of fine – up to $500 – and probably probation, which would mean that if I don’t get arrested in the next six months, this goes off my record forever. But alternatively, I could plead not guilty and then have some sort of trial, which would be a really cool opportunity to talk to a jury about why I did what I did and get more stir out of it.”
The protesters’ goal was to incite urgent action on behalf of elected officials and conversation amongst young people. “The general idea behind what motivated people to do the action was that young people are not being represented in Congress – that congressional politics are not taking care of young people’s futures from an environmental and social angle,” Macko said. “The idea was not to stop the budget process or to change the outcome of the budget. The intention was to demonstrate to young people that we are allowed to stand up for what we think is right and to stand against what we think is morally wrong.”
“We were talking about a general need for the government to represent the people of America,” Rowe said. “Immediately, everyone at the conference knew what had happened and that nine students were able to do this. It raised the level of the conversation at Powershift.”
While their trip to Washington has concluded, the students hope for more action in the future. “This won’t be the only thing Congress hears from us,” Finkle said. “And we aren’t meant to come off as crazy. We were doing what we think is right … Civil disobedience is an accessible thing that people shouldn’t rule out as only what crazy hippies do.”
The four arrested students from the College will be speaking on Friday at 4 p.m. in Henze Lounge. They hope that other members of the College community will want to support them financially for legal fees after hearing their story.