Jampaign 2016 IX: NYU Divest on The Art of Occupation

By Mandy Freebairn, Staff Writer

The past few days have been a whirlwind for NYU Divest, a student organization aimed at urging NYU’s Board of Trustees to divest from fossil fuel companies. The group’s members began occupying an elevator in Bobst Library at 8am on Monday, and stayed overnight despite the threat of disciplinary action from administrators. As a result of their efforts, Divest was able to secure 3/4 of the demands they made of the administration, which, in this columnist’s opinion, is an impressive feat. When I spoke to Divest’s Tessa Rosenberry on Tuesday afternoon, she and her fellow students were only just leaving the library after 33 hours of occupation. As her team rolled up signs and sleeping bags, we spoke about the occupation, artistic activism, and today’s primary election.

Jampaign 2016: There were two videos posted on Divest’s social media accounts showing members singing as administrators took their IDs the night of the occupation. Has music been an important tool in Divest’s activism?

Tessa Rosenberry: Yeah, it’s been really important. Music absolutely helps to build a sense of community and a communal effort that’s being put forth. It really keeps morale up, which is important considering the length of this occupation. I think singing definitely brings people together.

J: Your movement has been endorsed by Bernie Sanders—have you endorsed him back?

TR: No, we’re remaining a non-partisan campaign so far, but we totally appreciate his endorsement of us. We also endorse his views on climate issues—which are largely anti-fossil fuel—which is kind of what we’re fighting for.

J: Was the timing of the occupation planned to be close to the New York primary election?

TR: No, not exactly. I think a lot of political movement around organizing and with the election in general have kind of spurred our timing, but not specifically the election, no.

J: During the occupation there were a lot of creative signs and banners in the elevator. Was that something you all collaborated on?

TR: Yeah, we had an art-make the day before our occupation in the park—it was a beautiful day and lots of fun. It was kinda great to start building momentum around it.

J: Do you think that the art-make (and the signs themselves) helped attract people to ask what was going on?

TR: I like to think so, yeah. It made it more visible and a lot more exciting for people to be a part of.

J: NYU is a very creative community. What’s something that NYU students can do to incorporate their creativity into their activism?

TR: The posters and the other artwork themed towards our occupation were really, really important. But I also think creativity extends beyond just physical art—creativity around how to mobilize people, how to bring people together, how to portray our message and our views, and how to do that visibly is really important.

J: What’s your advice for other causes/movements that want to engage in the kind of disruptive action that Divest has done today?

TR: It’s really important to be very well prepared for these kinds of actions, and to have a strong message and a really strong support network. Without all these people supporting us, it wouldn’t have been possible.
Read the full timeline of Divest’s elevator occupation here.


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