Coke’s future on campus hinges on vote

By Mimi Yang

By the end of spring quarter, students will know whether University-run dining and food facilities will continue to provide Coca-Cola brand products in the upcoming year. Both Coca-Cola supporters and members of the Campaign to Kick Coke Off Campus anxiously await the decision that will be the culmination of two contentious years of student activism.

The campaign against Coca-Cola is spearheaded by two previously existing campus organizations: Students Organized and United with Labor (SOUL) and the Environmental Concerns Organization (ECO), whose members were concerned by what they saw as human-rights violations perpetrated by Coca-Cola and its affiliated factories in India and Colombia. Although the Campaign to Kick Coke Off Campus has no official hierarchy, Miranda Nelson, a fourth-year, and Alex Moore, a third-year, are among its leaders and most outspoken members.

Nelson explained that, in part, the campaign was inspired by the success of students who campaigned to kick Taco Bell off campus in 2002. In that campaign, members of the Anti-Sweatshop Coalition sought to address the poor conditions to which Taco Bell’s farm workers, specifically the tomato pickers, were subject. The students tabled in front of Taco Bell, then located in Hutchinson Commons; held a Town Hall forum; and collected signatures from students and members of the community. Within six months, administrators announced that a replacement vendor would take over Taco Bell’s location.

After the University replaced Taco Bell, another 20 universities and high schools removed existing Taco Bell franchises or prevented them from coming on campus. “We think we can make the same difference,” Moore said of his efforts to ban Coca-Cola.

In addition to organizing protesters and speakers on campus, campaigners approached the Campus Dining Advisory Board (CDAB), which has jurisdiction over the University’s Aramark-run dining locations. CDAB consists of six students, three from the Inter-House Council (IHC) and three from Student Government (SG). Five or six University staff members and representatives from Aramark also attend their meetings. “We asked them, tell us what information you need to make a decision,” Nelson said. CDAB requested that they collect a petition with at least a thousand signatures and obtain consumption numbers for Coca-Cola on campus, according to Nelson.

During winter quarter, the Campaign to Kick Coke Off Campus collected 1,108 student signatures. “The signatures represented an educated group of students, we felt,” Nelson said. “We talked to each student and answered all questions. We had conversations with the people…. You don’t want to until you hear what’s wrong with the company. Most people did sign because we persuaded them that Coke was wrong.”

Originally, CDAB was to vote on the issue during a meeting on Monday, May 14, but that vote was postponed when members of the committee requested time to gauge support for the measure in their respective constituencies, IHC and SG.

According to IHC president and third-year Dwight Carswell, a vote was held Tuesday night to help the three IHC representatives on CDAB come to a decision on how to vote in that committee. IHC rejected the proposal to ban Coke by a vote of 15–8, with six representatives who had their voting rights suspended due to poor attendance unofficially voting 3–3.

Carswell described the vote as “fairly representative,” noting that council members were encouraged to invite members of the Campaign to Kick Coke Off Campus to speak to their houses during house council meetings. When asked about his experience in speaking to individual houses, Moore responded that the campaign spoke at no more than seven houses and that in some instances, the IHC representatives were hostile or had poorly represented the campaign to the council before they arrived. However, both he and Nelson noted that many students were open to their presentations and had questions for them afterward.

The Campaign to Kick Coke Off Campus has also complained about an air of general hostility from SG. Ryan Kaminski, a second-year College Council (CC) representative and a member of CDAB, said he initially tried to act as a facilitator between campaign members and SG but has been frustrated that SG has yet to issue a consistent response to the campaign’s requests.

The campaign was slated to make its case to CC on April 19, but the day before the presentation, an incident occurred between a CC representative and a Campaign to Kick Coke Off Campus member. Moore sent out an e-mail on May 2 to SG members to detail the incident and explain why the campaign no longer felt comfortable working with SG. However, CC president Scott Duncombe removed the specific incident from the copy of the e-mail distributed to SG members to protect the individuals’ privacy.

But the e-mail did not contain the names of either individual, Nelson said. While neither name was divulged in the e-mail, “the member of our group approved the letter for distribution to the SG, so it’s not her privacy being protected,” Moore said. Instead, SG was interested in protecting itself, Nelson said.

In the deleted paragraph, Moore detailed how CC member Nicholas Rodman allegedly came into the student’s room and “shouting, threatened repeatedly to ‘rip campaign a new asshole’ at the CC meeting. Earlier in the day, the council member’s roommate recounted to this same student how he had asked the campaign member whether he would be willing to exchange ‘favors’ from the member of our campaign for his vote to remove Coca-Cola from the dining halls, which the council member had found very funny.”

According to Moore and Nelson, SG behaved inappropriately toward the anti-Coke campaign at other times, too. According to minutes of the April 5 CC meeting, member Abhery Das said, “We need fewer Indian people anyway,” referring to the anti-Coke campaign’s arguments of Coca-Cola’s activities in India. While there is a general consensus that Das’s remarks were made jokingly, Moore and Nelson nonetheless believe that they reveal CC’s general attitude toward the campaign.

Moore states in the letter, “College Council has not shown itself to be a safe place for members of our campaign to present and have our voices heard without being mistreated. We do not feel comfortable going before you for that reason.”

A town hall meeting is planned for Tuesday of ninth week, according to Andrew Stergachis, a fourth-year SG representative on CDAB. A national representative of Coca-Cola is scheduled to give a presentation and take questions, as is a representative from the national Killer Coke campaign. Afterward, an open forum is scheduled for students to voice their concerns, suggestions, and opinions in front of their SG representatives. Both Stergachis and Nelson voiced hopes that this forum will provide a chance to educate students rather than devolving into a protest.

CDAB is tentatively scheduled to vote on Thursday of tenth week. The decision will only affect Aramark-run locations, such as the dining halls and Maroon Market. Student-run coffee shops and the Subway in Hutchinson Commons would not be affected by a ban.