This year has seen the most exciting resurgence of student activism against war and the arms trade for years - nearly 30 universities have been occupied in solidarity with Gaza, and to demand that universities stop investing in the arms trade that drives conflict.
On CAAT's National Universities Day of Action on 11 February 2009, student groups from universities throughout the UK staged various activities and events in their campaign against arms trade. Those activities included die-in protests, official petition letters urging universities to divest from the arms trade, as well as setting up "alternative career services" highlighting the promotion of companies involved in the arms trade by university career services. Below is a summary of what took place at those universities on the National Day of Action:
Students held hour-long rooftop protest while others handed out leaflets on BAE funded research at the university and its investments in arms companies. Three of the protesters were arrested. They were later released without charge. Leaflets about the University’s BAE-funded research projects were also handed out while the protest was taking place. Read more.
Students at Birmingham University staged a die-in protest outside the Aston Webb building, where University Management resides. At the protest, the students pressured the University to change its ’irresponsible investments’ policy and practices, primarily its investment in the Barclays Global Investment (BGI) Fund known to have the largest amount of shares in the global arms sector, with £7.3 billion invested in total. In addition, leaflets and fliers were also handed out at the protest. Read more.
A die-in protest took places outside the university whereby activists demonstrated by laying prostrate on the floor at the protest indicating the eventual victims of the arms trade. Fliers and leaflets were given put to further raise awareness during the protest. Read more.
Students from Cardiff University held a week of activism under the "Disarm Cardiff" theme, which included a public meeting with representatives from CAAT and other speakers. On 24 February, students staged a three-day sit in protest which ended on 26 February with a great victory as university officials conceded to the key demand from the students to divest from arms trade. The fund managers at Cardiff agreed to divest the university's holdings in both BAE System and General Electric. Johnny, a student involved in the protest explained, "they [the university] have sold all their shares in BAE and General Electric and instructed their fund managers not to invest in the arms trade". The success of the students' occupation demonstrates the power of student actions to ensure that their universities invest more responsibly. "people have felt that what they are doing is really achieving something", said Johnny. Read more.
Die-in protest at BAE Land Systems, UK in Leeds. As the students marched with their banner to the BAE Land Systems, an alarmed security guard told them they had made their point. "Whilst this shows flagrantly BAE's fear of the damage an informed public opinion could do to their operations it is far from the truth. We haven't made our point. We haven't made it loudly enough or to a great enough audience, but we will and this why BAE’s fear is warranted", said student Rhia Lawrence.
Following the recent adoption of an ethical investment policy, over 40 students submitted an open letter to the university calling for disinvestment from Cobham. The students also wrote to the Deputy Director of Academic Services to follow up on establishment of an Ethical Investment Review Committee [EIRC]. The students were concerned over the delay in setting up the Committee and will closely monitor this process over the next month. Read more.
On the National Day of Action, students managed to collect an estimated 1000 signatures for their petition against the arms trade. Both the campaign and petitioning sparked proactive discussions among students on campus. On 27 February, students followed up their campaign by staging a big demonstration against the university's investments in BAE Systems. During the protest, students met with representatives from the university including David Duncan, the Registrar and Secretary, and Graham Gilbert, the Director of Finance. The campaign was a huge success as the university representatives agreed to bring a policy on ethical investment to University Council 6 March for final approval. Duncan also confirmed that he will highlight students' concerns regarding BAE Systems when he meets with the Council. Venson, one of the organisers said, "The meeting was a success and they seemed genuinely concerned with this issue. We hope to keep up the pressure so that this policy does get adopted and carried out for the coming months and years". Read more.
Students occupied the Computer Science building and left after a 55-hour occupation. The occupation was triumphant as the University Principle agreed to meet with delegates along with the representatives from the University Management Office who eventually conceded to many of students’ demands and promised to address some of the issues raised during the protest. Read more.
Students set up an "Alternative Career Service" dispensing information on arms companies who regularly attend recruitment fairs at the university, followed by a series of workshops on the arms trade. The students were protesting against the constant promotion of companies operating in arms-related trade by the University Career Services. Handouts on "Alternative Careers Guides" were also distributed to both students and university staff during the protest.
The protest by the Stop the War society at Dundee University (DU) was marked with great success. In response to students' demands, not only did the University's Finance Committee agree to divest £200,000 of shares in BAE Systems, but also to formally explore adopting an ethical investment policy. In addition to this success, over 200 students gathered, with the support of Student Union, to develop a strategy that will enable students to continue their campaigns in the future should the university fail to divest from BAE Systems or to adopt an ethical investment policy. The students also demanded the cancellation of the university's contract with Israeli owned Eden Springs, which they claim illegally takes water from Golan Heights. Other demands included that the university provides two scholarships for Palestinians to study at DU and helps provide the educational materials necessary to rebuild universities in Gaza.
On February 18, a protest was staged by a coalition of student organizations including Oxford Students' Palestine Society, Socialist Worker Students Society, and Stop the War. The students voiced their critique of the university's involvement with the arms trade, particularly its investments in BAE Systems. As one of the participants said "We're here to put pressure on the uni. We don't think they should invest in arms". Read More
Students at Aberdeen University, Scotland also staged a campaign alongside other UK universities. The main purpose of the protest was to urge the university to break its ties with companies involved in the arms trade, particularly its links with BAE Systems. According to a student spokesperson, companies such as BAE Systems "should be ashamed of their actions and should not be tolerated on our campus as they are complicit in murder". Similar to the demands from other UK universities, students at Aberdeen University also demanded that their university help Palestinians through provision of scholarships to Palestinian students. The campaign was attended by over 150 students including some faculty and local community members. Kris Miller, one of the student participants stated that "Aberdeen is not a university renowned for activism or student politics, however it seems this issue has angered even the most apathetic of students".
Let CAAT know if students at your university organized any events during the National Day of Action or have plans to take further action.