in things dug cares about,

Columbia Unversity, NYC, April 1985

dug dug Follow Apr 11, 2024 · 4 mins read
The Coalition for a Free South Africa planned the blockade for nearly two months. A week beforehand, seven leaders began a fast to demonstrate their commitment to the cause. When they met with Columbia administration a few days later to ask what they had to do to win the support of the trustees, the administration answered “keep on fasting.” Not only did the CFSA keep on fasting, they escalated their push.

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…In late August, the panel returned a result that confirmed the student’s position — that divestiture was not only the moral option, but an economically viable one as well…

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Long story short, in 1985, the protest worked. Columbia’s fund managers divested.

I didn’t chain myself to the gates of Mandela (Hamilton) Hall, but the movement was based on a such a strong narrative that by graduation we were all wearing the colours and the movement to impel the university’s trustees to divest in South African stock felt almost universally supported by the student body.

1985 — 2024

So here we are again, Hamilton Hall has been occupied, and at least at the start of the protest, students are demanding trustees divest stock from a country that concentrates a people in a large encampment and severely restricts their human rights.

Quite a few things are different this time.

Is there an enemy?

For starters, where in 1985 there was a clear narrative of “being on the right side of history” (similarly to 1968) - basically, you were either with “the man” or with “the kids” - in 2024 the issue is less binary and more nuanced.

The only people challenging divestment back then were parents and white men in suits who ran the money. Not a tough decision to pick what side to be on.

But in today’s protest it’s not the kids against The Man, it’s groups of young people being asked to take sides in a conflict where peoples and nations and ethnicity intersect. This is made more even challenging by a decade of neo-liberal poison and culture wars:-(

I don’t know who’s in charge, but forcing a University’s investment fund to change its behaviour seems like a realistic ambition. But making a lot of noise in the loosely-defined hope that one or other foreign power base will start or stop doing something feels almost pointless.

This puts the protesters in proxy position for a proxy conflict nobody needs:-(

Disgusted with CU leadership

As an alum, I get mailers from the university. When these protests started, these started coming thick and fast.

On the whole I think they are mostly disgusting.

Here’s an update from 2 May:

The disciplinary process is underway. The occupiers violated various University policies, but more importantly, they broke the law. Actions have consequences.

My blood boils:-(

Or this:

Hamilton Hall has been cleared of those who occupied it, and the protesters in the encampment on the West Lawn and two other smaller ones have left and materials have been removed.

So the armour-plated bulldozers have cleared the encampments?

To be clear—those who were in Hamilton Hall were occupiers, not “peaceful protesters.”

Fuck right the fucking hell off you fucking fascist:-(

The whole point of non-violent protest or even protest more generally, is that it is supposed to disrupt. If it doesn’t disrupt, it gets ignored.

President Shafik states that University reps were in discussions day and night with the protesters and that “the university made a sincere and good offer, but it was not accepted”. History tells you, President Shafik, that you could have ended it by saying you would demand the trustees evaluate the process of divesting.

If anyone knows what that offer was, I’d be curious to hear.

Safe for everyone?

When kids at the Sorbonne in 1968 decided to build barricades and dig up cobblestones and get beat up by CRS safety was not their primary concern. Sometimes people choose to take risks.

The university leadership is using the language of control, trying to sell us a narrative that our children’s safety is more important than any 18th century ideal of liberty or justice.

Yes, being assaulted on campus is shocking and outrageous and wrong. As is racism or racist behaviour generally. But using the mantra of “welcoming and safe for everyone” as an excuse for police state behaviour is just wrong.

The wrong choices

Early on in the demonstration, Columbia’s leadership used their power to undermine protest.

Using the threats of expulsion, of losing housing, education, or even the ability to graduate to coerce students to stand down is just wrong on more levels than I can get my head around.

Here’s a helpful article on what it means to protest while vulnerable

Frankly at this stage, the whole leadership, starting with the President who sits in the House of Lords, needs to resign and a new class of leader needs to be found to rekindle the values the university was founded on.


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Hiya, life goes like this. Step 1: Get out of bed. Step 2: Make things better:-)