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Expel Dow from Your School!

Back to Campaigns

While the people of Bhopal wallow in chemical sludge, Dow diligently continues to buy influence at colleges and universities across the country with giveaways that now total more than $60 million. Find out whether your university accepts funding from Dow; if so, tell your university to turn it down until Dow gets its priorities straight.

Why Expel Dow from Your School? Action Ideas
How it Makes a Difference Resources
Campaign Outline Challenging Dow: How We Did It At UM


Why Expel Dow from Your School?

Dow Values
Dow Supports...
Dow Ignores...

Lecture Series

nice...

Chemical Death


not nice

Why not? It’s not as though Dow holds students in particularly high regard. And really, do we want Dow – a company with a long and ugly history of chemical terror – associated with our institutions of learning? Should our schools be tarnished by Dow’s profiteering from human suffering and slaughter?

Till date, Dow’s giveaways to colleges and universities have totaled more than $60 million. That kind of money buys a lot of influence. And while the projects Dow funds may not themselves always be objectionable – who can complain about a nice lecture now and then? – we shouldn’t have to measure the cost in human life. The fact that Dow has not acted to stop the ongoing contamination of tens of thousands - for which it is responsible - is inhumane, unjust, and immoral. Dow’s evasion of responsibility in Bhopal means that another life is lost each day, and there’s no reason why our schools should be complicit in the crime by accepting Dow’s blood money.

Our schools don’t accept drug money. No doubt they’d turn down a check from Saddam Hussein, the man who ordered the chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja (killing an estimated 5,000 people). Why should our schools condone the chemical terror which Dow-Carbide continues to perpetuate in Bhopal? It’s a question worth asking. And while your school may be reluctant to take action, other schools are already doing so: for example, the University of Arizona, which has an official policy regulating its association with corporations on ethical grounds.

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How it Makes a Difference

Sixty million dollars is a lot of money. Obviously Dow feels buying influence at schools across the country is important – more important, apparently, than human life itself. The extent of Dow’s involvement with our institutions of learning implies their importance: colleges and universities are a central strategic, reputational, and financial interest to Dow. By threatening Dow’s presence at schools across the country, we pose a significant threat to Dow’s business interests: a similar student movement 30 years ago successfully forced Dow to end its production of napalm for the US military.

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Campaign Outline

Learn more about the research Dow may be funding at your school!

Vision
Student pressure threatens Dow’s business interests, forcing the company to address its responsibilities in Bhopal and agree to the survivors’ demands.

Goals
..........1. Educate your campus, community, and university administration about Dow’s responsibility for ongoing chemical terror in Bhopal
..........2. Organize a widespread campaign, forcing your school to refuse Dow’s blood money until Dow accepts its responsibilities in Bhopal
..........3. Harm Dow’s reputation and humiliate the company through coverage of your campaign in the media.

Strategies
..........1. Build a widespread coalition in support of your efforts
..........2. Pursue the support of students, faculty, and alumni
..........3. Prepare for the long haul. Any campaign is likely to last a year or longer before your efforts are successful.

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Action Ideas

Pass a Student Government Resolution
Draft a resolution calling on your school to divest, reject Dow’s funding, or expel Dow recruiters. Present the resolution to your student government with a supporting petition from the student body, faculty, and alumni.

Find out more

University of Michigan

Dow Buildings
Do you have a Dow Building (or lounge, or plaza) on YOUR campus? If so, perhaps you should rename it! Do so at night (if you modify the signs, make sure your changes cause no permanent damage) or organize a public ceremony and invite the media. Tell them that Dow’s money isn’t welcome at your school so long as they neglect their responsibilities in Bhopal.

Alternately, you can organize a “quarantine” of the building. Dress in white biohazard suits and white face masks and advise students that entry into the building might be unsafe, given Dow's history of environmental contamination.

If you’re really creative, you can borrow a projector, design a skull and crossbones slide, and project it onto your campus Dow building.

Petitions
Petitions are the time-honored way of demonstrating public support for your campaign and can also be a useful tool for introducing people to an issue.

