When I was in college, back in the late 1980s, the fashionable cause among college students was putting an end to apartheid in South Africa. If you’re younger than 35, you may never had heard that term before, and that’s a good thing. It was an awful system, which imprisoned Nelson Mandela for decades, cost Steve Biko and many others their lives, and dehumanized millions of people on the basis of race. It had no place in the modern world, and we’re all better off now that it’s gone.
The principal strategy of the protests was demanding that universities divest themselves of all financial holdings in South Africa. The thinking was that by investing in a nation with such terrible laws, the universities were implicitly condoning the system. They were even helping to prop it up, in some way. There were lots of places that universities could invest their money, and where people weren’t treated as less than human. Divestiture was one way–maybe the only way–that outsiders could exert any pressure on South Africa. And apparently it worked. Mandela was released from prison, and was subsequently elected as the first president of a new, post-apartheid South Africa.
As a college student, the only thing I could invest in came with one topping on it, and was delivered to my door in 30 minutes or less. But I watched and learned how money can be used to make a statement. I hoped I would be able to apply that lesson some day, and today was the day that it happened.
As I wrote about here, Coca-Cola provides funding to the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC for short. One of ALEC’s other funders, the National Rifle Association, used Florida as a test case for the “Stand your ground” law, which is now at the center of the Trayvon Martin case in Florida. I won’t say that Coca-Cola directly had anything to do with this law, but I will say that ALEC ties them to this law, if only in an indirect way. And that’s enough for me.
When I learned of Coke’s involvement with ALEC, I decided to sell the few shares of Coca-Cola that I had in a brokerage account. I bought them a few years ago, when stocks were crashing low, and this investment did pay off pretty well when I finally sold it. They also pay their shareholders $2 a share in dividends each year, and that number has gone up continuously for more than 50 years. I’ll never see any of that money again, but I’m all right with that. Trayvon Martin has it much worse than I ever will.
I divested myself of a few shares of a stock, and the proceeds aren’t worth getting too excited about. Coke will keep on making their money and giving it back to their stockholders, but that group doesn’t include me anymore. The money that I got will soon be reinvested into another stock, but one that won’t have anything to do with ALEC. In fact, that will be the first thing I’ll look for when scouting out the next investment I’ll make.
Am I also willing to go looking at mutual funds, and sell off any that are invested in Coke? No, not yet. This is just a step in that direction, but at least it’s a start.