Sacramento, CA – On Wednesday, November 7th, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) Board voted to divest from for-profit prison companies CoreCivic and GEO Group over their widespread human rights abuses. This is one of the few times in CalSTRS’ history that advocates have successfully pushed the country’s second-largest pension fund to divest.
CalSTRS’ Board heard public comments from Emily Claire Goldman, who spoke on behalf of hundreds of California educators, whose grassroots advocacy helped launch the divestment campaign in California. Goldman, a human rights lawyer, presented the Educators for Migrant Justice petition, co-authored by Berkeley High School teacher, Josh Austin, and signed by nearly 300 educators in California. The petition was accompanied by a letter of support from Freedom for Immigrants, California Immigrant Policy Center, Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, Afrikan Black Coalition, Kehilla Community Synagogue, International Socialist Organization, and the Poor People’s Campaign.
Board members engaged in an emotional debate on the impact of CoreCivic and GEO Group’s facilities on migrants and local communities of color before Nora Vargas, a CalSTRS board member and social justice advocate, raised a motion to divest. The motion was quickly seconded and was then put to a vote where it passed with majority support.
CalSTRS’ divestment is a huge win for California educators and activists who have been pushing CalSTRS to end their financial complicity in crimes against humanity since June when the pension fund’s investments in four migrant abuse companies were first exposed on social media.
“This rejection of private prisons is a resounding vote against child separations and indefinite family detentions, not to mention mass incarceration. Human dignity is the birthright of every human,” said Jonas LaMattery-Brownell a Berkeley Independent Studies Teacher who made a statement to CalSTRS’ Executive Officers during a meeting over the summer.
“I am proud of my retirement fund for acting to improve the lives of children. After all, we try to improve children’s lives every day,” Masha Albrecht, a Berkeley High math teacher who was responsible for an earlier divestment petition presented to CalSTRS’ board in July, stated.
It’s tax money for Californians. It’s our income, earned with the blood sweat and tears we shed caring for the children of the state,” explained Angela Coppola, a Berkeley High history teacher who first alerted colleagues of CalSTRS’ investments in the migrant abuse companies.
CalSTRS’ decision puts mounting pressure on its sister fund, the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), to follow suit and divest its holdings from CoreCivic and GEO Group.
Educators for Migrant Justice is a grassroots advocacy campaign to end pension fund complicity in the migrant abuse crisis. Contact Emily Claire Goldman for more information.