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UNC student arrested at climate protest at Biden campaign headquarters


Photo Courtesy of Sunrise Movement.

On the morning of Feb. 19 — Presidents Day and a national day of action for the Sunrise Movement — a white banner hung over Polk Place. 

“President Biden: lead or lose. Young people want climate action not genocide. Declare a climate emergency,” was written across it in black paint.

UNC first-years Shiva Rajbhandari and Drew Phaneuf helped plan the banner drop. The pair created the current UNC chapter of the Sunrise Movement, an organization of young people advocating to end  the climate crisis and enact a green new deal, last fall.

Just days before, on Feb. 12, Rajbhandari was arrested for trespassing and disorderly conduct while protesting at President Joe Biden’s campaign headquarters in Wilmington, Del.

The protest was organized by the national chapter of Sunrise Movement as a part of the organization’s Climate Emergency Campaign. The campaign includes demands for Biden to declare a climate emergency, divest from fossil fuels and create new jobs that benefit the environment. 

“What I've realized is that playing by the rules has not worked,” Rajbhandari said. “We have asked time and time again for this administration to uphold its promises to the young people who got President Biden elected, and they have failed to do so.”

National press volunteer Wei Zhou said that in addition to climate-related demands, the organization is also asking Biden to stop sending money from the United States to the Israeli government.

“Young people are agitated, and we are upset that our tax dollars, the money that we make for the government — for this country — are taken from us and used on something that we don't agree with,” they said

Zhou was a part of a group of protestors that stood outside of the campaign headquarters building. Zhou said they held a sign that read, “Biden: Lead or Lose" alongside other protesters with a range of signs, including some reading “Fund climate, not genocide.”

Rajbhandari said he felt betrayed by Biden’s inaction and thinks a lot of young people agree with him. He said he was inside the building, outside the campaign’s office, with a small group of volunteers who sang and cheered as a protest. 

“Well, I went down to Biden HQ and took back what he stole from me,” Rajbhandari sang. “And I took back my dignity, and I took back my humanity. Now, it's under my feet, under my feet, under my feet. Ain't nobody gonna walk all over me.”  

Rajbhandari said an officer approached the group and warned them that if they kept singing, arrests would begin. The group quieted for a second, he said, before someone beside him began to sing louder and the rest of the group joined in. 

For two hours, the group sang and chanted outside the Biden campaign’s headquarters, Rajhbandari said. According to the Sunrise Movement's Twitter page, 21 members of the movement were arrested at the site for trespassing and disorderly conduct. They were then held for 10 hours at a jail, Rajbhandari said. 

Phaneuf, who was also at last week’s protest, said he was nervous at the thought of getting arrested, but that he was reminded of the movement’s mission to preserve the environment for future generations. 

“I think that every single young person in the United States has a story of how they first heard about how really terrifying climate change is,” he said

Phaneuf said the goal of the UNC chapter is to advocate for University administration to take action on climate change issues, such as eliminating a coal plant associated with the University and no longer accepting school donations from fossil fuel companies. 

The Feb. 19 banner was removed around 9 a.m. by Facilities Services in accordance with the University’s Facilities Use Standard, UNC Media Relations said in an email.


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