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September 17, 2014
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Preferred narratives


To me, his testimony was a revelation. I had not previously considered the high price at which my own comfort and privilege were being bought, and here I was being confronted by stark evidence. But even more of a revelation was the reaction of the wealthy and powerful folks at the front of the room: nothing. I saw no flicker of emotion, no dismay or concern or even sympathy on those stern faces. This was my introduction to a certain harsh reality.

Following this meeting, the Harvard Corporation announced that it would release a definitive statement clarifying its investment decisions. But that statement, when it came, merely declared that the corporation would undertake further study of the question, punting the issue into the fall. Students responded with a large protest and a brief occupation of University Hall.

It occurred to me at the time that the Harvard administration might have meant to offer us some instruction by their delay, a lesson entitled “Power Means We Can Do What We Want, When We Want To, and You Can’t Force Us—Particularly When Money is Involved.” But eventually, there was some divestment, even some by Harvard, and eventually, of course, the apartheid regime died.

So that, I think, was the genesis of my political outlook, of my distrust of the powerful, my belief in the amorality of wealth and my propensity to back underdogs. Then in the spring of 1979 came a little incident at Three Mile Island, which led me to Seabrook, NH, and the Clamshell Alliance, and… but that’s a story for another time.

(So, what is your Preferred Narrative—and where did it come from? What feeds it now? Let me know: smendler@yahoo.com )