Congressman, student protesters demand action from Trustees

By Mischa Fierer

“UChicago you can’t hide; you’re supporting genocide,” a crowd chanted yesterday during a march to demand that the University officially divest from Sudan. Congressman Bobby Rush (D-IL) led the march, which concluded with an attempted confrontation outside a meeting of the Board of Trustees at the Graduate School of Business (GSB).

The day began at 11:30 a.m. with a rally on the grassy traffic island at East 55th Street and South Ellis Avenue. Among those who spoke to the protesters were a pastor, Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND) Chair Aliza Levine, Representative Rush, and a Sudanese man. “We’re gonna stop the genocide in Darfur,” Rush said through a megaphone.

The speakers criticized the University from a moral perspective. “If you want to be a world leader, then get a world conscience,” said Father Michael Pfleger, a pastor involved with South Side human rights issues. Pfleger also said that the U of C’s investment staff is entirely white, and that this discrepancy skews its decisions.

Paul Robeson Ford, a divinity school graduate student, said that the University’s no-divestment decision is “an example of moral laziness.”

Students, community members, and assorted faculty attended the protest, which STAND and the Coalition for Immediate Divestment (CID) publicized over the past weeks with fliers and e-mails sent out to various listhosts.

After the speakers addressed the crowd, the protesters began to walk down East 55th Street to South Woodlawn Avenue. They then turned south and marched toward the GSB Harper Center. Students designated as “rally marshals” kept the march moving and chanted slogans as rain began to fall.

Chicago police officers stopped dozens of cars on East 57th Street and South Woodlawn Avenue so that protesters could pass. The policemen’s commander praised the protesters for working with police to minimize traffic disruptions.

A lieutenant with the CPD estimated that 15 to 20 policemen were present. Referring to Rush, he said, “It’s nice to have a representative here from the government to send a message—you know, me and you standing here don’t do much.” The policemen were there to ensure that the protesters were not “run over by cars,” according to one officer.

When they arrived at the Harper Center’s courtyard, Rush and the marchers found the doors locked. University administrators said that the decision to lock the doors had been made at the recommendation of the University’s police department during meetings concerning the U of C’s response to the protest.

“The University has locked the door on the people of the world,” Rush said. He went on to cite both Martin Luther’s and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s acts of protest, symbolically taping a list of theses to the locked glass door of the GSB while security guards stood on the other side.

GSB security guards and others peacefully guarded the building, although it was not clear for whom some of the security guards worked.

One man dressed in a suit who carried a walkie-talkie and appeared to be helping organize security would not identify himself or his affiliation. Other security officers wore nametags and clearly worked for the University. One guard said that the doors had been locked so as “not to let outsiders disrupt classes.”

“I wish they had been more permissive,” said fourth-year Mike Pareles, CID member and former STAND co-chair, when asked about the heavy presence of security guards.

Pareles said that e-mails between himself, Levine, and Rush led to the representative’s participation in the march. Levine and Pareles considered the march an overall success.

Director of University Communications Larry Arbeiter and an assistant waited for the protesters at the GSB but did not talk to them. Arbeiter gave out copies of the Kalven Report and the University’s no-divestment press release to journalists.

Arbeiter said that he would “disagree” with STAND “on tactics” but that the march embodied the Kalven Report’s call for individual action. He noted that no other university has considered the Darfur crisis in such detail and that the U of C does not take positions on political issues largely because of the policy of non-involvement.

“We are not the critic,” Arbeiter said.

However, Levine and Rush said that they will continue their effort to change the University’s decision. “We’re not giving up on divestment,” Levine said.

Inside the GSB, some students expressed confusion about why the protesters demonstrated outside the doors.

At times during the protest, the crowd turned towards onlookers standing inside the building and repeatedly chanted “Shame!”

“Most GSB students live in a bubble of sorts,” said one student, adding that most are too busy to take up social causes. “ something people say they’ll do when they leave school.”

Another GSB student was angered by the apathy of his peers. He said that during the protest he had heard some students ask, “What’s going on in Darfur?” He said he was disappointed when he heard one student say, “Civil war is good because it’s necessary for a country to gain stability.”

The Maroon counted about 150 people present throughout the approximately 2-hour-long demonstration, although the organizers’ counts ranged from between 200 and 300 protesters. The police count varied between 75 and 200 people.