On Wednesday the 21st of February, students from three campaigning groups: People and Planet; Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS); and Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) rallied together to demand that the University of Manchester divest from fossil fuels companies, and companies allegedly complicit in Israeli war crimes.
The demonstrators stood under the Whitworth Arch, University of Manchester, with drums, flags, and banners. They held a large orange banner that read “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. DIVEST NOW!” Students chanted “Hey! Ho! Nancy Rothwell’s got to go!”
Numerous security guards were seen policing the Whitworth building, where a board of governors meeting was taking place, and monitoring the protesting students.
The protest attracted the attention of bypassers, including prospective students taking tours of the University. One protester remarked that she was glad that tours were ongoing during this time, as the protest reflected, “that students are politically aware, and holding the University to account”. She added that this made the protest more public, and “embarrasses the University”, who she claimed were trying to quieten student protestors.
This is not the first protest of its kind. Over the last few years, all three campaigning groups have made Freedom of Information requests, and, following unsatisfactory University responses, staged numerous divestment protests.
Molly Stedman, a campaigner and third-year drama student, told The Mancunion that she thought that the University claiming they would “review” policies and look into investments was an evasive tactic. Stedman added that she thought management claiming they could not divest or needed the investments was an “excuse”, citing the fact that other universities, such as Sussex, have recently divested from fossil fuels.
Stedman also supports the BDS Campaign, which demands divestment from companies like Caterpillar, who they allege supply the armoured bulldozers Israeli military forces use to bulldoze Palestinian homes. “I know University is becoming more and more marketised, but can it have investments that don’t facilitate the killing of children, and weapons of mass destruction?” Stedman remarked.
In relation to the protest, the University stated: “The University announced significant changes to its Socially Responsible Investment Policy in May last year.
“This will see the University change its relationship with its Investment Managers allowing it to pursue an ethical investment approach, whilst also minimising any potential negative impact on investment returns. This includes a commitment to identifying and promoting low or zero-carbon investments.”
“In relation to the protests, as usual, the University recognises all students’ right to protest peacefully, providing that this does not unduly disrupt the conduct of the University’s normal business.”