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Opinion: Money Talks

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I’ve heard Ellie Hamrick owns a megaphone, but thankfully she doesn’t have it when she’s talking to me. The megaphone is a favorite tool of the political activist. It rallies the troops and blasts the message. Megaphones are part of the romantic image of the political activist. They’re cute, but they don’t get results. If results are what you want, and if politics results are all that you want, then money talks louder than any megaphone. Ellie Hamrick knows about megaphones, but more importantly she knows about results.

Hamrick is the media liaison for Ohio University STAND, mistress of the message and high priestess of the effort to make OU a campus free of conflict mineral technology. STAND desires something called a proxy resolution voting guideline for the university. Hamrick recites her explanation of what a proxy resolution voting guideline is as if she does so almost every day. She then confirms that she does so almost every day.

The guideline would allow OU to use its shares of stock in various companies to vote in favor of resolutions within those companies to advance the procurement of conflict-free materials from places like the Congo. The project is designed to utilize economics to achieve social and political ends. It’s also intended to be moderate enough for OU’s administration to stomach, but in getting the administration to swallow, Hamrick explains it’s important to speak their language.

“We ask ourselves ‘What do they hold dear?’” said Hamrick.

What administration officials hold dear, according to Hamrick, are their reputations first and foremost. That is why STAND has engaged in public appeals in an effort to put pressure on the university.

The next item on Hamrick’s list – in fact the next three items on Hamrick’s list – is “Money.” Hamrick describes STAND’s efforts to contact alumni and donors who may be sympathetic to the cause of conflict-free investment and procurement policies. Such donors might then be willing to use their contributions to push the administration in the direction that STAND would prefer.

Finally, Hamrick makes the point that President Roderick McDavis and the rest of the administrators are beholden to the Board of Trustees. While Hamrick notes that the trustees themselves don’t appear to care much for the idea of conflict-free investment or procurement, bypassing administrators and speaking directly to trustees seems to be an effective tactic in forcing university action.

That sort of economic and political bullying helped STAND reach something of a milestone in August when President McDavis’s Ad Hoc Committee for Socially Responsible Practices released a statement, promising to “examine seriously, and when appropriate to reassess our procurement and investment practices, in cases where a company’s activities or policies plausibly cause social injury.”

While Hamrick maintains that the statement means nothing if it’s not supported by action, the statement itself is a result, and game results are all that matter. Yelling makes you weary, tweets go unread and petitions unsigned. Traditional methods of activism mean nothing if they are not partnered with fierce and unrelenting economic and political pressure behind the scenes. Activists everywhere need to learn that money talks louder than any megaphone.

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