Students March in Cambridge, BostonDemonstrators chanted "Death to Apartheid/Burn it to the ground" along Massachusetts Avenue last Thursday as approximately 100 students from MIT, Boston University (BU), Harvard University and Tufts University marched from the Cambridge Common to the BU Chapel.
A crowd of about 75 gathered on the Cambridge Common at 4:30 pm and started the three-mile trek to BU carrying picket signs, huge blanket posters and loudspeakers. The protesters chanted slogans and distributed literature to the public.
The demonstrators' slogans addressed all aspects of apartheid, from "Harvard, Tufts, MIT/Out of South Africa," to "Embargo South Africa/Not Nicaragua" to "Down with racist Reagan/Defender of Apartheid." Chants also included "GM, Ford, IBM/Out of South Africa" and "No draft, no war/US out of El Salvador."
The march stopped at the Julius A. Stratton '23 Student Center steps for a 15-minute rally.
"Here at MIT, the number of black freshmen this fall is roughly 40, a 50 percent drop in six years," said Arnold Contreras, a member of The Student. "For those black students in college, the number receiving financial aid has dropped 34 percent.
"Neither the sanctions in Reagan's executive order nor the Democrats' cosmetic alternative calls for black voting rights, neither calls for black majority rule, neither calls for equal wages for blacks and neither calls for the return of the gold, diamonds, silver, titanium, factories and fertile land to their rightful owners: the black toilers of South Africa," he said.
Contreras commented on a "Bush 1988" sign displayed in the window of the offices of The Tech: "I think that the nerve of them to display a Bush sign in their window exposes their own subtle support for the racist policies of South Africa."
"The display of the political sign in the window of The Tech was inexcusable," said Thomas T. Huang '86, editor in chief of The Tech. "I have made sure the people involved understand this in no uncertain terms. Speaking for the editorial board of The Tech, I would like to assure the MIT community that the display of the sign was an irresponsible act that should not be construed as an editorial position."
Contreras later estimated MIT's investment in companies with holdings in South Africa at $100 to $150 million based on an MIT Treasurer's Report. "Our newspaper, The Student, throws its heart and soul into the fight against US imperialism and racism, and we call for building the revolutionary student movement."
A member of the Marxist-Leninist Party spoke at the rally, saying, "Capitalism breeds racism. The whole system has to be redone before racism can be rooted out."
MIT professor speaks at BU rally
The march continued to the BU chapel where it attracted over 300 students. A series of speeches on racism in South Africa and Boston honored South African resistance leader Steven Biko.
Biko, founder of the South African Students Organization and the Black Peoples Organization, died Sept. 12, 1977, in Pretoria, South Africa, of brain damage caused by police brutality according to the demonstrators.
"We are winning because we are on the right side," said Melvin H. King, adjunct professor of Urban Studies and Planning. King pointed out changes in Massachusetts' policy toward South Africa such as the commonwealth's total divestment of holdings in South Africa in 1983.
He urged divestment, explaining that companies go to South Africa "for one reason and one reason only: to make money. If they can't make money there, they will leave.
"For them there's no sense of morality, no sense of justice," he said. "There's one thing only: greed .... What we do over here is heard over there. It's important that we continue to put the pressure on here."
"Black workers are paid 55 cents an hour" in South Africa, said Rebecca Chase of District 65, a BU clerical staff union. "Their cheap labor allows US corporations [that invest in South Africa] to survive worker strikes here at home."
Saki Makozoma, a South African BU graduate student, said he "was in prison, getting ready to go to work in the lime quarry when I heard the news that Steve [Biko] had died. Until you get rid of psychological oppression, you cannot attack physical oppression .... It's better to die on our feet than live on our knees."
Blacks still face discrimination in the United States in employment, educational loans, insurance rates, retail prices and housing, according to BU graduate student Michael Blackwell. "Racism is pandemic right here at home."
"Essentially it is just as repugnant and life-denying," Blackwell explained. "When bigots assume positions of power in major institutions, racism becomes rampant.
"In metropolitan Boston, seven out of ten blacks are refused housing on the basis of color alone .... Over 12 percent of the population is black. Yet on BU's main campus, less than two percent of the faculty is black," he concluded.
Several groups organized march
BU students began planning the march "about two months ago [when] we realized that the [anniversary of Biko's death] was coming up," said rally leader Steve Welch. "We sent out initial invitations to other groups." The march from the Cambridge Common to the BU Chapel via MIT was finalized after a general meeting on August 12.
The MIT Coalition Against Apartheid and The Student organized the rally at MIT, according to Scott Saleska '86, a coalition representative. The Coalition "had a booth at the Activities Midway and about 35 people signed up," he said. "It's part of an ongoing campaign of events to focus on MIT investment" in South Africa, he explained.
"The activists [at MIT] are relatively broad-ranging from all parts of the spectrum," he said. "Considering all the issues, people say that they have not seen activism like this in the last ten years."
The rally demonstrated "that there's still a lot of interest among the students in the Boston area in apartheid," said Todd Lee, a Harvard alumnus and another organizer of the march. "There hasn't been a city-wide demonstration like this for some time."
"You know you are succeeding when the opposition tries to coopt you," said Welch. He said that area university presidents are learning that "divestment is not a spring fever issue. It's growing in support.
"Now too much public opinion is being affected," he continued. "Campuses seem to be alive and universities are pulling together."