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After Providence, R.I. became the first American city to divest from companies linked to Sudan last week, a student at Brown University—who helped organize the city’s divestment movement—said he hopes the decision will prompt other cities to do the same.
The national drive towards divestment was ignited in 2004 by Harvard’s campaign for University divestment from the oil stock PetroChina, a company involved with the Sudanese government’s ongoing genocide in the western region of Darfur. Since then, other universities and even states have pulled their funds from companies tied to Sudan.
Although Cambridge city councillors said there are currently no formal plans for the city to follow Providence’s lead and begin a national trend of city divestment, at least one councillor expressed interest in looking into the possibility.
Cambridge holds stock through its pension fund, but city officials said they could not yet determine whether any part of that fund is invested directly or indirectly in companies tied to Sudan. And Harvard students campaigning for an end to the genocide said they would support a move to divest if city officials discover these connections.
Scott Warren, the Brown freshman who worked closely with Providence Councilmen David Segal and Miguel Luna in developing the divestment legislation, said that the move has a significant symbolic effect beyond its monetary impact. A member of the national organization Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, Warren had conducted extensive research and lobbied to bring about Brown’s divestment in February before assisting Providence councilmen with the city’s divestment.
“We wanted to make a precedent by becoming the first city to divest,” Warren said.
Describing the press the city’s action has generated, Warren said that cities can play a role in the divestment movement by generating awareness about the situation in Darfur.
“It lends more validity to the whole divestment movement and provides more momentum,” he added.
Cambridge Councillor E. Denise Simmons, who said that Cambridge “has always been on the front line” of progressive issues—even national ones—said she could “see Cambridge following in support” of Providence’s move to divest. Cambridge generated national press when it became the first city in the nation to issue same-sex marriage licenses, and the council has routinely passed resolutions condemning the war in Iraq. In 1989, the council passed a resolution prohibiting the city from financially supporting companies complicit in South African and Namibian racial segregation.
Last month, in a move that activists said reflects the impact of the growing divestment movement on the Sudanese government, Sudanese Ambassador Khidir Haroun Ahmed posted an open letter on the government’s website calling for the end of divestment because of its “negative impact” on “the people of Sudan.”
Benjamin B. Collins ’06, a member of the divestment committee of the College’s Darfur Action Group (DAG), said that Cambridge’s divestment “would be a great idea.”
“It shows another group taking ownership of the Sudan issue and using their money to express a political and moral stance,” he said. “It’s an example that people really care.”
Rebecca J. Hamilton, a co-founder of DAG who is also founding an anti-genocide non-governmental organization, said her group has been focusing on Massachusetts state divestment because the “financial implications are much greater at the state level,” but she added that the city’s divestment could further the cause.
Hamilton, a Harvard graduate student, said, “The government of Sudan has never spent any of the money it has on helping the Sudanese people. It’s clear they’re starting to feel the divestment.”
“Harvard took the lead but it’s the states that are having the big financial impact,” she added, noting that city divestments may “help keep [state divestment] on the agenda.”
—Staff writer Anna M. Friedman can be reached at email@example.com.
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