On Monday April 14th, a coalition of ten University of Washington (UW) student organizations–Disability Advocacy Student Association, Disorientation UW, International Socialist Organization, Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Atzlan, Third Wave Feminists, Solidarity with UW Custodians, UW Black Student Union, United Students Against Sweatshops, Somali Student Association, and Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights, UW–brought forward Resolution 20-39, “A Resolution to Divest from Companies Profiting from Violations of International Law and Human Rights,” to the Associated Students of the University of Washington (ASUW). The resolution was the culmination of deep research and solidarity work on campus and included three pages of citations.
R-20-39 calls upon the University of Washington to “examine its financial assets to identify its investments in companies that provide equipment or services used to directly maintain, support, or profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land” and “instruct its investment managers to divest from those companies meeting such criteria within the bounds of their fiduciary duties.” Additionally, R-20-39 urges UW to work with the Evergreen State College to implement their divestment resolution passed in 2010 as it pertains to the Evergreen State College Foundation holdings housed within the UW Consolidated Endowment Fund and calls, as a first measure, for divestment from Caterpillar Inc.
In 2003, Washington State student Rachel Corrie was killed when a militarized Caterpillar Bulldozer operated by an Israeli soldier crushed her while she attempted to protect a Palestinian home from illegal demolition. In Spring 2010 The Evergreen State College student body passed—by a majority of 79%—a referendum calling for divestment from companies complicit in the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories that was later echoed by a divestment resolution in their Student Senate. R-20-39 comes as the Corrie family appeals to the Israeli Supreme Court to seek justice for Rachel’s murder.
A groundswell of support followed the ASUW resolution into initial debate in student senate. Letters of support came from South Africa, Palestine, Israel, and faculty and students from around the U.S. including 26 professors from the Evergreen State College. Other supporters included Aaron Dixon, co-founder of the Black Student Union at UW and the Seattle Black Panther Party, Jesse Hagopian, UW alum and Garfield Highschool teacher leading the fight against the MAP test, Miko Peled, son of a prominent Israeli general, The Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites (CARW), Jewish Voice for Peace, the National Lawyers Guild, and Cindy and Craig Corrie, parents of Rachel Corrie.
ASUW resolutions typically take 2 to 4 weeks to come to the senate floor after submission, beginning with a first reading of the bill and clarifying questions. The bill then goes into committee for refinement and returns to the floor for a second reading the next week when the content and merit of the resolution is discussed and it comes to a vote. On May 6th, R-20-39 came to its first reading successfully overturning a motion to indefinitely table. After an hour-long substantive discussion of the bill it was voted to bring it to the Academic Administrative Advisory Committee (AAA) for review. The following week, the AAA Committee only devoted 12 minutes to discussion of the resolution giving 6 minutes to “opposition” to the bill and 6 minutes to “supporters.” Despite supporters urging a public discussion and a vote on the resolution before the year is out, the bill did not return to the Senate floor but remained in committee for a second week. The bill was voted out of committee “unfavorably” on May 20th—the last ASUW meeting of the year—and came to second readings. Debate over the resolution lasted for over an hour and a half extending the meeting several times. The final vote came after 9pm as the classroom was closing for the night. Despite broad student support, the resolution did not pass with 8 in favor, 59 opposed, and 11 abstentions. As senators filed out of Paccar Hall, supporters of R-20-39 stood in a silent ring holding signs: “UW Profits from Occupation,” “#DawgsDivest.” It was a moving moment of resolve to move forward.
UW Student, Peter Brannan, who presented the resolution, said, “This process has been about renewing the belief that students can make a difference not only on their campus but in the world.” SUPER is excited about the future direction of student solidarity with Palestinian equal rights: “We are moved by the flood of student support for this resolution and we are only more determined to build community on campus for this struggle. Other campuses and past histories of student activism show that important struggles take time. Join us!”