Apartheid protests will include armbands and pickets todayOn this commencement day, guests to the Institute may be curious about the various forms of anti-apartheid protest that are in show.
The red armbands being worn today by many graduates and the picket at the entrance to Killian Court reflects the student and community support for the South African people's struggle against the oppression of Apartheid. More than 600 MIT students, faculty, and staff have already signed a petition calling for MIT's divestment. Divestment would require the withdrawal of all Institute funds now invested in companies that do business with the racist government of South Africa.
These actions are the latest in a series of efforts to educate the community of MIT's supportive ties with the apartheid government of South Africa. The first rally was held on April 24 in solidarity with universities nationwide to support the South African people's struggle. On May 13 the coalition held a second protest and listened to a member of the South African National Congress speak on the need for American divestment. He emphasized that because of MIT's prestige its decision to divest would command international attention and would be a strong signal to the struggling people of South Africa. He also offered to assist the Institute in locating financial guidance so that divestment would involve no financial burden.
We realize that persuading MIT to divest is an ambitious goal. Yet is is a goal that the black leaders of South Africa have asked us to pursue. As Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Laureate, has said, "We ask our friends to apply economic pressure. ... Our last chance for peaceful change lies in the international community applying political, diplomatic, and especially economic pressure. ... Any black leader who calls for economic sanctions is already guilty of treason under the Terrorism Act and subject to five years in prison for death. We have said as much as we can possibly say. We hope we have reasonably intelligent friends overseas who will know what we are saying."
To those who feel that these actions are inappropriate at a noteworthy occasion like commencement, we would like to answer that this is the only humanitarian alternative. We have pointed to the evil of apartheid. We have shown that American corporate ties to the apartheid regime only strengthen this evil. We have brought a representative of the victims of apartheid to the steps of this institution and he has reaffirmed the need for MIT's divestment from the supporters of this evil. We have gathered hundreds of signatures in support of this position. We have even pointed out that divestment is not likely to cost MIT one cent.
In response, there has been no answer to our arguments. The administration has unequivocally declared its refusal to divest. Paul Gray has stated that even if the vast majority of people in the MIT community were to state their support for divestment, he would not represent our position to the corporation as a viable option. The ultimate decision to divest lies with the corporation and though we may be 6000 strong, we have no voice.
Therefore we take our cause to the people. We call upon alumni, parents, students, faculty and staff to let your voice be heard. Do not feel embarrassed to express your freedoms in an effort to win the freedom of others. Stand up and march in our picket. Come to the coalition meetings. Organize to change MIT's policy. Work to end apartheid.
As seniors, many of us feel very strongly about this issue. At a time that is for most the last chance to evoke some change in the Institute, we would hope to replace the inhumane, short-sighted views of the administration with long lasting guidelines for socially responsible policy making. We ask that anyone who supports these ideals join us in our efforts.
Julian Joseph '85->
Steve Penn '85->