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Case study: Mobilizing teacher pensioners to divest from war

10 June 2019


By Nancy Mancias, CODEPINK Divest from the War Machine campaign

The Issue

The California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) has roughly $89 million invested in General Dynamics, a company which has been implicated in war crimes and the loss of countless innocent lives around the world. In one of the most egregious cases, where 54 were killed, 44 children, and more wounded in an airstrike on a school bus with remnants of a General Dynamics guided metal fin found at the scene. As the largest educator-only pension fund in the world, CalSTRS members demand their pension fund divest from General Dynamics which has displayed a brazen disregard for the sanctity of human life; in particular, the attack on the Yemeni school bus on August 9, 2018.

The Challenge

Even though CalSTRS members are impassioned to divest from General Dynamics, the divestment process is not immediate and could take years.

“As a former school principal, my heart aches every time I learn a child is being restricted from an education. However, in this case, the most unspeakable crime has been committed,” states Susan Harman, member of CalSTRS and CODEPINK. “I refuse to be complicit in the war on Yemen and the displacement of thousands of children brought on my investments in General Dynamics.”

The Engagement: Level Up on Activism

The campaign has multi-levels of engagement for members of the California Teachers pension fund (CalSTRS). It includes generating online activism through campaign organizing platforms such as NationBuilder and New/Mode. The results show the following:

  • 833 CalSTRS members signed NationBuilder petition
  • CalSTRS member Jef Schultz speaks in front of the board of directors in Sacramento, California
  • 428 total direct email submissions with a 91% conversion rate via New/Mode: Board of directors receive emails from members
  • 6 total LTE submissions via New/Mode
  • Supporters use social media to amplify message.


The Impact

On March 12, 2019, retired public school teachers Jef Schultz and Susan Witka, CODEPINK co-founder Jodie Evans, and CODEPINK organizer Nancy Mancias met with CalSTRS External Affairs Director Diane Stanton and other CalSTRS staff members. We shared serious concerns about the pension fund making millions by investing in war profiteer General Dynamics, a company responsible for killing innocent civilians around the world — including women and children. Read Jef’s moving speech to CalSTRS.

In April 2019, CalSTRS met with General Dynamics to discuss the concerns of its members. The challenge is to make sure member’s concerns are fully represented at the meeting.

Stay tuned for further updates.