After Divestment

Most of us come to Harvard with some determination to change the world, one way or another. Last year that determination was a visible force, seen in the green patches that blossomed on bags as students across the undergraduate and graduate campuses joined together to push for Harvard Management Company to divest from Sudan. That movement succeeded. Although the Harvard Corporation may never explicity state that student opinion influenced the decision, Harvard did divest from PetroChina, then the most egregious known cooperator with the Sudanese government.

The PetroChina shares and green patches may be gone this year, but the students and the idealism of the Harvard Darfur Action Group (HDAG), a leading voice for divestment, continue to fight for justice in Sudan. Divestment was a good thing, but it didn’t finish the job. Since last spring, HDAG has received an infusion of new members from groups that had focused solely on divestment. People are still suffering and dying daily, and until the genocide stops, HDAG will have work to do. The crisis conditions resulting from more than two million displaced persons must be relieved, and the structural safeguards to protect returning refugees must be implemented. Harvard’s divestment was a first step in this direction, but if Harvard’s divestment is to mean anything, it must be followed by a cascade of divestments and moral declarations from responsible institutions across the country.

Our advocacy will continue by encouraging governmental and academic entities to divest from companies that do business with the Khartoum regime. Universities and state pension plans frequently hold significant investments connected to Darfur, but once made aware of the investments, many investors have been shown to be willing or even eager to part with them. The state of Oregon and Stanford University, for example, have already divested, and legislation is pending in several other states. HDAG acts as a catalyst in this process, researching which companies merit divestment and which institutions have holdings in those companies. Passing this information to decision makers, students, and constituents incites action to divest, building Harvard’s initial action into a national movement.

While diminishing the resources of the ruling Sudanese government helps scale back the genocide, the effects of these efforts will be a long-term decline in the killing. In the meantime, the situation on the ground requires direct physical and financial attention. The enormous number of refugees in Sudan and Uganda need food and water, and without physical protection of some sort they will not be able to return to their homes. Thus far, the African Union (A.U.) has taken the lead in putting troops on the ground. To help finance the A.U. effort, HDAG raises funds for the Genocide Intervention Fund (GIF). It raised over $7,000 through its innovative Swipe for Darfur campaign and other donations during the last three months of the spring semester. This year, HDAG plans to adopt a refugee camp as a focus of humanitarian fundraising.

While donations and divestments directly impact the situation on the ground, in the end these are no more than reactive, stop-gap measures. Monetary aid does provide real help to those in need, and provide it faster than the speed of political change, but alone can only mitigate effects and has difficulty reaching the root causes of genocide. Wouldn’t it be better if such efforts were never necessary at all? If genocide prevention were the norm, rather than the exception? This is the ambitious thought behind HDAG’s newest initiative.

This year HDAG and GIF together will launch a nationwide anti-genocide constituency under the new banner of the Genocide Intervention Network. The constituency will be a group of people who collectively declare that genocide is an issue important enough to determine their voting habits and their political donations. By recruiting new members into this constituency and giving them the tools to pressure their representatives, we will finally create the political incentive for politicians to prevent and halt genocide. Knowing that hundreds or thousands of such dues-paying members are living and voting in each member’s district gives even the most reluctant congressperson reason to act.

This, then, will be real change. Stretching a little bit, you might think of it as an effort to end genocide as we know it. It will take time and energy, but if the students of this university can fill Sanders Theater for theoretical Justice, surely we can find time to work on real justice. Ending genocide is real enough for me.

John A. La Rue ’07 is a government concentrator in Quincy House. He is a press officer of the Harvard Darfur Action Group.