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Divesting Temple from the War Machine

A consortium of 90 anti-war, peace and environmental groups are seeking to divest Temple University and other colleges as well as municipalities citywide and nationwide from weapons manufacturers and military contractors, with their next Philadelphia meeting to be held on Sunday, April 7th.

“Our long term goal is creating a global security system, an alternative to militarism is the goal,” said Chris Rilling, coordinator of the Philadelphia chapter of World Beyond War. “Divestment is one way to achieve this.”

The U.S. military budget – and defense profits – have risen sharply since the election of Donald Trump, with the latter up by 40 percent during his first year in office. Paradoxically, the end of the Mueller investigation will likely see a weapons windfall, according to CNBC, despite a logical reduction in tensions with Russia.

Trump has been viewed by both anti-war critics and defense bosses themselves as “America’s No. 1 Weapons Salesman,” with sales soaring under his watch as he presides over a war in Yemen which is considered by U.N. experts to be one of the worst humanitarian crises.

The official stated goal of the consortium, called the Divest From The War Machine Coalition, is to have colleges be able to demonstrate that they avoid “investments in organizations or companies that support the production of weapons, including civilian firearms, as well as military systems, military contractors, or nuclear power, and investments in private prisons, fossil fuel companies, tobacco or tobacco related products.”

“Universities invest money in index funds and it goes to Boeing and General Dynamics. I’ve only got information of Drexel and UPenn so far, but they invest thousands, to millions in funds that go to weapons companies,” Rilling said.

In recent years, calls for colleges to divest from companies that profit from fossil fuels, animal cruelty and Israel’s illegal occupation of Gaza have all grown. But although there is a model of success to look to — the famous campaigns in the 1980s that caused many universities to dump support for South Africa’s Apartheid regime — recent campaigns haven’t achieved the same traction.

“Fossil Free Penn is very similar,” said Chris. “They’ve had little success. I want to be more cooperative and informative.”

“The college campaign for weapons divestment has been rather slower than the municipalities one,” said Maya Rommwatt, a national organizer with Divest From The War Machine. “We’ve got folks organizing in City University of New York  and we’ve worked with Yale. The work in Philadelphia is just starting off.”

One major hurdle to any successful divestment plan is the choice of most U.S. universities to adopt passive investing strategies, which are based on an index of the entire S&P 500 and involve no personal decisions.

“They don’t care what company does what. That’s passive investing. Active investing involves humans, maybe some ethic and personal, commitment. A lot of these smaller endowments typically use index funds,” said Nishant Malapatti, an advisor at BlackRock for municipal strategy.

“I don’t know if they know it, but indirect or directly, they are investing in war,” Rilling said. “The universities have professional investing committees. I imagine if they did their research a lot of them would find out and students wouldn’t be too happy. Once we start organising on campus, we will find more information on the level of intent to stop this.”

Malapatti said there do exist alternative funds that avoid ethically problematic companies. “Encouraging colleges and endowments to look at these slightly different funds and making sure that these just makes sense. It’s becoming more and more popular,” he said.