Rather than assigning a few people to sit at a table and collect signatures, it’s more efficient for everyone in the group to get in on the act, and collect 20 or so signatures per week (or more if you can) from friends, folks in their dorms, etc. Give people a basic rap to say, hand out the blank petitions at a meeting and send them off!

As with other kinds of sign-up sheets, it’s good to put yourself and a few friends at the top of the sheet so nobody has to be the first. Keep the original petition and send copies of it to your target(s).

Add everyone who signs up to a low-traffic “action alert” email list, so that they’ll know about other opportunities to support your efforts.

Balloon Petition
As a creative variation on traditional petitioning, write a brief slogan (such as “Justice for Bhopal Now”) on helium balloons and collect signatures on the balloons before tying them all over campus.

Alumni Support
As a major source of financial support for your school, alumni carry great weight with the administration. Circulate a sign-on letter to gather alumni support for your campaign, and make it public if your school refuses to take action. In extreme circumstances, you may want to organize an alumni boycott of donations to your school, or collect donations in a separate fund that you’ll release to the school when they agree to your demands. Check with your Alumni Office for a list of major donors to your school.

The Run-Around
Are you getting the run-around from your college or university? Organize one yourself: run in a circle around the home of your college President or Chancellor to highlight the treatment you’re getting from your school, and demand action.

Blood Money
Deliver some creatively designed “blood money” to your school to symbolize its complicity in Dow's crimes in Bhopal – or plaster the sidewalk in front of Chancellor's house with their dirty dollars. Alternately, it may be fun to dress up as a Dow executive and attempt to donate your bloody money to the school.

At Brown University

Chalkings
Get a couple buckets of sidewalk chalk and decorate campus. Chalking is cheap, fun, creative, and effective. Some schools don’t like it, but it’s pretty harmless and if you do it late at night, you’ll avoid scrutiny. You can use it to educate, advertise, or put pressure on your administration (Ex.: by chalking the night before a lot of alumni or parents are visiting campus).

One possibility: sketch body outlines around campus (particularly around the Dow Building, if you have one, or the President’s house) and write the names of Bhopal victims inside, or Bhopal slogans.

Organize a Run for Your Life!! Race
Organize a short race to dramatize and re-create the disaster. Begin with a (dry ice) gas “leak” (outside a Dow building if you have one on campus) and urge the runners to dash for safety. Dress up as the Grim Reaper, catch people as they flee, and give them death certificates at the end. Award the “survivors” (the winners) with “metals” symbolizing the continuing chemical and heavy metal contamination that burdens the people of Bhopal.

View more photos from the race!

At the University of Michigan, the “Run for Your Life!!” race served three purposes: raising awareness about the disaster among the student body in an engaging and participatory way; drawing attention to the University’s unacceptable association with Dow, and garnering valuable publicity for the campaign. Participants were asked to sign away their rights by a "Dow representative" sporting a Pinocchio nose. The Dow rep spoke grandly about Dow's discussions with survivors and attempts to develop a philanthropic strategy for Bhopal, but the runners weren't buying it. Instead they signed allegations of liability, charging the company with ignoring its clear legal responsibilities in Bhopal.

The race began with a dry ice "gas leak" outside of the Dow Chemistry Laboratories on Central Campus. Participants began to cough and soon they fled, chased by a resolute Grim Reaper sporting a nasty scythe. Before the runners reached the vicinity of the University Hospitals, more than 40% had been culled by the Reaper. Death certificates and stickers reading "I DIED: Ask Me How" were distributed to those who were caught; the winners were granted lead and mercury “metals”, symbolizing the continuing contamination that even the survivors of the Bhopal disaster continue to face. Water bottles reading "CLEAN WATER - What Bhopal Lacks" were distributed to all the participants, who had braved the weather and turned out to run in spite of near-freezing temperatures. The race received coverage in the local section of Monday's Ann Arbor News.

A thousand bloody handprints of Bhopali children

Bloody Handprints
Build a toxic waste drum out of chicken wire and paper mache (if you can’t find a real one), paint it white (red for Dow’s symbol) and then plant it in a major thoroughfare. As people pass through, you can ask them to leave their bloody handprints in red fingerpaint. Then deliver it to a key member of your college with a demand for action. The same can also be done with a large cloth banner.

