Darfur activists step up protests

By Blake Rachowin

[img id=”80221″ align=”alignleft”] In the aftermath of the Board of Trustees’s decision not to divest from Darfur, students concerned with the University’s inaction have created a new organization to pressure divestment.

Prompted by differences in desired approaches to getting the decision reversed, a group of current and former members of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND), along with other student activist organizations, have formed the University of Chicago Coalition for Immediate Divestment (UCCID).

Although the groups have some overlapping members, the two organizations have opted to take markedly different approaches to communicating objections to the Board’s decision.

While STAND has been promoting continued dialogue between the Board and students regarding divestment, UCCID holds that intellectual discourse is no longer an effective means of achieving its desired goal.

“[As a group] we think that dialogue has probably failed and are trying other means of reversing the decision,” said Miranda Nelson, one of UCCID’s main organizers.

“STAND, on the other hand, is more concerned with opening channels of dialogue with the Board of Trustees,” she said.

“The coalition has made clear its sole goal of divestment, while STAND as an organization is committed to efforts to stop the genocide,” said STAND President Aliza Levine, also a member of UCCID.

“Divestment is one of our [STAND’s] goals, but we are also interested in fundraising, troop deployment, education, and a variety of other tactics,” she said.

The distinction in these approaches has been manifested in recent events held by the two groups.

On April 20, students from the UCCID organized a “teach-in” outside University President Robert Zimmer’s office to interrupt the daily proceedings of President Zimmer and other University employees.

“We wanted to disrupt business as usual,” Nelson said.

“We do not want them [University administrators] to be able to go about their daily lives until they listen to us,” she said.

Starting at 8:30 a.m., the group took refuge in one of the building’s conference rooms until they received threats of arrest from University officials.

Although they agreed to merely sit in the lobby of Zimmer’s office, they hung a banner reading “Divest Now!” from the fifth floor of the building.

Minutes later, administrators promptly removed the banner and again threatened legal action.

The group stayed until President Zimmer left the office at 4:15 p.m.

“We wanted to press and to embarrass the University because [we believe] they have ignored the student body in their decision,” said Daniel Benjamin, a former STAND member and another primary UCCID organizer.

“We don’t think the University is taking genocide seriously,” Benjamin said.

During events this week, STAND, as opposed to focusing on the divestment issue, is attempting to educate the University community on the various components of the genocide in a series of events named Global Days.

Scheduled events range from speakers to a candlelight vigil to a punk rock concert.

“Our goal for these events is to educate the University community about the real issues behind the genocide in Darfur,” Levine said.

“People have heard a lot about divestment, but not necessarily about the genocide itself,” she said.

The group initially planned to set up a model refugee camp throughout the week, but the plan was nixed for “logistical reasons.”

The University community on the whole has criticized these protests as both stubborn and ineffective given the firmness of the Board’s decision and the $200,000 it designated for research into the genocide.

Despite this criticism, however, Nelson and other UCCID leaders believe that their action is the only means of achieving any sort of reversal.

“I absolutely think we are being stubborn,” Nelson said.

“[But] I think we as students need to do whatever we can to make sure that our University divests. We made the right arguments, we explained clearly that the University is supporting genocide, and still, the University has not divested,” she said.

As for the future of divestment protesters on campus, both STAND and UCCID said that they will continue to pressure the Board to divest, despite University insistence that the decision was final.

“I can’t say how far we are willing to take the issue, but we will continue until there is an official reversal of the decision,” Benjamin said.