Members of activist groups Extinction Rebellion and Kochs Off Campus! gathered at the University of Arizona on Thursday, Oct. 28, to protest alleged funding of the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom by Charles Koch and related organizations. One individual was arrested in the Freedom Center.
Charles Koch is an American businessman and philanthropist. As of August 2021, he was ranked by Bloomberg as the 21st richest person in the world. He is the CEO and Chairman of Koch Industries, which specializes in the manufacturing of oil and was the largest privately held company in the United States in 2020.
These protests were associated with an UnKoch My Campus national day of action. According to protesters, Koch is involved in the funding of the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom at the University of Arizona and is using this funding to promote ultra-conservative and libertarian ideas.
At 9 a.m. on Oct. 28, members of Extinction Rebellion began a sit-in at the Freedom Center in the Social Sciences building on the UA campus.
“Koch and his allies were sowing doubt quite consciously about global warming and climate change as far back as thirty years ago; this is a documented fact,” said Patrick Diehl, a member of activist group Extinction Rebellion. “And one of their entities — there are many, many of them — is the so-called Freedom Center here in the school of Social and Behavioral Sciences, I guess. Even though I don’t think this particular center is directly promoting climate change denial, it does promote deregulation, which is a big problem at this point, obviously.”
At 9:10 a.m., UA students associated with these activist groups handed out flyers to students entering a classroom that was holding the Freedom Center course, “Ethics and Economics of Wealth Creation.” The flyer included six statements about alleged Koch involvement with the Freedom Center.
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By 10:30 a.m., only three activists remained in the Freedom Center, singing anti-Koch protest songs in an attempt to raise awareness for their cause. The activists were asked to take their singing and chanting outside by Freedom Center staff, but the activists refused and remained in the Freedom Center.
By 12 p.m., a University of Arizona Police Department officer was on the scene talking with representatives from the UA administration, including representatives from the department of communications and UA legal staff.
“So, I was informed that we had some protesters inside the building, typically they stay, stand outside and chant and sing and hand out flyers,” said Holly Jensen, vice president of communications at the UA. “We were made aware that they were inside the office and had been asked a few times to not disrupt the work flow, and so that’s why the police were called, but we have the Dean of Students here as well, the First Amendment advising them of their rights to be here, and as it stands now, we are letting them know they have a right to be here as long as they are not disrupting class or workflow. … The only thing they’re being asked not to do is to please not disrupt the workflow of the two people that are in that office currently.”
By around 1 p.m., only one activist remained and chose to remain in the Freedom Center until it closed.
“A little before 5 p.m. yesterday, Thursday, 10/28/2021, Patrick Diehl, Extinction Rebellion [XR] Tucson member, was arrested in a sit-in at the “Freedom Center” [FC] offices on the University of Arizona campus,” an Extinction Rebellion press release stated.
Around 20 to 30 members of Kochs Off Campus! and their allies later gathered at the intersection of Speedway Boulevard and Campbell Avenue from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., where they held anti-Koch protest signs, as well as signs calling for climate action.
“We’re trying to raise people’s awareness that the Koch Brothers, a very conservative group of people, are trying to influence students at the University of Arizona by funding the so-called ‘Freedom Center,’ which is basically gonna promulgate libertarian ideas, and they are. We don’t feel it’s appropriate for this kind of private money to be able to control the curriculum [for] the students. That’s up to the state, the people of the state of Arizona, not up to people who have money and are willing to pay for people to promulgate their ideas,” said CJ Jones, an activist attending the protest at the intersection of Speedway and Campbell.
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