The UC Divestment Movement
In the spring of 2014 I taught a course on the Free South Africa Movement. That was a worldwide movment of people from all walks of life and from countries around the world that participated in a cause against the racist Apartheid regime that impacted national and foerign policy and turned the course of world history - toward social justice.
It was an incredible story, which has been told very little.
The course covered a lot of ground. After exploring the early history of South Africa and the beginnings of Apartheid, the course followed the worldwide movements of resistance, and finally landed at UC Berkeley, where an important protest movement took place against Apartheid. I had my students interview veterans of that UC Berkeley movement, and tie together some threads that had been loose for 30 years. It was a wonderful experience as an educator and activist.
How the course came about
A great deal of interest in the Anti-Apartheid Movement was sparked by the passing of Nelson Mandela in late 2013. But my path was different. I was a participant in the "Divestment Movement" on the UC Berkeley campus in the 1980s. It was a prolonged effort by students and supporters that involved direct action to challenge the UC administration to remove its holdings in companies doing business with the racist South African Apartheid regime. In 1986, after a number of controversial and violent protests, the students won, and the UC Regents agreed to "divest" their $3.1 billion in investments. The Regent's action, while never completely carried out, galvanized the divestment and sanctions movement that summer. Later that year, Congress voted to cut ties with South Africa - over Presidenet Ronal Reagan's veto - and further isolated the regime.
When Nelson Mandela was released in 1990, after 27 years in prison, he came to Oakland, and spoke at the Oakland Coliseum. There he thanked the students of California for what they had done. In a small but possibly significant way, the UC student protests had made an impact on world history. And yet the story has only barely been told.
In 2010 a group of Cal student actvists put together a panel on "Activism through the decades." It was easy to find 60s activists, and 70's activists were also easy to locate. Many 90's activists were still on campus, but apparently I was the only activist from the 1980s they could locate. I was asked to speak on campus activism during the 1980s. My first notion was, "no problem, I'll just look up the book on the Divestment movement, get a refresher and I'll be good to go." Well it turns out there was no book about the Divestment movement and there still is none.
I had been giving some tought to working on my own documentation of the Divestmenet Movement, and figured the best way to push forward with the research, is to design a course that covers the material I would be interested in teaching. This was my approach and the chair of African American Studies, Na'ilah Nasir agreed with me, and allowed me to teach this "special topics" course on the Free South Africa Movement.
Along the way I was introduced to some amazing stories of South African and world social movement history, and I met an amazing group of students that took on the course and shared the experiment with me!
Along the way, on March 11th, 2014, a student group put together a panel discussion on Movements Against Apartheid on the Berkeley campus. So there I am on the left, with movement veterans Moni Love, Andrea Pritchett, and undergrad Ley Cerezo, who not only moderated the event, she did a great deal of her own research on the Movement, which helped me out a great deal.
It was an awesome experience reliving those days and teaching that course. It was offered again in the Fall of 2014 and was enlightening for everyone once again! Down the road I hope to teach that course much more often.