A brief history of the OSU Divest campaign, from ISO Columbus organizer and OSU alumn Haley Swenson:
Next week, OSU undergrads will, at long last, have the opportunity to vote on whether they believe their university should invest in corporations that benefit from the occupation of Palestine. This moment is the result of a long and often-difficult struggle for countless student activists and their allies on campus, dating back long before the OSU Divest Campaign formed in 2014. The many examples of solidarity in struggle leading up to this moment serve as important lessons we can’t forget. Whether Issue 2 passes next week or not, these lessons are part of the history of social justice activism at OSU, and will be crucial as we move toward the next steps in the history of the struggle for justice in Palestine.
In the winter of 2014, after a meeting on Israeli Apartheid and the Occupation of Palestine, a few folks from the ISO met with a few folks from what was then-called the Committee for Justice in Palestine (now Students for Justice in Palestine). We knew there was a need to bring the call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel to our campus, and that it would take a deliberate campaign bigger than both of groups to make that happen, especially in a university environment that can often be virulently opposed to Palestinian rights.
In our first year of organizing, we began with basic education about the issue in order to recruit more members to the coalition and increase general knowledge about Israeli settlements and practices of apartheid, as well as the history of the region. We brought writer Ali Abunimah to campus and we hosted a study group on his book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine. Though those early meetings were nerve wracking for many of us, testing our arguments for the first time, often against an opposition that was organized and extremely confident, it was here that we became assured of the need for what we were doing collectively and determined to see it through, year after year, no matter how long it took. We were Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Atheist. We were Palestinian and not. And our increasing confidence and strength came through our principled anti-racism, our serious study of the issue, and our openness to all people who wanted to fight for Palestine.
In the winter of 2015, we made our first attempt at getting the Undergraduate Student Government to take a stand on divestment. After undergraduate petitioners worked tirelessly to engage the student body and acquire thousands of signatures to get a divestment referendum on the spring ballot, USG used a technical loophole to invalidate all of those signatures OSU Divest turned in, and rejected the ballot referendum. When, in an appeal hearing to have the decision overturned, OSU Divest organizers pointed out that candidates for office, two of them Palestinian students in the room, had made the same technical mistake but had still been allowed on the ballot, USG retaliated by removing them from the ballot as well. I wrote an article at Socialist Worker about the disgraceful way in which free speech for Palestine was denied to OSU students in that decision.
Last year, students returned for what they called Round 2. Instead of attempting the ballot referendum again, organizers decided to try a different tactic, asking USG’s senators themselves to vote to back a Divest referendum. In the build-up for the hearing, OSU Divest reached out to a wide variety of student and community organizations for support, uniting over twenty organizations to come forward to speak in favor of a divestment resolution before USG’s senators, including groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, Femunity, and the African Student League. During the hearings for the resolution, Republican and Democratic Ohio legislators co-authored an article urging USG to defeat the resolution! Despite impassioned arguments from the many different voices supporting divestment, and careful rebuttals to every argument that emerged against divestment, USG’s senators rejected the resolution by secret ballot. The ISO’s Coco Smyth covered that effort here.
In the build-up for 2017’s Round 3, OSU Divest hosted frequent teach-ins on campus to raise awareness about the shared interest students across campus had in defending Palestinian rights. These included teach-ins on why Palestine is a feminist issue and why Christians should support divestment. This winter, the new generation of students leading OSU divest was back, this time returning to an old strategy, but with a new partner. OSU Divest united with students from the OSU Coalition for Black Liberation to draft a ballot initiative that called on OSU to divest both from private prisons and from a handful of corporations currently profiting from the occupation. To our knowledge, this is the first Black-Palestine initiative put forward on campus. Whatever the outcome of next week’s vote, this movement at OSU has been historic, and the coalitions of solidarity behind it will be around for the next year and the next struggle.
The fight for justice in Palestine at OSU is the story of hundreds of students, staff, faculty, and their community allies, making constant strides to bring new people from different backgrounds into the cause and to understand that if any people are subjected to settler colonialism and discriminatory policies, none of us can rest, especially when the school many of us call home is complicit in those injustices.
If you're an OSU Undergrad, make sure to vote for divestment March 6-8. You can find instructions on how to do so by following this link.
One of the most powerful slogans of our organizing in the last few months has been, "Solidarity trumps hate!" What is solidarity exactly? In these stories from the history of the struggle for human liberation we share examples of the power of solidarity and the many creative forms it takes. We will share another #SolidarityStory each Wednesday. If you have a story of solidarity you'd like to share, please send them to us!