CAA protests failed divestment meeting
By Linda D'Angelo
Approximately 70 students gathered on the steps of 77 Massachusetts Avenue at a Friday divestment rally held by the Coalition Against Apartheid. The rally was an expression of the CAA's frustrations after 21 members met with the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation on Thursday to discuss divestment.
"They thought they could appease us," CAA member Mark A. Smith G told the demonstrators, "but we are not going to settle for talking to them and having them not listen."
Instead, CAA "wanted to send a message" to the committee "that they have to respect the voice of black South Africa," member Ronald W. Francis G explained at the rally.
To this end, demonstrators signed individual letters to the executive committee which said: "The black South Africans are calling for divestment. As a member of the MIT community, I support the black people of South Africa in their struggle. <>
I feel that they know what's best for them and that they should decide how to fight against apartheid."
The letters were then placed in a 15-foot envelope addressed to the executive committee, and carried on what Francis called a "special delivery mission."
Demonstrators marched down the Infinite Corridor with arms linked, carrying the envelope to the offices of President Paul E. Gray '54, Corporation Chairman David S. Saxon '41, and Vice President and Treasurer Glenn P. Strehle '58.
Saxon "was disappointed, but not particularly surprised" by Friday's rally. Judging the protest as a "self-defeating" action that was "not useful," Saxon felt it was "too bad [CAA members] felt compelled to do that." Such action is "not a path that is likely to lead to accommodation," he added.
value of meeting
Many speakers at the rally expressed frustrations about the Thursday meeting and doubted its benefit.
Samuel Assefa G explained that he "left [the meeting] feel-ing quite disgusted." He "went in thinking something positive would come out of it," but by the close of the meeting "felt I was wasting my time."
Saxon felt the meeting "was useful, [but] not in terms of conflict resolution." A "strong believer in the value of people talking to each other about their concerns," Saxon said the meeting allowed the "executive committee to hear and see first hand what the members of the coalition and students felt." Members "can read it, but its useful to get a sense of the strength of people's feelings," he said.
In response to claims that <>
the meeting was an attempt to appease CAA, Saxon said he "could not tell you what was in people's minds." But, the chairman said, he "came prepared to listen as well as respond."
Still, Saxon recognized "that on both sides, there are people who feel they have heard it before" and "this is a cause for frustration on both sides." The executive committee and CAA members "can say with some justice that these arguments have been presented before and have been a topic of discussion for some time at other universities," he explained.
Saxon also noted that although members of the executive committee were not required to attend the meeting, all but one did. In addition to Saxon, Gray and Strehle, the committee consists of seven members-at-large.
"There was no arm-twisting," Saxon said, and the president "was not in a position to guarantee" that the members of the executive committee would attend.
However, the time of the meeting "was chosen to make it as convenient as possible" since the executive committee had another meeting Thursday afternoon. In this way, Gray "encouraged them to attend, by inference," Saxon said.
Gray did not stay for the meeting, because he "felt his presence would be a diversion," Saxon said. So, after introducing CAA members, he "left because he wanted them to have the opportunity to talk to the committee and not to him," Saxon explained.
Lack of respect at issue
Speakers at the Friday rally were especially frustrated by the way committee members treated Adjunct Professor of Urban Studies Melvin H. King.
Mark Smith explained that, during the course of the meeting with the executive committee, Edward E. David Jr. '50 "interrupted Mel from speaking, . . . telling him how unethical it was for him to take pictures" at the meeting, and calling him "immoral." King simply said to Davis, "Here take the film," Smith explained.
Francis also made reference to the incident. He was outraged at the hypocrisy of committee members, whom he claimed called King "a clown . . . and a racist."
In response to these charges, Saxon felt sure that some of the committee members also thought that they had not been treated with respect. However, "I did not feel I was treated disrespectfully, and I do not feel I treated members of the coalition disrespectfully," he said.
The meeting was, for the most part, "quite civil, quite focused on issues," Saxon said. However, at "the very end" the meeting "became confrontational," Saxon said.
The chairman would not elaborate on what happened at the close of the meeting, but said "emotions ran high, and as hard as people tried . . . it became heated."
Initially, Saxon felt that the way the meeting ended was "too bad," but he concluded later "that when the meeting came to an end with such a high pitch of emotion, people broke up into groups and talked vigorously with each other."
This was useful, Saxon felt, "because people got a chance to talk with one another one-on-one." By the time "everyone left the room, most of the heat had dissipated," he added.
Executive committee hiding
from moral obligation, CAA says
While CAA "tried to engage in the process" of getting the Institute to divest "without having to escalate actions," the meeting proved "there are no arguments for these kinds of people" who deny their "moral obligation" to South Africa, Francis said.
"If you listen to what [the committee] is saying," Francis told demonstrators, "they are not saying anything about black South Africans."
King also felt that the executive committee "cares not about what goes on in South Africa, but cares about `the bottom line' and that is how much money" can be made by doing business with South Africa. The committee needs to be "separated from their greed and their posture which says they know more about South Africa than the people in South Africa themselves," he added.
The committee is "trying to hide behind the logic" of their arguments, Sue E. Nissman G said, but it is impossible to "separate morality from rational argument."
Nissman called the committee's response to demands for divestment "a very dangerous form of silence. . . . Silence isn't just silence, it's also words without action behind them."
Saxon, however, stressed "it would be incorrect to assume that the executive committee, or the president, or I are dismissing these issues as unimportant." That "is not true, we all agree they are important," he said.
While it is obvious that "we are seeing in South Africa at <>
this moment major transformation, major historical events," it is not so obvious what actions MIT should take to affect these events, Saxon said.
Saxon was uncertain about how the Institute should respond to recent events in South Africa. It is "very difficult to sit thousands of miles removed, even if you feel very strongly about how things should go, and know how to make it happen," he said.
CAA urges "new factors"
in divestment struggle
Frustrated by their efforts to talk with the executive committee, CAA will try different methods to "intensify the struggle" to get the Institute to divest, according to CAA member Archon Fung '90. "Talking is not the way anymore," Fung said, "we need to introduce some new factors."
Francis, too, felt CAA needed "to show [the executive committee] something they have not yet seen." He encouraged demonstrators to "organize this campus in a way that has not been done" in 20 years, in an effort to "fill these hallways and bring classes to a halt."
Saxon, however, advocated that the executive committee and CAA continue to discuss their differing views, even though it <>
is "unlikely that it is going to change the views of convinced people." The "condition of these talks" is not changing views, but "avoiding conflicts . . . like the confrontation that took place when students were beating on doors and were arrested," he said.
"Such conflict doesn't solve problems, it causes internal problems at MIT and divides the community in ways that I think are destructive," Saxon said.
"Talking is a way of dealing with an issue where there are strongly-held opposing views," Saxon said. Because "universities are places for rational discourse, not physical confrontation," Saxon wanted "to see members of this community talk to each other, not beat on each other."
If people "understand where other people are coming from, physical confrontation is less likely," he said.