Divestment Groups Plan More Public Activism
Second in a series on Harvard's investments in companies with South African operations. Today: student protest of Harvard's investment policies. Next: the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility.
SEVEN YEARS AGO, 3500 students filled Harvard Yard, carrying torches, pickets and bullhorns, dreading that Harvard divest of its stock in corporations that do business in South Africa. Hundreds of people camped out on the steps of University Hall. Activists swarmed around President Bok when he crossed the Yard, refusing to let him into his Massachusetts Hall office and forcing him to set up shop in Holyoke Center.
Two years ago, campus activists opposed to Harvard's policies organized rallies that drew hundreds. They founded a novel and successful alternative senior gift fund called that Endowment for Divestiture--money from which will not go to Harvard until it divests. And about seven students staged a brief hunger strike to protest Harvard's South Africa-related investments All those moves attracted substantial attention from news organizations across the United States and in South Africa.
While the level of campus activism on the divestment issue has receded from the heights of 1983, Harvard divestment activists hope the appearance of the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson at a student-led rally in April (see story, page one) will rejuvenate a movement that has in the past decade been a focal point of vigorous student protest.
"We plan to cause enough fuss this spring to bring this issue back unto the national press agenda," says Damon A. Silvers '86, member of the Southern Africa Solidarity Committee (SASC). "The spring of '85 is going to see the campus divestment movement going into full-court press," adds Michael T. Anderson '83-84, a member of Harvard Law School's divestment committee and a founder of the Endowment for Divestiture.
WHILE A WAVE of protest against the racist, oppressive South African regime has gathered strength across the nation over the last six months. Harvard's roughly $565 million of investments in companies with South African operations continue to come under particular attack from students.
Harvard argues that its policy for dealing with such investments is sound and ethical. The University requires its portfolio companies with South African operations to sign the Sullivan Principles and Tutu Principles, which call for reforms in the workplace and active opposition to apartheid laws to improve the status of Black South Africans.
If these companies fail to sign or live up to the policies, Harvard enters into so-called intensive dialogue with them, demanding to see if they are working "seriously" to institute reform. If they refuse to give such information, Harvard will divest of the stock. Last month, Harvard announced the first instance in which it had divested of a stock because the company failed to provide such information, and also announced that, after pressing them, 11 companies had adopted Harvard's ethical standards for their South Africa dealings.
Further, Harvard argues that complete divestment would be an inappropriate step for the University to take as an institution devoted to education, and that it would be an ineffective way to battle apartheid because divestment would have only limited and symbolic value. President Bok has repeatedly told divestment activists that they should focus their efforts on getting the federal government to ban American investment there instead of on Harvard's relatively small investment portfolio.
Divestment activists retort that however much American corporations do to improve the liver of the fewer than I percent of the country's Black workers they employ, they contribute directly to the apartheid state. American companies, they say, sell the white minority regime the vehicles, fuel and electronic equipment it needs to enforce apauheid.
Moreover, the American presence lends credibility to the system, they say. And Harvard--through owning stock in such companies--directly helps buttress the lated system.
"South Africa is the premier acist police state in the world, and Harvard, through its investment portfolio, has a unique role in sustaining that system" says Jamin B. Raskin '83, a founding member of SASC.
As far as Bok's advice, SASC members and others insist that Harvard is worth pressuring, "Harvard is first and foremost an educational institution, the purpose of which is to inquire for truths. Nothing runs more counter to this ideal than supporting a country that operates on lies, on slavery and genocide," says current SASC member and Black Students Association Vice-President Anthony A. Ball '86. "We focus on Harvard because Harvard is a national issue ... and other schools care about what Harvard is thinking."
"American companies in South Africa are propping up a racist regime. In downtown Johannesburg, on one street you see a 'whites only' sign, and then on the next a Coke billboard," Ball says.
"We're not, as we're often accused, advocating divestment that would occur in a vacuum. Intend it has to be looked at in the context of a nation wide trend, Harvard's divestment would be a drop in the bucket, but no one would disagree that once you have a whole lot of drops in the bucket, it tips over," says Ball. "Neither are we calling for a quick fix, a cure-all for Apartheid that will alone cause a transferral of South Africa overnight. What we are saying is that Harvard can't shirk its responsibilitity to play a part along with individual church groups, states, and voters who are also awakening to responsibilities."
THE DIVESTMENT MOVEMENT at Harvard was born in 1972, when 30 Black students occupied Massachusetts Hall for a week in an attempt to force Harvard to sell $21 million worth of Gulf Oil stock. Gulf at the time had operations in the then-Portuguese colony Angola, and students said Harvard's investments constituted direct support for colonization of Africans because Gulf paid taxes to the white Angola, regime. In response to that and other protests, Bok formed the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR), a 12-member body composed in equal parts of students, faculty and alumni, to give Harvard non-binding recommendations on ethical issues.
Even since, divestment has been one of the most hotly pursed campus political issues. "It not that students are not sympathetic to the situations in Central American or of Soviet Jewry, the difference is that in the case of South African apartheid, American corporate investments prop up a system, and only corporate disengagement will let democracy come to, South Africa," says Raskin, now a first-year student at the Law School.
"It's ended up where helping Black South Africans means advancing our own battle for self-determination within the university community," says Anderson.
From the perspective of some 17 years in his University Hall office, Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III says that "although students send to be more conservative these days, on issues of equal justice and fair treatment, like opposition to apartheid, they still seem remarkably progressive."
While earlier activists tended to rely largely on slogans, today's group tends to be more pragmatic willing to make a case on the works of the issue, adds Epps And while the goal of the movement hasn't changed over the years from advance of year from advocacy of total divestment members say that this spring tactics are shifting, away from behind the scenes efforts and more into public demonstrations which they hope will attracts more students support.
"We have as we for ACSR imports," says Silvers, noting that body's 6-5-1 vote last spring in favor of complete divestment. That marked the first time a plutality of ACSR members had over come out in favor of divestment which organizers called a major victory for the cause.
SASC rally coordinator Evas O. Grossman '87 says that the movement wasn't able to develop as bread a beer as broad during the scenes" effects. "On the one hand, we suceeded in getting the ACSR to recommend complete divestment. On the other hand, fewer students were made aware of the goals and principles behind calling for total divestment. This year, while we will plan to put large amount for pressure on the University through the Endowment for Divestiture, we also feel it's very important to educate students as to why we feel Harvard should divest."
Grossman adds that one of SASC's major efforts this spring will be to circulate leaflets that are "substantative, that counter the University on every argument they have against divestment."
In the past, the campus movement had been so small that it had to split its time between agitation and education, members agree. But so far this spring, members say, the movement has been gaining momentum and strength, not just among undergraduates, but in the various Harvard graduate schools.
Pro-divestment groups have spring up for the first time at the Law School, Medical School, the Kennedy School of Government and the Graduate School of Education.
In addition, student leaders say that they are encouraged by support from faculty and alumni, including the recent pre-divestment statements from a coalition of Mack administrators and faculty, the United Ministries, and graduates who are organizing an alumna divestment movement.
As of the week, a number of campus groups have formed the Harvard-Radcliffe Coalition for divestment in support of the April 4 Rally. A tentative list of coalition members includes the Democratic Club, the International Development Forum, and the Asian American Association. Organizers of the April 4 rally are hoping that members will reflect the revival of the divestment issue and the diversity of support that they feel the movement is starting to receive at Harvard sad nationwide.
"We want to make it known that students, faculty and alumni will not stand idly by while Harvard profits from immorality," says Ball.