Put Dow On Trial
This is a creative and engaging way of educating the campus community about the Bhopal disaster. It involves a presentation of evidence, a prosecution and a defense, and an impartial jury which can convict Dow on the basis of the evidence presented. You can invite law students, the mock trial group, or Dow representatives to participate, and notify the media - and Dow - of the outcome.

Alternately, you could empanel a group of students as a Grand Jury and ask them to issue an indictment. A Grand Jury would differ from a full trial in that:

..........• The standard of proof is lower. The Grand Jury simply needs to conclude that a "preponderance of the evidence" suggests that a party is guilty. A conviction requires reasonable doubt.
..........• In a trial, there is a prosecutor and a defendant. However the Grand Jury is simpler: there are no judges or opposing lawyers, only the prosecution and an impartial body of citizens. Evidence is presented, and on the basis of that evidence the Grand Jury decides whether or not to indict. A Grand Jury can also subpoena witnesses and evidence.
..........• An indictment leaves open the interesting possibility of a response from the company. In the indictment, you can demand that a Dow representative appear to stand trial at your school. In the unlikely event that one does appear, then you could have an actual trial - and that would certainly be interesting. However what you'll likely receive instead is a letter from Dow, espousing their PR talking points, which you'll be able to post for the whole school to read. If they fail to appear, you can declare them "absconders", just like the Chief Judicial Magistrate court in Bhopal, and issue arrest warrants for the Board of Directors and your University Administration.

The whole process is interactive theater from start to finish, and it lends itself to media coverage: "Blah University Students Indict $40 Billion Company for Corporate Manslaughter". You can even give interviews "in character" as the prosecutor or as a juror.

Summon the "Dow Grim Reaper"
Dress up as the Dow Grim Reaper by painting or taping Dow's symbol on the front of a Grim Reaper costume. Then cull your student body by handing them “death slips” that explain how and why your victims have died. It’s a fun way to spread the word about Bhopal - and let everyone know who’s responsible.

Hand out “Bhopal Water”
Concoct a nasty brew of foul-tasting ingredients and hand it out to students on a silver platter. Dress up as a waiter and approach people on your college green or in your school’s cafeterias. Invite them to try the Bhopal water but insist that they sign a liability waiver in case of injury or death. Educate yourself beforehand about the toxins found in actual Bhopal water.

A creative twist: befoul (but do no damage to) a public fountain. Dress up as Dow executives and angrily assert that the water is clean, and fine for drinking. Refuse to drink the water yourselves but insist that others do so.

University of Michigan, 2002

Leaking Barrels
Dramatize the gas leak with toxic waste barrels and foaming dry ice. Makes a great spectacle!

Fasts or Hunger-Strikes
Public fasts and hunger strikes can be a powerful way of demonstrating your commitment, generating media coverage, and winning supporters to your side. Consider a day-long collective hunger strike, a rotating hunger strike, or an indefinite hunger strike (although most people can go without food for several days, consult your doctor). If you’re planning an indefinite hunger strike, make sure that some of your leaders don’t join in – they’ll need their energy to organize support behind your struggle. Be sure to drink lots of water. Fasting is a traditional non-violent tactic that has been used by women suffragists, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, political prisoners and others. If you are going on a prolonged hunger strike (more than 1-3 days), read up on it first, so you know what you’re doing.

Rallies
The purpose of a rally is to show your level of support to your target, to invigorate your supporters and to attract media attention to bring new people into the campaign. Rallies can include chanting, signs, banners, music, marching, street theater, impassioned speeches, humor, presenting petitions and anything else you like. The advertising could and should include:
..........• Press releases to papers, radio, and TV (with follow-up)
..........• Announcements in classes and to other groups
..........• Chalking on the sidewalks and blackboards
..........• Mailings to your mailing list, and calls to your phone list
..........• Posters

In front of the Indian Consulate in New York

Develop a sensible time-line and make sure everything gets done on time, with people assigned to specific tasks - as usual, you can do a good job at a reasonable pace with a lot of people, or a bad job frantically with just a few. It’s especially important to have some last-minute advertising the day of the rally - chalk on the sidewalks the night before, leaflet the day of, etc.

