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Divest Was Yet to Come

David Kravetz/Stanford Daily

CARRIED AWAY: A Stanford Daily photo from October 14, 1985, shows Sophia Raday’s removal from an anti-apartheid sit-in.

By Sophia Raday

Peace officer, are you a warrior?
Peace officer, are you a warmonger?
Why, you’re carrying so much ammunition, more than an aircraft carrier...

On October 11, 1985, I sang these Jimmy Cliff lyrics to the policeman who was driving me to the Elmwood County Jail in Milpitas, Calif. The car reeked of stale bodies and cigarettes. Black grime marbled the vinyl seat where I sat. Through the mesh grate that divided the car, I could only see the ruff of the policeman’s blue jacket, the pink of his balding pate and an occasional flash of his glasses in the rearview mirror. I hoped my choice of lyrics would encourage him to rethink his role in an oppressive society. To my great annoyance, I realized that he was amused.

I had just been arrested at a Divest Now sit-in at Old Union. My participation—sitting cross-legged on the cold linoleum—was spur-of-the-moment, fueled by bravado. When the police reached me, I went limp—to “symbolize the arrest of black South Africans against their will.” Two officers hoisted my upper arms behind my back and bent my hands over in an excruciating wrist crunch. My bravado was no match for pain. It wasn’t long before I walked to the back room and sat—tears brimming, wrists swelling—with other bewildered students who had been taken into custody.

Stanford president Donald Kennedy asked law professor John Kaplan to investigate the use of pain compliance techniques at Old Union. Kaplan found that while not illegal, the “means of carrying out the unresisting students was wrong and unjustified.” We were sent letters of apology. I remember calling the Kaplan report a whitewash.

At the same time, pressure was building on the University to stop investing in companies that did business in South Africa. When more than 50 people staged the next sit-in, I watched as the police used slings to carry limp protesters away, inflicting no pain.

In the midst of this, Student Affairs sent me a special invitation to a reception with Nobel Prize winner Desmond Tutu. I resented the attempt to “co-opt” me, but I went anyway. Awestruck, I shook Bishop Tutu’s hand.

Within five months, Stanford, like many other universities and large institutional investors, began selective divestment from South Africa. Much of what I did 20 years ago makes me laugh, but I still feel proud of my tiny role in speeding the demise of apartheid.


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