Why I Can Vote for Divestment: A Response

This Post is in Response to another op ed written in the Michigan Daily’s paper (the Michigan Daily is the student publication at the University of Michigan). The op ed can be found here. I submitted my response yesterday and did not hear back from the paper.

WHY I CAN VOTE FOR DIVESTMENT

2 years ago, I was given a unique opportunity and asked by a friend to run in the Central Student Government elections as the representative for the School of Education. I hadn’t considered CSG before and in all honesty had no clue what CSG did or why it was important. Since I was interested in learning more about policy and politics though, I signed up. While I didn’t win that year, I was able to return to run last year and secured the spot as the representative for the School of Education. Last year also included flourishing student activism on campus, including the movement #UMDivest.

That student activism- from #BBUM to sexual assault prevention work- was the catalyst for my interest in becoming a part of CSG. It is not my belief that any representative I have had the honor of working with this year joined CSG to not make Michigan better. Our goal is to leave this great place better than we entered it. It’s a part of what makes Michigan Michigan- students who push the envelope and demand this university become better than it was before. That commitment to continuous improvement comes from our mission as a public institution. As Michigan students, we can learn about our place in this world and how we can use our knowledge, skills, and passion to make the world a better place. We owe it to the public that has both founded and maintained us to do just that, both domestically and abroad. It’s for this reason I plan to use my position on CSG to vote in favor resolution AR 4-042, “A Resolution to call upon the University of Michigan to Appoint a Committee to Investigate Investments in Socially Irresponsible companies that violate Palestinian Human Rights.”

This resolution has now come to the assembly two years in a row. Each year, it has astounded me the embers of emotion this subject fuels. As a representative this year, I have received over 70 emails (at the time of this writing) both in support and against this resolution. It’s clear that this is a topic that matters to students at Michigan (especially considering no one ever emails CSG reps…). And when something matters to Michigan students, things change. This resolution, though, won’t change anything. It is merely a step in a much larger process where the Regents then decide if the three prongs for divestment have been met and move on with further action. Whether through innocent or willful ignorance, the idea that what CSG votes on this resolution on Tuesday will do anything to directly impact the university’s finances or the broader global conflict is undeniably false. While I do believe CSG is important for a multitude of reasons, I am not so proud to believe we have such power. What I do believe passing this resolution will do is start the dialogue students who are against this resolution seem so desperately to want and will take this issue to the level at this university where a decision can actually be made..

Our votes will have implications for this campus community, of that I have no doubt. What that impact is, however, should be thought about in a more intricate way than worrying about dissent. A large contingent of students who have expressed opinions against this resolution seem to rally around the argument that there is too much dissent on the topic of divestment for this resolution to be passed. While I understand these students concerns, I do not believe a vote against this resolution does anything to calm the dissent. Dissent is not merely when those with privilege are upset by a proposal. Dissent has been longstanding on our campus for having our funds in these companies as it makes us complicit in the tragedies wrought by them. A vote either way on this resolution, then, does nothing to heal our campus or divide it, but rather extend the conversation.

To that extent, I would like to present a lesser known quote by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.- someone this contingent quotes often- where he says “I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate… the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom…’” When considering the impact our vote will have, I believe we need to consider who has power and privilege in this situation- including here on campus- and where Michigan as an institution currently stands. It is my belief that investing your money in a situation gives you a stance that is far from neutral. So I am less concerned about the dissent this vote “will” cause as this dissent already exists. This dissent is clear considering this resolution has resurfaced. Dissent is no excuse for inaction. Dialogue is no solution when equity and equality are not firmly in place.

In considering our votes, I want to make it clear to everyone in the campus community what CSG is voting on this Tuesday. Our votes are not about peace in the Middle East- they won’t create it. Our votes are not about anti-Semitism and Islamophobia- they won’t stop hate. Our votes are not about maintaining or destroying a Jewish state- they will accomplish neither. Our votes aren’t even about Michigan’s finances- we have no power over them. What our votes are about is whether or not we believe this is something worthy of the attention of the Regents of the University of Michigan and a committee who will be able to gather all the facts relevant to our university’s involvement through research and thus be able to make a solid determination. I do not see it as the work of CSG to determine whether the three prongs that the Chief Financial Officer set forth that Will Canning mentioned in his article this Sunday are met. Thus, I believe that we should allow this matter- which is clearly of importance to the students of this university- to be settled by those with the ability to make the decision.

This is why I can vote in favor AR 4-042.

Michael Chrzan is a CSG Representative and School of Education and LS&A Senior studying Mathematics and Secondary Education.

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