Rallies usually begin with a short introduction by an MC and then a series of speeches, chants, music, and so on. Some things to help rallies go well:
..........• Keep speakers on strict time limits that you warn them about in advance. Have a fearless MC signal ‘timeout’ if they go over.
..........• Use the rally to promote your group. You deserve the reward for organizing it.
..........• If it’s outside, remember to put a rain location on the posters.
..........• Have a good diversity of speakers (gender, race, etc.) and don’t rely again and again on the same good speakers. New people need to develop those skills too, and they’ll have a blast. Trust them.
..........• Have several people designated as representatives to the press.
..........• Getting people to crowd together and having colorful banners in the background will make for good pictures.
..........• Have a few marshals on hand to direct the crowd, lead chants, and so on.
..........• Make the rally visually attractive - lots of signs and banners, T-shirts with slogans, costumes and theater and so on. You can cheaply make full color T-shirts with color inkjet printers, an iron, and T-shirt transfer paper (1.50 a sheet). How about a nighttime march, carrying torches? Ooooh!

Press tips:
..........• Find them - don’t wait for them to find you. Control the media, instead of letting them control you.
..........• Have several “sound bites” ready beforehand. Saying these, and repeating them if necessary, is a higher priority than answering the reporter’s questions (sad, but true).
..........• Don’t make long-winded speeches; they’ll be edited to death.
..........• A press packet prepared beforehand with detailed information might help.
..........• Do what you can to make the audience well informed - it looks bad for them to say, “Well, uh, I guess I came cause, well, yah know, I’m really concerned about stuff.”

Banner Drops
Drop a banner from a high spot. Big Banner. Good photo-op.

 

Sit-Ins
Sit-ins are a tactic that first gained popularity in the Thirties in the labor movement, then in the Sixties in the Civil Rights movement. They have recently gained notoriety for their successful use by the student anti-sweatshop movement. Occupying (or sitting-in) a building is one of the strongest non-violent forms of action that a group can take. By sitting in your school president’s office, or an important part of the administration building, you reduce their ability to operate. The result can be anything from confusion, to intense hostility, to capitulation. You risk punishment and arrest, but by acting boldly you’ll get extensive media coverage and greatly increase the likelihood of negotiations and their success.

You should NOT hold a sit-in until you have worked through the initial stages of educating people and holding one or more protests. A sit-in is a last resort, and should not be done out of the blue. However if, after having worked on an issue for a long time, you’re hitting your head against a brick wall, then the time might be ripe for a sit-in.

You’ll need a core group of people to start the effort. Organize a series of meetings over the course of which you introduce and discuss the sit-in option. Don’t force reluctant people to commit, but over a couple weeks build up a list of people willing to sit-in. Get them to sign a pledge and repeatedly verify that they are comfortable doing so. Aim for group consensus on the decision to sit-in. Members who do not want to sit-in will hopefully be supportive of those who do, and you need some activists on the outside to organize rallies in your support. Discuss what you’ll do if security tells you to leave. Scout out the site. It should be strategic (a site of power), ideally near the center of campus (where you can gather supporters), and large enough to accommodate your group of people for a couple days or more.

To avoid security stopping you before you can get in the building, you should keep the discussion of doing a sit-in off all email lists (especially details of date and time). Rely upon word-of-mouth, calling people and group meetings.

Don't forget your hippopotamus

Here’s a list of things to bring:
..........• Backpacks
..........• Food and water
..........• Deodorant (and other personal hygiene items)
..........• Blankets, sleeping bags, pillows
..........• Books, cards, homework
..........• Cameras
..........• Signs
..........• Laptops
..........• Cellular phone(s): to call outside supporters and the media
..........• List of outside supporters and media to call
..........• Scanner radio: for $50-$100 you can buy a handheld scanner that will let you listen to your security and city police, hopefully giving you advance warning before they take any action (though using it to do so is slightly illegal). Tip: Try Ebay or this site for a cheap scanner. Also you should be able to find a list of frequencies on the web.
..........• Reporter(s): the more reporter present, the better you will get treated by your target (the more likely they are to negotiate and grant your demands).
..........• Don’t overpack.

