California Teacher Speaks Up for Divestment

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Earlier in the year, members of the California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS) and CODEPINK petitioned the pension fund to let them know that General Dynamics is partly responsible for the innocent lives lost in Yemen and that the company’s arms sales only contribute to the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in the region. We successfully received and delivered over 800 petition signatures.

On March 12th, retired public school teachers Jef Schultz spoke to CalSTRS External Director Diane Stanton and other members of the staff. Here is what Jef had to say about CalSTRS investing in the war machine:

“Good morning Diane.  I want to thank you for being willing to have this important conversation today . . . and I want to say that I am grateful that an organization such as CalSTRS has this avenue available where their members can voice the concerns that we have.  Not every institution is so lucky. And we also appreciate that you are very aware of our concerns. So thank you again Diane for not just going through the motions.

As teachers and members of CalSTRS we are appalled that our retirement funds are being used to support the war machine in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.  Thousands have died including 44 innocent children riding to school on their bus. That’s blood on our hands. We paid for those bombs. I paid for those bombs, and I am ashamed.   Diane . . . we are here this morning representing nearly one thousand teachers whose comments and signatures you have seen. We don’t want any part of supporting the bomb makers. Our entire lives have been about protecting children.  And we want to be part of a movement for peace not a constant military build-up. Our police have become militarized and so have our schools to a degree.

We need to be part of a movement for peace.  We want and need our money used for peaceful purposes – for clean and alternative energy projects and more research on getting off of fossil fuels.  Surely there are investments like that that CalSTRS could and should focus on. And we have all heard the argument that those investments don’t make as much money - so it’s a rigged system – no matter where you turn.

Of course . . . General Dynamics is only one of many munitions factories in the U.S and the Saudis can just take their business elsewhere right . . . no problem.  But if people don’t stand up for what they believe in, if people don’t make everyone aware of the hypocrisy of investing in the war machine, then how will we ever get out of this vicious cycle we are in that says war is our primary and only option in dealing with conflicts around the world .  When in doubt . . . use violence to throw our weight around. “Blessed are the war makers for they shall be called children of God” - isn’t the way the saying goes.

So I trust that you and the investment committee can see this effort to say no to war profiteering as part of a larger movement.  Remember how many years it took for the divestment movement in South Africa to free Nelson Mandela and an entire nation? And now we read where Google engineers are refusing to do work for military contractors. “The coders weren’t persuaded their employer should be using its technological might to help the government wage war.”  This is truly an encouraging sign of hopeful things to come.  And in our heart of hearts Diane . . . don’t we all want everyone on the planet to be freed from this noose of violence around our necks.  Don’t you think that should be everyone’s birthright? I do . . .

In my previous remarks to the committee, I asked the question when will this end?  And I said that it will end when principled individuals such as the team here assembled on the phone with you today Diane . . . and the nearly 1000 representative signatures from teachers all over the state (just a portion of supporters for this campaign). . . when principled individuals through their principled institutions stand up and say persistently and forcefully that “enough is enough.” Then it will end.

Thank you Diane for helping us to get that message across loud and clear to the CalSTRS investment committee and also next month when you meet with General Dynamics and decide to stop doing business with their $89 million piece of the war machine.” -Jef Schultz, CalSTRS member

To join the Divest from the War Machine campaign email divest@codepink.org.



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