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Northern Arizona U. Students Launch Sit-In as Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement Sweeps Country

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Students at Northern Arizona University, or NAU, are in the midst of a sit-in to call on their school to divest from fossil fuels. At least eight students have been arrested after they refused to leave a university building at closing time. Their protest is part of a national “Fossil Free” movement to pressure colleges to address the issue of climate change. For more, we’re joined by Michaela Mujica-Steiner, a senior at Northern Arizona University, and Karina Gonzalez, a graduate student in the NAU Forestry Department. Both were arrested during protests demanding fossil fuel divestment.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, now we turn to another student protest, this one taking place on the campus of Northern Arizona University, or NAU, in Flagstaff, where we did the broadcast on Thursday. So far this week, at least eight students have been arrested after they refused to leave a university building at closing time while staging a sit-in to call on the school to divest from fossil fuels. The protest at Northern Arizona University began earlier this week when some 150 students spent over 12 hours occupying the Student and Academic Services Building. The sit-in comes amidst a growing national movement on college campuses for fossil fuel divestment. Earlier this month at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, about three dozen people were arrested after launching a similar sit-in. And at Columbia University, students occupied Low Library, demanding University President Lee Bollinger endorse fossil fuel divestment.

Well, on Thursday here in Arizona, I spoke with two coordinators of the “Fossil Free” protest at Northern Arizona University: Michaela Mujica-Steiner, a senior there at NAU, and Karina Gonzalez, a graduate student in forestry. They were among those arrested during the occupation. I started by asking Michaela to explain the action.

MICHAELA MUJICA-STEINER: So, this action is part of a larger national escalation that is happening across campuses to get universities to divest from the top 200 coal, oil and natural gas corporations. Specifically, we are taking this action to get our president, Rita Cheng, to come out with a formal public statement in support of full fossil fuel divestment.

AMY GOODMAN: Karina Gonzalez, what has the president of NAU here said from the beginning? And who actually makes the decisions here?

KARINA GONZALEZ: Yeah, that’s a really great question. She actually hasn’t said very much on the issue, in general. Though we have met with her in the past, she hasn’t officially yet taken a stance on fossil fuel divestment, which is—

AMY GOODMAN: In those meetings, what has she said?

KARINA GONZALEZ: She said that she would like more information on the finances of fossil fuel divestment, which we have presented to her. So, one of the bigger issues that this movement is dealing with is a 200-year-old mindset that fossil fuels are a good investment, which is frankly no longer true.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the companies that you want NAU, Northern Arizona University, to divest from, Michaela?

MICHAELA MUJICA-STEINER: Yeah. So, that information, the specific companies, is actually not public information, because the NAU Foundation is a private entity.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain. A lot of places don’t have—

MICHAELA MUJICA-STEINER: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —a university foundation, but you do.

MICHAELA MUJICA-STEINER: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: NAU Foundation.

MICHAELA MUJICA-STEINER: Yes. So, the NAU Foundation is a private entity that makes investments for Northern Arizona University, and it is a private entity. It is a private, nonprofit corporation. And so, a lot of information is not transparent to the public.

AMY GOODMAN: So, are you planning to continue this protest? And for how long?

MICHAELA MUJICA-STEINER: We plan to continue this protest until we get our demand met that the university president will come out with a statement of support on fossil fuel divestment. And we believe that we can be persistent in this.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Bill McKibben, the co-founder of 350.org, who, when we had him on Democracy Now! recently, described how the fossil fuel divestment movement has grown over the years.

BILL McKIBBEN: We started this divestment movement, you remember, three years ago. And when we started, it was small. The first college to divest was Unity College up in Maine, whose endowment was, I think, under $10 million, maybe well under $10 million. In the past two weeks, the California state Legislature has to divested CalPERS and CalSTRS, two of the biggest pension—two of the 20 biggest pension funds on Earth. And then yesterday comes the news, kind of out of the blue, that the UC system, you know, the iconic campuses at Berkeley and UCLA and Santa Barbara and Davis, beginning to divest at least from coal and tar sands oil. Their portfolio is not $10 million, it’s $98 billion. There’s a kind of just dramatic momentum behind this people’s uprising on climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Bill McKibben talking about the escalation of these protests. Finally, Karina Gonzalez?

KARINA GONZALEZ: This movement has seen incredible momentum, not only within the past few years, but within the past few months and weeks. In the past three weeks, 62 students across the nation have gotten arrested because of this movement. And this is just a small example of what is happening not only across the nation, but across the world, which is incredibly exciting to see and also demonstrates how much power students and young people really have.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s forestry graduate student Karina Gonzalez and women and gender studies undergraduate Michaela Mujica-Steiner, both students at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. They were both arrested this week, calling on their school to divest from fossil fuels.

And this is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’re broadcasting from Tucson, Arizona. When we come back, though, Sunday is May Day. Stay with us.

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