You might have the freedom to come and leave, in which case you can arrange to deliver assignments and stay on top of your courses. Leave the space neat and tidy. Don’t punish the underpaid secretaries and janitors who will have to clean up any mess you leave.

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Resources

..........Handouts and fact sheets about Bhopal
..........Draft Media Advisory/Press Release
..........Bhopal Posters
..........Draft advertising poster
..........• Draft Bhopal Quartersheets: One & Two
..........Survivor testimonials
..........Partial list of dead & injured
..........Bhopal poetry
..........Bhopal graphics
..........Bhopal slogans
..........Understand your rights
..........Request a sample of Bhopal water or an educational resource
..........• Amnesty International report: Clouds of Injustice
..........In-depth background information
..........Effective Campus Petition Drives: A Strategy
..........• Sample petitions for students and faculty to sign
..........Health facts for hunger-strikers (courtesy of United Students Against Sweatshops)
..........• Publicity fliers (One & Two) about the Bhopal Photo exhibit at the University of Michigan
..........• A bus advertisement about the Bhopal Photo exhibit at the University of Michigan
..........• Check with university or city officials to see whether your "Run for Your Life!" race needs a permit.
..........• You may require insurance for a "Run for Your Life!" race. K&K Insurance offers reasonable rates.
..........• Publicity fliers (One & Two) about the "Run for Your Life!" race at the University of Michigan
..........• A "Run for Your Life!" ad that ran in the Ann Arbor News
..........• A bus advertisement about the "Run for Your Life!" race at the University of Michigan
..........Health facts for hunger-strikers (courtesy of United Students Against Sweatshops)
..........Sit in! A Tactical Analysis by Aaron Kreider

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Challenging Dow: How We Did It At The University of Michigan
By Ryan Bodanyi

In the fall of 2002, a small group of students came together at the University of Michigan to form the first campus campaign for Justice in Bhopal. We knew that we wanted to pressure Dow by challenging its relationship to the University of Michigan, and since Dow, a $40 billion company, was headquartered only an hour and a half away, we figured that Dow might have a significant presence at our school. But first we had to figure out what it was.

We started our research in October of 2002. Our task was made easier by the fact that our school was a public institution, so the first thing that we did was to file an open records request. A few of us had had previous experience filing requests, and we knew where within the University the requests should be filed. In the meanwhile, we began an intensive search of the school’s website, using a wide variety of search terms designed to bring up any articles, press releases or websites that might reveal the extent of the University’s relationship with Dow. This part was tedious; usually research is, but we uncovered a treasure trove of material. Leading University officials had been quoted publicly saying such things as “We are grateful to Dow - for their generosity, for their support, and for their trust.” Trust? Our school was grateful for Dow’s trust? Obviously Dow’s cash had bought it a lot of influence at the University of Michigan, an unsettling thought given what we knew about Dow.

When we received the University’s response to our open records request a month later, we learned that the University didn’t own any Dow stock. However Dow was a major contributor to the University of Michigan (over $12 million, placing it nearly in the top 25 all-time donors), and its associated foundations had contributed millions more. It was impressive to see Dow’s name on campus buildings, but from our research we knew that they only contributed a tiny fraction – sometimes as little as four or five percent – of the total building costs. And while lecture series are nice (who doesn’t enjoy a nice lecture now and then?), we considered it immoral to accept their money while Dow refused to spend that very same money to clean up its contamination in Bhopal – from which people continue to die every day. We decided that something had to be done.

But what? We put our heads together and crafted a plan of action. Armed with our new knowledge, we approached the Michigan Daily, our campus newspaper, and they agreed to do a feature on Dow, Bhopal, and the University’s ties to both. Eventually, this feature (published in January, 2003) grew to a sprawling full-page spread, and included six full articles, several of them written by us. It caused a major stir when it was published, and gave added momentum to our campaign. In the meanwhile, we drafted a resolution that we planned to submit to the Michigan Student Assembly (MSA) which called on the University to refuse future donations from Dow until Dow began spending an equivalent amount to clean up Bhopal. We chose this strategy because we felt it was critical that we have demonstrable support from students for our cause – asking the University to refuse free money is a controversial thing, and we didn’t want to negotiate with the university without being able to say that we had the students on our side. Garnering some measurable example of student support would also make it easier for us to ask faculty for their support – we understood that on the University totem pole, students were ranked rather low, but we didn’t think that many faculty would support our campaign without having the excuse of widespread student support.

