Students march around campus protesting Willow Project

Students gathered outside the Student Union to protest the Willow Project, a recently approved oil drilling project in Alaska. Protest organizers gave speeches to the crowd, which was followed by a noisy march around the center of campus.

Students march around campus protesting Willow Project

On Thursday, April 6, junior comparative literature student Nora McClellan was one of around a hundred students gathered outside of the Student Union to protest the recently approved Willow Project. 

“We need all hands on deck,” said McClellan, “This is a massive f****** problem.” As she spoke, the growing crowd in the center of campus chanted: “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! The Willow Project has got to go!” 

Sophomore environmental science major Brendan Post stepped up on a rock wall to address the crowd. “Here we are, a couple weeks after some infuriating news from the White House,” he said. Biden has approved the Willow Project, a 30-year oil drilling project in Northern Alaska, “on some of the last untouched land this planet has to offer,” he said. 

Brendan Post speaks to the crowd.

Post is a member of Sunrise UMass, the group that organized the protest last Thursday at 12 p.m. 

Students gathered outside the Student Union to listen to members of the Sunrise movement speak. The crowd cheered for the speakers, holding signs saying things like “stop fueling the fire” and “the climate is changing, why aren’t we?” 

Sunrise member Sebastian Armstrong spoke into a megaphone and led the crowd from the Student Union, past Worcester Dining Commons, and back past the Integrative Learning Center. 

As everything else on campus proceeded business-as-usual, the crowd made lots of noise, chanting and marching through the center of campus. “This is what democracy looks like!” they chanted together. 

The goal of the strike was for students to raise their voices against further oil drilling projects, Post said. 

“I don’t expect that our protest will be the one that moves the needle and makes Biden reconsider… But I think that what is important is that we get people informed about what’s going on,” said Jack Minella, president of Sunrise UMass. 

Students march past the ILC.

Post said that he wants UMass to show its disapproval of the Willow Project and further oil drilling. UMass prides itself on being a sustainable school that will be committed to powering the entire campus with renewable energy by 2032, he said, “but that means nothing if the rest of the world isn’t. If we really are a school that commits to mitigating climate change, then I would like a statement from UMass disapproving of the Willow Project,” said Post. 

McClellan said that students and the younger generation need to fight against the Willow Project and further policies that do not promote sustainability. She said that even if students can’t join the national Sunrise Movement or the movement at UMass, there is still action they can take to fight against climate change. 

Sophomore resource economics major Angel Silverio attended the protest on Thursday to make his voice heard in the fight against climate change. He described the Willow Project as “a slap to the face” and proof that the government does not have the people’s best interests in mind. 

“Think about what you want your future to look like,” he said, calling students to take action against projects and policies that impact our future. 

“We can’t see the change that we want to see unless we make our voices heard,” Silverio said. Protests and activism, like Thursday’s demonstration, are going to occur more and more in the future as the climate crisis worsens, he said.

Students march around campus protesting the Willow Project.

Sunrise UMass is part of a national movement called the Sunrise Movement. This is the first protest that the UMass group has organized since COVID, but Minella said that they plan on having another protest this spring. 

Minella recognized that there is so much negativity and a lack of hope in the fight against climate change. “One of the things Sunrise really prides itself on is that a movement cannot be sustained on just negativity alone. It needs the passion and the inspiration that was brought about by an event like today,” he said. 

The Willow Project was approved by the Biden Administration last month. Last week, a federal judge in Alaska also declined to block the project. Weeks before Biden’s approval, the White House received over 1 million letters protesting Willow, along with a petition that gained over 5 million signatures. 

Post acknowledged that the Willow project has already been approved and will likely happen despite the backlash. The Army Corps of Engineers can still veto the decision, he noted, because the group has to approve a permit request for the project to continue. 

Post criticized the fact that the Biden Administration takes a progressive stance on some issues, while still approving of oil drilling. “You can’t half commit to saving the world,” he said. 

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