Sachs Convocation Exemplifies Biased, Neoliberal Agenda

Dear President Marvin Krislov:

We are three of the students who helped organize a direct action in opposition to the convocation that took place on Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014. We cannot speak for everyone who organized, participated or wanted to but were not able to engage in the action, but we — speaking only for ourselves — were disappointed yet unsurprised that economist Dr. Jeffrey Sachs was invited to speak to share his research on global sustainability on Wednesday evening. Furthermore, we feel that the administration failed to report a transparent characterization of this speaker to the community, especially considering Sachs’s role as a major foreign economic advisor to transitioning nations in the 1980s and 1990s.

Oberlin College advertised Sachs as immensely successful, boasting a colorful and diverse résumé: “director of the Earth Institute, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, and professor of health policy and management at Columbia University,” author of “three New York Times bestsellers” and advisor to governments in almost every continent.

What we’re not told is that Sachs is complicit in promoting shock therapy — the corporate and state exploitation of major crises (such as economic instability, social conflict and natural disasters) to push through exploitative economic policies while citizens are too emotionally and physically occupied by upheavals to mount effective resistance. These policies pass the cost of economic stabilization onto lower classes, leading to widespread unemployment, low average purchasing power and increased poverty.

He has been an economic advisor to governments including the Bolivian government in the mid-1980s and the Polish and Russian governments in the early 1990s. In 2006, Sachs shifted his focus toward the Millennium Villages Project. Funded by the Earth Institute of Columbia University and the United Nations Development Program, this project has invested in development projects affecting over 500,000 people in 14 villages in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mali, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda. The projects resemble Western-imposed foreign aid models that have repeatedly failed to create truly sustainable development or economic justice. Sachs claims he did not intend to create Milton Friedman-style free market economies or disregard issues of social justice in Poland, Bolivia and Russia, but history speaks for itself, and ultimately, his practice is still founded on violent neoliberal theory.

In protest of the convocation, we distributed informational fliers outlining parts of Sachs’s career that the College overlooked, hung banners of condemnation, recited a mic check and walked out chanting, “No justice! No peace! Keep Sachs out of international relief!” The objective of our action was not to protest Sachs’s views but his actions. Our action was to protest the College’s decision to invite and pay Sachs to come speak as a part of the Convocation Series. We refuse to respect the liberalism and violence over Third World working classes that Sachs and the College uphold by having a dialogue or a debate. We aimed to support the concurrent and more important events Black Lives Matter, historicizing anti-Black violence, and Carry That Weight, supporting survivors of sexual and domestic violence — violences in direct connection to capitalism that continue to be eclipsed and silenced by dominant narratives such as Sachs’s. We sought to contextualize this event as part of a larger trend that continues to indoctrinate the Oberlin College community with values of neoliberalism and elitism.

We hope that you will continue to question the kinds of knowledge that this College presents as truth. Hold the Office of the President, the Finney Lecture Committee and Public Programs accountable to the College’s self-proclaimed progressive politics and pressure them to stop supporting and inviting capitalists and white supremacists to campus. Your respect, silence, apathy and inaction are liberal choices that uphold oppression.

The students who organize to promote transparency and critical thought with regard to systems of oppression have faced increasingly restricted freedoms in terms of voicing opinions on this campus. The administration has been known to keep our chants for transparency and recognition of inconvenient truths as background noise to a much louder, more powerful call for civility. Students who scrutinize the organizers of direct actions because of their demeanors, deliveries or tones hinder progress within the movement and derail the conversation toward a discussion of respectability and away from the purpose of these actions.

–Ana Patricia Robelo, Megan Gisela Bautista, and Gian-Carlo Toriano Parel

College seniors