BOSTON—Chanting in Burmese, Harvard students and Bostonians came together yesterday afternoon in front of the State House to show solidarity with protesters who have taken to the streets against Myanmar’s ruling military junta.
Almost 100 demonstrators came to show support for a House bill that would force the state’s pension system to divest from companies with operations in Myanmar, formerly Burma. The bill, introduced by State Representative Byron Rushing ’64 (D-Boston), is presently being debated by state legislators.
The state pension fund is invested in Chevron Corp., which has operations in Myanmar, according to Rushing.
Harvard’s endowment is invested in Chevron as well. The University held 172,246 shares of the firm on June 30, according to its most recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. That stake would be worth $15.8 million today.
“We stand in solidarity with people risking their lives for what we consider basic rights,” Rushing told the crowd.
Rushing, who sponsored legislation in 1996 that banned the state government from doing business with companies tied to Myanmar, cheered Massachusetts’ role as one of the first U.S. states to support democracy in the southeast Asian country.
The law was later struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court as unconstitutional on the grounds that a state can not conduct foreign policy. [SEE CORRECTION BELOW]
If Rushing’s bill passes, it will require Treasurer Tim Cahill to disclose any other companies in the state’s portfolio with ties to Myanmar.
Yesterday’s rally began with a speech from the leader of the Harvard Burma Action Movement, a senior who uses the pseudonym “Shanti Maung” to protect family members still living in Myanmar.
“I was in Burma when the protests first started,” Maung told the crowd. “I had to see my friends go to the protests, fighting for their freedom and afraid for their lives.”
Later in the rally, a group of Buddhist monks draped in religious saffron robes began chanting to show solidarity with the Burmese people.
Off to the side, Maung held the Burmese flag while another demonstrator held up a picture of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has not left the country since 1988. In 1990, when she was under house arrest, the junta refused to recognize her party’s victory in the parliamentary elections.
Harvard alumni also attended the rally.
“I feel that as students from Harvard, we have an obligation to show that we care about issues outside the ‘Harvard bubble,’” said Elizabeth L. Hochberg ’07. “As students, we can work towards greater awareness and show our support for specific policies.”
Paul Brady—a student at the Law School who attended the rally—said he co-founded the HLS Burma Campaign, a student group, this week to bring greater attention to the violence in Myanmar. “We’re law students, so if we don’t take notice when people are fighting for their rights, then who will?”
CORRECTION: The Oct. 5 news article "Students: No State Funds in Myanmar" incorrectly stated that the 1996 Massachusetts Burma Law was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 as unconstitutional on the grounds that a state cannot conduct foreign policy. In fact, the court ruled against Massachusetts on the grounds that a federal law imposing sanctions on Myanmar preempted state law.