Environmental activist group protests by attempting to plant tree on campus

Lauren Grobe

After graduating from UT in 1971 as a Plan II major with a focus on environmentalism, Susan Lippman now spends her time participating in protests with the environmental activist organization Extinction Rebellion, or XR.

The Austin branch of XR led a “Week of Rebellion” in the days preceding Earth Day, which involved protesters gluing themselves to the doors of Chase Bank and, in Lippman’s case, attempting to plant a tree near the petroleum engineering building.  

Lippman was part of XR Austin’s April 22 protest of the University’s large investments in fossil fuels. She argued that the money could be used to lower tuition or pay a higher wage to graduate students. The protesters wanted to plant a tree somewhere on campus, but they were not allowed to bring shovels due to University policy prohibiting “the possession, use or display of … items that could be used as weapons, including but not limited to sticks, poles, clubs …”

Lippman, whose spade was not taken by police, still tried to plant a Mexican plum despite not having permission from the University. 

“I stuck my spade in the ground and just loosened up the dirt once, twice, and then a cop says, ‘Stop what you’re doing, drop that shovel,’” Lippman said, “Instinct took over and I dropped it.”


Lippman said she is personally connected to environmental activism in Austin since she attended the University in 1967. She was on campus for the first Earth Day in 1970 and said she took as many environmental science classes as she could.

Monica Bhatia, XR Austin member and UT graduate student, gave a speech during the Earth Day protest shedding light on the appointment of Kelcy Warren to UT System Board of Regents by Gov. Greg Abbott. Warren is the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, which was responsible for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“While this recent episode … signals Warren’s strong commitment to fossil fuels interests, he is not alone among UT System leaders and key decision-makers with ties to the industry,” Bhatia said.

XR Austin member Meagan Bluestein graduated from the University in 2017 and said she has been frustrated with the University’s support of the fossil fuel industry.

“We see a huge disconnect (in how) UT tries to promote itself as a progressive university, and yet they are also in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry,” Bluestein said.