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Citing MLK, Florida students call on school to divest

on 19 Comments

Fantastic video from the University of Southern Florida. Titled, USF for Human Rights (Divest 2014), it is from the school’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP-USF). The group is asking the Board of Trustees of the school’s foundation to end involvement in human rights violations in Palestine:

“To create a policy that ensures our endowment is invested in a socially just manner, with regard to human rights and environmental welfare…To declare divestment from corporations directly complicit in human rights violations [Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, G4S, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman Corporation] against the Palestinian people”

Here is the group’s petition. Excerpts:

 As members of a university that reveres the Civil Rights Leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we strive to uphold the same values of justice, equality, and humanity that Dr. King fought for during his lifetime. To honor these values, we should strive to stop profiting from corporations with human rights violations.

Our university was on the wrong side of history when it failed to divest from corporations affiliated with South African apartheid. This time we hope to be on the right side of history. We ask that USF, out of respect for international law, and in consistency with US and local law, stop investing in corporations that are continuously and knowingly complicit in severe human rights violations. Despite our inactivity in past injustices, there is a current opportunity in which we expect our university to act accordingly with an honorable conscious.

For decades, the Palestinian people have been suffering from a system of occupation and oppression that strips them of their basic human rights. The Israeli occupation of Palestine is affecting every aspect of the Palestinian people’s lives: demolishing their homes, depriving them of land and water, and restricting their livelihoods to small areas of land behind a massive and illegal separation wall. These are only a few of the afflictions faced by Palestinians on a day-to-day basis. There are multinational corporations who support and profit from this illegal and brutal occupation.


Read the rest of the petition here.

Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is a mom, a human rights activist, and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area and likes to garden. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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19 Responses

  1. German Lefty on February 15, 2014, 4:04 pm

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  2. Walid on February 15, 2014, 8:14 pm

    Great video, Annie.

  3. ritzl on February 15, 2014, 8:19 pm

    Does citing MLK raise awareness and/or heighten relevance of this issue among activist black students? My suspicion is that it does not. If that’s correct, why it does not is something that needs to be explored, at this level (i.e. before any “why not” sentiment gets ingrained into future-leadership thinking).

    The civil rights parallels are obvious and profound, but adopting MLK and that struggle, without a conversation or asking, may be an alienating exercise rather than a solidarity exercise, particularly with black activists.

    We all treasure and guard our heroes.

    Just askin’…

    Thanks, Annie.

    • annie on February 16, 2014, 8:10 am

      hmm, not sure i am following where you’re going with this ritz. i don’t think the target audience for the video is necessarily a black audience. martin is bigger, for everyone. but why do you think he wouldn’t “heighten relevance of this issue among activist black students”?

      • maggielorraine on February 16, 2014, 11:38 am

        It would be alienating if it were a kind of appropriation, as in when LGBT activists uncritically and reflexively use the language of black liberation to talk about same sex marriage (which some activists consider as landing somewhere on the spectrum between impolite and downright racist/privileged).

        Annie is right to say that MLK holds significance not just for black students but as icon , that is, his image and words are a kind of cultural currency in the same vein as words like “freedom” and “democracy” or the words of Gandhi. But ritzl, your suggestion is a good strategy to follow in general -taking care not to appropriate is an essential part of any kind of solidarity work.

        Interestingly, I’d point out that SJPs have a rich history of working with communities of color with the understanding that all struggles are intertwined. At UC Berkeley, one of our biggest divestment advocates was the Black Student Union. Nationally, MeChA (Movimiento Estudiantil [email protected] de Aztlán) has endorsed BDS.

        And in one of my conversations with a student activist working on his remarks to introduce our divestment resolution to the student senate, he told me that he and a lot of his friends actually make a conscious effort to quote leaders *other than* MLK because of how whitewashed and uncontroversial his image has become -stripped of all potency and relevance to actual liberation. Just some food for thought.

      • ritzl on February 18, 2014, 11:27 am

        Thanks maggielorraine.

      • ritzl on February 18, 2014, 11:23 am

        Yeah, Annie. That was just my lyrical way of wondering where John Lewis is on this. Something happens to minority leaders between college and Congress. Alice Walker and Angela Davis seem like such lonely voices.

        Great video though. Maybe young people now will be more firmly universalist in solidarity with the Palestinians, as they progress through their careers.

    • American on February 16, 2014, 10:15 am

      @ ritzl

      I think using MLK in the Black community is a good idea for getting them involved in I/P. They understand oppression and can sympathize with Palestines.
      There are 55 million black Americans—they should be encouraged to use their political ‘numbers’ muscle.

  4. Philip Munger on February 16, 2014, 12:12 am

    Despite our inactivity in past injustices, there is a current opportunity in which we expect our university to act accordingly with an honorable conscious.

    Regrettable sentence end. Probably too late to call it back, eh?

