Two student groups staged a sit-in yesterday at the office of Public Policy Dean Rebecca Blank over a professor”s involvement in a company that is building a gas pipeline in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
“Burma”s military regime is building a gas pipeline with forced labor,” said SNRE sophomore William Ho, co-chair of the Environmental Justice Group, which staged the protest along with members of Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality.
Business Administration and Public Policy Prof. Marina Whitman is on the board of directors of Unocal, a corporation involved with the pipeline. She was not in her office yesterday and did not return messages left at her home.
Besides forced labor, Ho also expressed concern about the environmental implications of building the pipeline.
“The gas pipeline is a joint venture between Unocal, Total of France and the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise,” Ho said. “The government is generating profits from the pipeline that is being built with forced labor and running through Burma”s Tenasserim forest. Last I heard it was very close to being completed.”
The protesters also refused to call Burma by its new name of Myanmar, saying it was chosen by the military regime.
“We have a unique opportunity to bring this issue to light,” said Environmental Justice Group spokesman Ryan Bodanyi, an RC sophomore. “It is an opportunity to voice our dissent.”
The protesters also wanted to address the University”s investment”s in Myanmar and to stop further investment.
“The University has over $20 million of investments in companies that are doing business in Burma,” Bodanyi said.
“Since Whitman is not at school today we will be doing a sit in at the dean”s office,” he said. “Our plans are to get Marina Whitman on the phone and we have a list of demands we will read to her.”
When asked whether they had tried other means to approach Whitman, Bodanyi said, “We have met with Marina Whitman in the past and we agreed to disagree. We don”t believe any more letter sending will make a difference. We want to send the message that there is a groundswell of support for human rights in Burma.”
The group made a mock pipeline to represent the one in Myanmar. Students showed support by signing it and putting their palm prints on it.
Ho said that Unocal is a U.S. corporation that invests in Myanmar even though the U.S. government passed legislation banning investment in the country.”We will demand Whitman to admit that Unocal”s investment directly benefits the military regime,” he said.
The protest began on the Diag, later moving to Blank”s office for a sit-in.
The dean arrived by 3 p.m. while the students waited in her office, crowding the chairs and the floor. “The dean said that Marina Whitman is in New York and they could not get a hold of her,” Ho said. “She did say that we could leave the signed pipeline along with our list of demands and she would guarantee delivery when Whitman got back.”
Blank also said that she wouldn”t call the event a sit-in.
“They clearly wanted to leave somethings and we accepted,” she said. “They told me about their literature and they expressed their concerns about the current government in Myanmar.”
Ho was pleased with the awareness the protest raised.
“I thought it went really well. We got a lot of people on the Diag to sign the pipeline. Our main goal was to raise public awareness about this issue,” he said.