It’s been a hard summer. Climate change contributed to the growth of toxic algae that poisoned the water supply of half a million people in Toledo, Ohio. Thousands of innocent Palestinians are being killed under the recent Israeli bombing campaign and last week Michael Brown was murdered by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri quickly followed by protests met with tear gas and police brutality.
All of these events are connected. Instead of trying to “fix” individual issues, a revolution is needed that will require a movement that’s equally unified to defeat the web of intersections between the various systems of oppression.
The term “intersectionality” is currently a popular catchphrase in activist circles. The rising awareness of its significance is a good sign, and it’s time for students to move beyond panel discussions and truly bring their movements together.
During the past few years the criminal justice, Palestinian liberation, and environmental movements have each started and spread divestment campaigns on college campuses and it’s impossible to participate in one campaign without affecting another. Considering that the campaigns are occurring at the same time and place, with the same targets, and very similar “asks”, divestment has the potential to be a concrete campaign that could help unite students and their movements.
Fossil Fuels and Israel
Oil plays a key role in US imperialism and seeking fossil fuel resources has sparked many of the conflicts the US has been involved with in the Middle East.
Amidst the chaos, Israel, with three billion dollars in military aid, remains the greatest ally to the US in the Middle East and together pursue their shared security interests in, and for the US that often includes oil.
Organizers of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement are more focused on Israel’s abuse of Palestinian human rights. By weakening the relationship between the US - who funds the crimes - and Israel, BDS aims to end the Israeli construction of illegal settlements on Palestinian territory.
While the environmental movement opposes TransCanada displacing ranchers and indigenous people from their land to build the Keystone XL pipeline, using the same principle, environmentalists should also protest Israel displacing millions of Palestinian families from their homes. Similarly, if the BDS movement wants to confront Israel and US imperialism they must address what attracts the US to the Middle East in the first place.
Israel and Mass-Incarceration
Israel’s expertise in population control has lead to booming surveillance and weapons industries that sell this technology worldwide. American police chiefs travel to Israel to learn policing and anti-terrorism strategies to bring back to the US. For example, police departments used counterterrorism tactics developed in Israel to evict Occupy encampments across the US and suppress the recent protests in Ferguson.
With Israeli technology, the US has built a mass-incarceration system with over two million people in prison by disproportionately arresting low-income African American and Latinos for mostly nonviolent offenses.
The criminal justice movement advocates for divestment from the two largest private prison companies, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group (GEO) whose profits have skyrocketed in recent years as a result of a government set quota requiring 34,000 beds filled daily and increased lobbying for harsher enforcement immigration laws. Millions of innocent lives and families are being destroyed for profit.
The direct link between companies profiting off of Israeli apartheid and the US prison-industrial complex means that divesting from one is to divest from the other.
Criminal Justice and the Environment
When low-income African Americans are released from prison, they enter a world consumed by the “New Jim Crow” only are they stripped of their basic rights, most will return home to communities most severely affected by climate change. With coal plants next to schools and trash incinerators across the street, minority neighborhood residents have a higher risk of developing health issues due to chemicals that wealthier communities are not exposed to.
Divesting from fossil fuels not only addresses climate change, but institutional racism as well.
The power of an interconnected movement is invaluable and successful campaigns against the French multinational company Veolia in Boston and St. Louis exemplify the effectiveness of working in solidarity with each other. In both cities Palestinian, environmental, and labor organizers formed coalitions across their campaigns due to how Veolia’s various injustices affected the populations of the respective movements. This resulted in the activists successfully driving the company out from their communities.
It’s not unreasonable to think that the same kind of solidarity can be done on college campuses through divestment. The power of divestment is the symbolic action that students and institutions will not support a particular injustice, and equally symbolic and powerful would be the unity of people standing up against all forms of oppression.
So, this fall when students return to school and begin planning campaigns, conversations and actions around how the private prison, Israeli apartheid and fossil fuel divestment movements must work together are essential to the effectiveness of each campaign. By jointly focusing on the same targets for the mutual benefit of all, each campaign creates a larger all encompassing movement with the potential to form a more just and democratic society.