  5. just on February 16, 2014, 8:35 am

    That’s a very good video.

    I think it speaks to a wide audience– necessary for any University in these United States, but especially in the South and in FL.

  6. MHughes976 on February 16, 2014, 1:17 pm

    I think that the trouble with invoking King is that his remarks in support of Israel, some of which are genuine, can be found and rehearsed. It seems to me that he did his best to evade the matter but when he was pushed by Zionist friends and correspondents he always told them what they wanted to hear, even if he chose words that are a bit ambiguous when pressed. The King Center has a statement in August 67 by the SCLC, which must have had King’s endorsement, saying that the security of Israel is ‘incontestable’, though adding an objection to the ‘imposed’ economic backwardness of the ‘Arabs’. It is clear that there had been considerable opposition to this line within the SCLC and that King had managed not to face it directly, but got one of his friends, Hosea Williams I think, to persuade the SCLC conference not to press the matter. I haven’t checked this, but I think that Taylor Branch in his bio of King concludes that he regretted his apparently strong – rather stronger than many American church leaders could manage – endorsement of Israel in the 67 war. But regrets expressed in private don’t cancel statements made in public.
    I can see the attraction of this sort of Left Zionism to intelligent people: Jewish people are advanced and their problems need to be solved by national security; Palestinians are poor and their problems need to be solved by the reform of the international capitalist system and the abolition of its local feudal lackeys. But in the end it’s not morally sound, is it? It bases itself on distinctions between the rights of rich and poor of the very kind it should be opposing.

    • American on February 16, 2014, 1:56 pm

      @ Hughes

      I see no problem in stating that if MLK were alive today and looking at Israel he would not approve and be very disappointed in what it has become and wouldn’t support it.
      His opinion back then and now would be very different.

    • just on February 16, 2014, 3:15 pm

      I rather think that MLK could never have imagined the devolution of Israel into the apartheid state that it has willingly and knowingly become ( or maybe he did, and prayed for otherwise to occur).

      The descent into the abyss of Occupying and Oppressing and wreaking extreme and endless violence upon any indigenous people (and others) as a matter of policy is not something that MLK would have countenanced and/or supported.

      • seafoid on February 16, 2014, 4:38 pm

        He didn’t live to see the evil of Zionism flower into the end stage of land fetish.

      • just on February 16, 2014, 4:47 pm

        I’m glad that he was spared that.


  7. MHughes976 on February 16, 2014, 5:44 pm

    I cannot see that he was spared encounter with the Zionist view of – fetish concerning -what should happen to the land in question. He had been there and was far too intelligent not to appreciate the price that was already being paid for putting that view into effect. In his later years he was busy resisting those members of the civil rights movement who wanted to say openly that Zionism was unjust and he knew what they knew. When it came to the point he sided with Zionism, at least for public purposes, maybe in slightly ambiguous language but pretty explicitly. His influence continues. When we see former 60s radicals giving current Zionism their moral support we see something of that influence.

    • aiman on February 16, 2014, 7:32 pm

      Good post. There are/were definitely efforts to align the narratives of the Hebrews in Egypt with African-Americans in the US. This mythological rendering is best explained in ‘Let My People Go’ to which MLK himself subscribed: It could be a form of Christian Zionism. I don’t think it was merely an African-American expression but was pushed by Zionist Jews who believed in multiculturalism abroad but Zionism in Israel. King perhaps felt this was a pragmatic tactic but was squeamish about the moral question.

      • MHughes976 on February 17, 2014, 12:05 pm

        I felt convinced on reading his 1959 Easter Sermon, where his visit to the Holy Land is described, from his referring, as no Zionist surely would, to ‘Jerusalem, Jordan’ and to his abstention from all the ‘blooming desert’ language of the time, that he was not a Zionist by conviction. At the time he flinched from the moral question posed by Zionism but his movement over the years was towards support for Israel, if not exactly endorsement of Zionist principles, for all public purposes.
        His sort-of alter ego, Stokely Carmichael, moved the other way, beginning from keen Zionism and ending in opposition. I think that King and Carmichael were always quite close but in memory they have become symbols of good and reasonable versus dangerous and extremist anti-racism, and mainstream Black politics has emphatically followed King’s practical embrace of Zionism not Carmichael’s ideological rejection of it.
        So has left-wing opinion in the arts and music world.
        One view of King is that in his desperate struggle to keep his huge, unwieldy coalition together he declined the opportunity, which would not quickly come round again, to change the Western conversation to the Palestinians’ advantage – that he decided that this was an ‘injustice somewhere’ that he, not too differently from those white liberals, would disregard. The other view is that everything was at stake, that American cities might go up in flames with untold international consequences, and that any sacrifice that kept the moderate anti-racial coalition together just had to be made. There was no right thing for him to do. The bitter implication of that view is that ‘justice everywhere’ is an illusion.

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