February 21, 2006

Malchow: Nota Melior

I don't really speak latin, nor do I feign to, since I lack interest in dead languages, and prefer to express my intellectual superiority through actual grasp of concepts and knowledge, rather than arcane and archaic bombast. In Joe's recent post about Larry Summers resigning the Presidency of Harvard, he adds a smug followup:

"Nota Bene: While the House of Summers is under siege, few people in the Yard are taking arms against the University’s money managers—social injustice cannot be fought by the financially modest, you know—who recently increased Harvard’s investment in an oil company doing business in the Sudan. Shockingly, through investment and divestment, abandonment and embrace, the killers in Darfur seem to be quite inconsiderate of the will of east coast liberal arts colleges."

What I mean by the title of this post is that maybe Joe should follow the news a little more closely. At the time of Harvard's decision on Darfur, little information was available on oil operations in Sudan, and Harvard conservatively chose to consider only PetroChina, ignoring the significant financial ties between this company and Sinopec. Harvard's reluctance to address now well-established facts, baffling as it may be (and likely a consequence of Derek Bok's handling of divestment in the 1980s), is far from the whole story.

Khartoum may not be directly responding to economic pressure just yet, and in fact it is likely no significant amount of pressure yet exists. However, America has responded to divestment movements and Darfur activism in general. First, the US has had John Bolton continuously pressing the UN to take action in Darfur, first acquiring an expanded mandate for a larger force, and now trying to secure a final resolution by the end of the month. Second, President Bush called for a NATO role in the planning, organization, and implementation of this intervention.

Now, what does this have to do with divestment? The pressure comes from somewhere, and while the most influential force has been the humanitarian evangelical community, public awareness is spreading. The mainstream media have begun to emerge from shameful silence on the issue. In a recent post, I described how US Olympic Gold Medalist Joey Cheek is using his publicity and winnings for Darfur. When Cheek won the silver several days later, NBC sports commentator Bob Costa spent significant time on air explaining the conflict in Darfur.

So, does Harvard matter? Not really. The movement that has built since has spread extremely successfully. The following institutions and states have or will soon implement divestment measures, and each of the following are far wealthier than even Harvard: The States of Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Maine, and the California CalPERS fund, soon to be followed by Massachussetts, New York, Vermont, and Ohio, with far more states considering or actively screening Sudan-related investments. On college campuses, Harvard was followed by successively more comprehensive decisions at Stanford, Samford, Dartmouth, Amherst, and Yale, with decisions from Brown, Brandeis, and the University of California system expected in the upcoming weeks, and significant progress from the California State system and Columbia, among other schools.

I started this entry wanting to skewer Joe for writing something so stupid, but to be honest, his uninformed skepticism isn't part of the bigger picture. Darfur is still in complete chaos, and too many have already been killed and displaced, but the simple fact that the US, and the international community, are starting to take notice is incredibly important. In my opinion, activist movements from across the spectrum of strategies and political beliefs have played the largest role in bringing Darfur to the forefront. But I don't really care if people agree with me or not, because the world is taking action, and this genocide will end.


  1. Anonymous2:56 AM

    Another interesting threat/opportunity for the mainstream media is the rise of community news aggregators like News Bump.

  2. Interesting. Thanks. I've blogged it.