DIVEST NOW! A Revolutionary Demand

by Sara Flounders, published on Workers World, May 14, 2024

Why have student encampments for Palestine ignited such an uproar of brutal repression, vicious police attacks, mass arrests, overwhelming condemnation in the corporate media and a new level of reactionary legislation in Congress?

The demand to divest, raised at almost every encampment, exposes the insidious inroads of the military-industrial complex into the heart of almost all higher education institutions in the U.S. today.

This demand to “divest” has revolutionary implications. Divestment is not just a threat to university boards, administrators and their alumni funders. It is a threat to the established capitalist order. It is a demand to break with the corporations engaged in looting the world. Hundreds of billions of dollars — perhaps trillions — are at stake.

The demand to divest is universally embraced by Palestine supporters, especially in U.S. campus actions. It flows naturally from months of horror, watching massive levels of destruction on densely populated civilian centers in Palestine and learning that institutions — where student, staff, community and union funds are directly involved — are funding these massive war crimes.

Groups of students gathered around small camping tents on campus lawns and school plazas hardly appear threatening. If the gatherings were for music or sports, they would go largely unnoticed. However, the Gaza Solidarity Encampments have raised the level of confrontation a step beyond mass demonstrations. The demands to divest and disclose the investments are a direct challenge to the capitalist system.

The entire established political order acts like it is under attack. It is. Students are ripping off the sinister corporate mask.

State repression squelches free speech 

Long established rights of free speech and freedom of assembly are being overwhelmed in tear gas and pepper spray. Elected officials, at the city, state, and federal level, Democrats and Republicans alike and police agencies at every level have acted in unison to shut down the Gaza Solidarity Encampments across the U.S. and now globally.

Students are being summarily suspended, expelled from campus housing, fired from academic jobs, their scholarships canceled. In desperate efforts to shut down debate and silence the demands, universities are moving classes entirely online and even canceling graduation ceremonies. The irony is that many graduating in 2024 had limited in-person education when they left high schools because of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Social media, streaming videos and TV news are recording and showing the brutality of the mass arrests. The sheer number of arrests in the U.S. has sent out shock waves throughout the international community. The gloves are off.

During months of demonstrations and rallies opposing U.S. support for Israel’s brutal invasion of Gaza, there have been thousands of arrests. But more than 2,900 arrested or detained at 57 campuses in two weeks’ time is an ominous message of heightened repression across the U.S. (tinyurl.com/yc2cry3k)

Endowments aid Israel’s war machine  

Investments of billions of dollars of university endowment funds and Pentagon and Department of Defense research grants directly aid the Israeli war machine and are intertwined with top U.S. military contractors. Students, in mass actions and with detailed research, are exposing and challenging this corporate, military takeover of higher education.

The clear demand at campus actions to divest is linked to demands for “full disclosure” of the scale of the investments and the research grants for weapons, surveillance and even direct support for Israeli colleges. Many campus protests raise that Israel’s bombs have destroyed all of the universities in Gaza.

The demand to pull out of U.S. corporations supplying equipment and materials used in perpetrating a genocide in Gaza highlights the vast web of corporate entanglement. The endowments at U.S. institutions of higher education reach approximately $840 billion, received through tax-exempt donations from ruling- class figures determined to shape institutions to serve continued capitalist rule.  (Vijay Prashad, as cited in Tricontinental News (May 3), in “Campus Encampments challenging global imperialism,” Workers World (May 7)

Department of Defense dominates STEM studies

Far exceeding the accumulated endowments are funds directly pumped into universities by the Department of Defense. These research and development grants dominate the budget of entire departments, especially in STEM — science, technology, engineering, mathematics — fields.

The threat to withdraw government funding is all-powerful. The majority of science research projects are dependent on the Pentagon’s earmarked funding.

Solving planetary problems of food, health and climate are not on the Pentagon’s agenda. Its focus is on research and development of deadly, high-tech weapons.

A clear demand has arisen out of a living struggle that is embraced by millions who are in motion, who have learned the bitter truth that it is decades of U.S. political support, infusions of weapons and massive funding that is responsible for the Zionist war machine. This one word “Divest” challenges and exposes the whole corrupt edifice of collaboration with Zionism and with expanding U.S. wars around the globe.

The students, faculty, staff and their supporters are courageously raising a revolutionary demand that challenges the whole underpinning of education in the U.S. today. What is at stake?

The billionaire Alex Karp, CEO of Palantir, a CIA-backed surveillance and data mining-tech company tied to U.S. intelligence cartels and to Israel, summed up the debate from the viewpoint of the U.S. ruling class: “We think these things that are happening across college campuses are a sideshow. No, they are the show. If we lose the intellectual debate, you will not be able to deploy any army in the West, ever.” (Palantir on X, May 8)

Disclose! Divest! We will not stop! We will not rest!

*Featured Image:  Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, April 2024.

Sara Flounders is an American political writer who has been active in ‘progressive’ and anti-war organizing since the 1960s.  Sara is Co-Director of the International Action Center (IAC) and  a member of the Secretariat of Workers World Party  She also frequently writes for Workers World newspaper and publishes articles on the International Action Center website.

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