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Harvard Divests | The Nation

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Harvard Divests

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In March the United Front for Divestment (UFFD)--a newly formed coalition of every student group engaged in the campaign--learned that the Harvard Corporation's Committee of Shareholder Responsibility would be holding a meeting on April 4.

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Sam Graham-Felsen
Sam Graham-Felsen was Barack Obama's chief blogger on the 2008 campaign. He writes and speaks on technology, politics,...

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The UFFD immediately began organizing a demonstration to be held outside the meeting, and members knocked on virtually every undergrad's door to drum up support. On the morning of the meeting, the first day back from spring break, UFFD members marched into Harvard's residential dining halls. Lawrence Adjah, the president of the Black Students' Association, boomed out a heartfelt message summoning other students to join the protest. By the time they reached Harvard Yard, around 300 students, dressed head to toe in black, stood in silence as the shareholder meeting took place.

At 10:30 AM, as the meeting commenced, the Harvard Corporation released an online statement: The university was planning to sell its PetroChina shares. "This decision reflects deep concerns about the grievous crisis that persists in the Darfur region of Sudan," the statement read. "Oil is a critical source of revenue and an asset of paramount strategic importance to the Sudanese government, which has been found to be complicit in what the US Congress and US State Department have termed 'genocide.' "

When Adjeh read the announcement out loud, the students rejoiced, and several of them broke down in tears. But some, like Mahan, were concerned that their demands had not been fully met. "It was a beautiful moment to see the promise of collective action realized," says Mahan, "but I began to wonder, What about the other companies?" He stresses that until Harvard discloses all of its Sudan-related investments and makes a commitment to divest from those as well, the divestment campaign will continue.

Harvard's divestment from PetroChina is nonetheless a major and unprecedented victory. Samantha Power said it was "the first week that anything tangible has been done that would cause the Sudanese government to think twice about their genocidal campaign." And coming from Harvard, with its immense symbolic stature, the decision to divest could cause a "snowball effect" at universities across America. Movements are already progressing at Boston College, Boston University, NYU, the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, Swarthmore, Tufts, Williams and Yale, and Harvard's organizers are being flooded with e-mail inquiries from activists eager to launch their own campaigns.

Back at Harvard, divestment activists are extending the fight beyond the university. The next step is to convince states to divest from the hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of Sudan-related stocks held in public pension funds. The website of this national campaign, started by students from Williams College working with Harvard activists--www.sudandivestment.com--prominently displays the message: "If not us, who? If not now, when?"

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