As our research moves forward on the history of the Grand Rapids movement against South African Apartheid, we continue to find important outcomes of the grassroots organizing that took place in the 1970s and 80s.
Recently, we posted the second part of a two-part article on the Roots of the South African Anti-Apartheid Campaign in Grand Rapids and last week we posted an interview with Rev. Doug Van Doren, someone who was deeply involved in the effort to get the City of Grand Rapids to pass a resolution in support of Divestment from companies doing business in South Africa in the 1980s.
The City of Grand Rapids eventually did divest funds from institutions doing business in South Africa, making Grand Rapids one of the first cities in Michigan to take such action. In the interview with Rev. Van Doren, we also discovered that the Grand Rapids Public School Board was approached by those involved in the Anti-Apartheid Movement.
The campaign to get the GRPS Board to take a stand against Apartheid was undertaken in 1985. You can read a letter (pages 1 – 2) that Rev. Van Doren had sent to the Finance Committee of the GRPS Board in late August of 1985 , which was in response to a meeting the South African Working Group had with GRPS. The letter concludes by saying:
“Finally, let me say that I am very impressed with the seriousness and sense of responsibility Mr. Nienhuis and the Committee has brought to this task. My hope, of course, is that you will recommend to the School Board a resolution for full divestiture. I think it is both the morally and fiscally responsible thing to do. I respect the fact that you are looking at it thoroughly and seriously. That seriousness will be reflected in whatever comments I make about your recommendations, whatever you decide to do.”
The efforts of the local anti-Apartheid group certainly paid off, since the Grand Rapids Public School Board voted 7 – 2 in favor of condemning South African Apartheid. Here is part of that resolution, which emphatically condemns racial apartheid.
The entire resolution can be read here (pages 4 – 5), which includes the names of Board members who voted for the resolution and those who did not. The resolution’s position on divestment, was to take a stand against any new investments in South Africa and that they would not do business with corporations also involved in South Africa.
This action, like the one that organizers got the City of Grand Rapids to take, demonstrates once again that it is possible to get make global justice connections on a local level and that local institutions can be held accountable if there is organized opposition to institutional violence, as in the case of South African Apartheid.