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Activists decry Minnesota investments in border militarization, climate destruction

By Wyatt Miller |
December 3, 2019
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Activists at MN State Board of Investment (SBI) meeting at State Capitol
Activists at Minnesota State Board of Investment (SBI) meeting at State Capitol, December 2. (Fight Back! News/staff)

St. Paul, MN - The Minnesota State Board of Investment (SBI) held its quarterly meeting at the State Capitol December 2 and got sharp criticism from immigrant rights and anti-war activists, as new documents revealed a nearly $1 million increase in investment in a controversial military technology company. Youth climate strikers also highlighted the SBI’s inaction over state ties to environmental destruction. Both groups were met with vacillation and excuses from the board which is tasked with the responsible investment of public pensions and related funds.

At issue was Elbit Systems, an Israel-based manufacturer of white phosphorus and cluster munitions used in Gaza and contracted by both the U.S. and Israeli governments for border militarization. Documents published on the SBI’s website showed state investments in Elbit worth over $2.1 million, up from around $1.25 million from the previous reporting period, despite years of calls for divestment. In 2017, the Saint Paul-based public Metropolitan State University partnered with Elbit to build a cybersecurity training center.

“Our state cannot continue to invest in a company like Elbit. With our investment, we are complicit in human rights abuses committed by Elbit’s weaponry. Why is this even a debate?” asked Austin Jensen of the MN Anti-War Committee, one of the action’s co-sponsors. Other endorsers included Women Against Military Madness, American Muslims for Palestine, Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee, Minnesota BDS Community, and No Cages MN.

“I personally am implicated in these violations of human rights because I receive a state pension as a retired public school teacher,” said Lucia Wilkes Smith of WAMM. “I need those pension dollars to live month to month, yet I personally have travelled to Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Gaza, where I have learned directly from people living in dire circumstances.”

Wilkes Smith added, “I’m remembering the anti-apartheid movement that successfully called upon U.S. institutions, decades ago, to divest from holdings in South Africa. I know that individuals in this room were arrested for non-violent action taken as they demanded divestment.”

The State Board of Investment includes self-styled progressives like Attorney General Keith Ellison and State Auditor Julie Blaha, and is chaired by Governor Tim Walz.

Activists from Minnesota Youth Climate Strike also addressed the board. “The SBI must proceed toward divestment. The risk assessment must include the unequal health and safety threats posed by climate change to communities of color and underprivileged communities,” said Juwaria Jama, who called for litigation against fossil fuel companies such as Enbridge and Koch Refineries. The strikers also criticized a climate investment report, prepared for the SBI by a private firm, for diminishing the importance of divestment.

The SBI, for its part, lauded that report, with Ellison calling it “a good piece of research” and Chief Investment Officer Mansco Perry championing the report’s claim that “divestment of fossil fuels ... does not directly impact carbon emissions.”

Governor Walz went even further, claiming that the SBI lacks the authority to divest based on social considerations, insisting, “The process matters...the process of how we come up with where we’re investing and how we’re investing.”

Undeterred, the Minnesota Youth Climate Strike plan to rally at the State Capitol on Friday, December 5 at 3 p.m.

The MN Anti-War Committee, along with Women Against Military Madness, American Muslims for Palestine, and other progressive organizations, have called for a protest outside Senator Amy Klobuchar’s office at 1200 S Washington Avenue, Minneapolis, for International Human Rights Day, December 10, at 4:30 p.m.

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