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Saturday, March 9, 2024
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AU student arrested with Sunrise Movement protesters at Biden campaign headquarters

“Everything is at stake right now”

When American University student Maddie Young attended a protest with the Sunrise Movement at President Joe Biden’s campaign headquarters on Feb. 12, she did not expect to be held in jail for 10 hours. 

Young, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, traveled to Wilmington, Delaware with a group of members of the AU Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate justice organization, as well as other young people from across the country. 

Around 100 demonstrators arrived at Biden’s HQ in Delaware around 9 a.m. with a list of demands for Biden: declare a climate emergency, pass a Green New Deal, call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and end U.S. funding of Israel. The activists held signs and chanted, sang and told stories of how climate change has impacted them. 

“[Biden] made promises to young people that voted for him and he has not kept those promises. He owes us a better future and is actively making decisions that aren’t going to get us there,” Young said in an interview with The Eagle. 

The protesters divided themselves into two teams — red and green — before arriving. Members of the green team stayed outside of the building with no risk of arrest and the red team went inside, knowing that they would likely be arrested, according to Young.  

Young was one of 21 protesters who entered the building and blockaded the campaign office’s doors in an attempt to speak with the campaign team about their demands, according to Inside Climate News. After about an hour, they were arrested and brought to the Wilmington Police Station, where they were held for 10 hours, according to Young. A group of the green team was waiting outside the station upon their release. Young said the whole day was “very emotional.”

Shiva Rajbhandari traveled from North Carolina to participate in the action, where he is a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a spokesperson for the National Sunrise Movement. Growing up in Idaho, he said he often felt alone and like he was the only one who cared about climate issues. Rajbhandari was arrested as part of the red team along with Young. 

In an interview with The Eagle, Rajbhandari described his arrest, which was filmed and posted on Sunrise’s Instagram. He recalled a specific moment while being taken outside of the building through the elevator in handcuffs. As the elevator doors opened, he said he heard the other protesters singing. 

“I remember that fear of being arrested being washed away,” Rajbhandari said. “I joined them in song and I felt so sure that we were on the right side of history.” 

Young, Rajbhandari and the 19 other protesters arrested are facing charges of disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing of the second degree. A court date has not been set as of Feb. 29. They were also given no contact orders for the Brandywine building — where the Biden headquarters are located — according to Young and Rajbhandari. 

“I felt a moral authority in what 21 of us had done together because I feel like the moment that we’re in calls for something like this. I felt proud of what we did together,” Young said. 

Graciela Diffenbaugh is currently a part of AU’s Washington Semester gap year internship program and is the campaign lead for AU Sunrise. She attended the protest as part of the green team and was not arrested. 

Diffenbaugh said that going to Delaware for the action was a “genius location.” 

“The location was a big deal. We went to Biden’s headquarters. That’s a specific target,” Diffenbaugh said. “D.C. activism gets stuck in the loop of ‘We’re going to the White House, and we’re going to Congress, and we’re going to sit in on the senators.’”

While Biden passed the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022 and created the Climate Corps Program last year, Diffenbaugh said that it is not enough, though it gives them hope. 

“Seeing those tangible legislative changes happening gives me hope,” they said. “I’m a very hopeful person. I deeply believe that what we’re doing is impactful. It’s by no means certain but I have hope.” 

In April 2023, 1,124 AU students voted in favor of a referendum asking administrators to implement Sunrise Movement AU’s Green New Deal, 82.9 percent of the vote. Young was one of the core draft writers of the AU Green New Deal. 

Even though Young said this work can be difficult, she still finds joy in it. 

“I’m really grateful for the community that I was there with and ultimately got arrested with and went through that whole Monday with,” she said. “This is going to be something that I’m doing for the rest of my life … All of us are in this movement. It’s not just something that we want, but it’s something that we need, our communities need and the world needs.” 

Rajbhandari echoed this statement of urgency regarding the movement for climate justice. 

“The climate crisis is here. It is affecting all of us, especially the most vulnerable in our society. I would encourage everyone else to join me and Maddie in this fight. We are organizing and we won’t stop organizing until we win a Green New Deal and build a better world.” Rajbhandari said. “We’re going to continue escalating and holding President Biden accountable. Young people got him elected and if he wants to win, he’s going to need our vote and he’s going to have to fight for us.”

Correction: A previous version of this article quoted a source and said, “We’re going to sit on the senators.” This article has been updated to use the correct quote of, “We’re going to sit in on the senators.”A previous version of this article also referred to all of the protestors as “students.” Not all were students. The article has been updated to reflect that the demonstrators were “young people” or “youth.”

This article was edited by Tyler Davis, Zoe Bell, Abigail Turner and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks, Isabelle Kravis, Ariana Kavoossi and Sydney Kornmeyer.

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