Drafting the resolution was one thing; gathering support was another. We chose a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, we’d ask regular students crossing the Diag (our campus crossroads) to sign a petition endorsing the resolution. On the other hand, we decided to approach other student groups and ask to speak about the resolution at their next meeting. Most student groups were more than willing to give us five minutes of their time, and we found that talking about Bhopal and the resolution served two purposes: first, student groups of all stripes (even musical, athletic, and conservative political groups) were willing to sign on; second, and more importantly, we were reaching out to active students throughout the university. While most were supportive, there were a few, usually one or two per group, who were outraged, and wanted to get further involved. Of course we told them to come to our weekly meetings and within a few weeks our meetings were huge, and represented a broad spectrum of students across the university.

On March 17, 2003, when the resolution came due for a vote before the Student Assembly, we were ready. Fully 28 student groups had signed on in support – unheard of for a student resolution – and 700 individual students had signed petitions in support. Several faculty members had signed on in support as well, and we’d lined up thirteen students – at 5 minutes each – to speak in favor of the resolution. As it happens, we were lucky that the support was so overwhelming. Dow had heard about our resolution and they weren’t happy. In fact, they had their head of Public Relations take time away from dealing with Agent Orange, dioxin, nemagon and Dow’s other scandals to focus his time on us. Unbeknownst to us, Dow had obtained a copy of our resolution and had developed slick rebuttals line by line – rebuttals that were no less slick or persuasive for being lies. These were read out in front of the Student Assembly, and if our support had been less substantial (or if we’d had fewer people there to explain how Dow was lying) we could easily have lost the vote. In the end it was close – 13 in favor, 10 voting against, with 7 abstentions. But we won! Dow was defeated and we celebrated.

From the start, we understood that it would be impossible to end Dow’s influence within a single school year. When we began the campaign no one knew about Bhopal or why it was important. By the end of the year Dow was afraid to show its face on campus lest we organize a protest (they learned this the hard way). Professors and Deans within several schools were privately questioning Dow’s influence in their departments and whether it should continue. Senior University officials were in closed-door discussions with Dow about our campaign, we learned. Only one thing stood in the way of ultimate success: graduation.

With newer blood, we could have carried on the campaign the following year, building faculty and community support and making Dow’s influence at the University politically untenable. But our group made the cardinal error that so many campus groups do: the leaders were all seniors! Graduation was like a decapitation, and instead of starting where we had left off next fall, the group started back at square one.

Despite that painful lesson, others are hopeful. Within one year it is possible to build widespread awareness and outrage about Bhopal. It is possible to challenge Dow’s influence at our schools, and to pose a threat by doing so. It is possible to defeat them in battle – with time, a smart strategy, and a strong group it is possible to win. Now, it’s your turn!

Questions? Email Ryan!

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The international student campaign to hold Dow accountable for Bhopal, and its other toxic legacies around the world.
For more information about the campaign, or for problems regarding this website, contact
Shana Ortman, the US Coordinator for the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.
Last updated: May 1, 2008

WE ALL LIVE IN BHOPAL

"The year 2003 was a special year in the history of the campaign for justice in Bhopal. It was the year when student and youth supporters from at least 30 campuses in the US and India took action against Dow Chemical or in support of the demands of the Bhopal survivors. As we enter the 20th year of the unfolding Bhopal disaster, we can, with your support, convey to Dow Chemical that the fight for justice in Bhopal is getting stronger and will continue till justice is done. We look forward to your continued support and good wishes, and hope that our joint struggle will pave the way for a just world free of the abuse of corporate power."

Signed/ Rasheeda Bi, Champa Devi Shukla
Bhopal Gas Affected Women Stationery Employees Union
International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal