Students and community activists working to address the climate and housing crises temporarily halted a major Ivy League football game on Oct. 22, drawing the attention of the sports world.
About 70 students, most from the University of Pennsylvania and others from Drexel and Temple Universities, and community activists organized by Fossil Free Penn blitzed the UPenn/Yale football game at Franklin Field at the end of halftime of the homecoming game. They crowded onto the blue and red letter “P” painted in the center of the field and refused to leave.
Demanding a time-out for the game, protesters displayed their demands to UPenn officials in black letters on three large orange banners: “DIVEST”; “pay pilots”; and “Save the UC Townhomes.”
The student and community protesters are calling on the university to divest its billions of dollars in endowment funds from fossil fuel assets. The fossil fuel industry is directly responsible for the climate change crisis, as well as for spreading false information and funding political corruption. FFP calls on UPenn to halt new investment in the fossil fuel industry, remove direct and blended stakes in the top 200 fossil fuel companies within five years, and reinvest some of the funds pulled out into clean energy assets.
The “pay pilots” (payments in lieu of taxes) Demand refers to “non-profit” UPenn being the only one Ivy League School that does not contribute to its hometown by voluntarily paying property taxes. While the university’s approximately $20.7 billion endowment and aggressive construction projects have resulted in a massive accumulation of land, this property is entirely tax-free.
According to an Oct. 2, 2019 editorial in The Daily Pennsylvanian, an independent student media organization, UPenn owns over $2.5 billion in tax-exempt property in the city. Activists want UPenn to contribute to an educational equity fund managed by the local school district and the city of Philadelphia.
The Save UC Townhomes demand concerns a nearby low-income condominium whose residents are at risk of eviction. For 40 years, UPenn worked with developers to evict black and brown Philadelphians from their neighborhood, then known as Black Bottom. UC Townhomes were originally built as affordable, secure housing for those initially displaced by university development in the 1970s and 1980s.
Now UPenn is noticeably silent, as the developers face exactly the same damage as the university half a century ago. This is what black displacement, white supremacy and racial injustice look like. After several eviction dates were postponed due to militant protests, residents of UC Townhomes now face evictions on December 27th.
On which side are you?
In keeping with the on-pitch protest, well-organized activists handed out flyers to sports fans in their seats, while their comrades held two additional orange banners over the second level railings. On one side of the field, a banner read, “We Demand Justice from Penn” and on the other, “Which side are you on?”
After 35 minutes, most of the demonstrators left the field under threat of arrest and were escorted out of the stadium. The remaining 19 protesters were handcuffed to a police van 30 minutes later as their comrades, who had left the field, gathered and chanted slogans until the police vehicle pulled away.
The activists then marched to the 40th and Chestnut police station, where they blocked the street for hours, gathering, chanting and chanting until all 19 arrested were finally released one by one. Everyone arrested was charged with “despite trespassing.”
FFP members had previously organized a protest break Speech by Penn President Liz Magill at the convocation of UPenn on August 29th for the 2,500 incoming students of 2026. (workers.org/2022/09/66534/) Dissatisfied with UPenn’s lack of response to their demands, FFP held a protest camp in the middle of UPenn’s campus from September 14th to October 24th.
The day after the game was suspended, FFP members and allies continued to organize and post on social media in support of the 19 arrested who were defending their charges and put together another protest scheduled for a 4pm university council meeting October 26 was scheduled.
FFP has published a statement “Why protest at a football game” which concludes: “If the university wants the protests to end, the answer is simple: act. Otherwise, expect resistance.”