Opinion: Should New Hampshire really penalize nonviolence?


Published: 04-09-2024 3:53 PM

The Rev. David Grishaw-Jones is pastor of the Community Church of Durham, a congregation of the United Church of Christ, and serves on the steering committee for the United Church of Christ Palestine Israel Network.

Again the New Hampshire House is considering a bill to penalize businesses that participate in boycott and divestment campaigns aimed at ending Israel’s illegal campaign of occupation and apartheid in Palestine.

For hundreds of years, Americans have valued economic activism as protected First Amendment speech (and an important nonviolent tool) in protesting injustice at home and abroad. More recently, Palestinian activists, with Israeli allies, have insisted that boycotts and divestment represent an important sign of hope for meaningful change in their beleaguered homeland.

With SB 439 however, our legislature considers banning participating businesses from receiving state funds and contracts, thereby codifying in New Hampshire law an executive order signed by Governor Chris Sununu in July 2023. If you care, says this law, and if you act in a principled way on that concern, the state will make you pay.

As we urge our state representatives to defeat this bill, we should keep two things in mind. First, this bill comes to New Hampshire in just the same way other malicious bills have come: through extreme right-wing think tanks (such as the American Legislative Executive Council) spreading legislative mayhem. Their boilerplate legislation is designed to demonize transgender kids and their parents; erase from our schools conversation about racism and colonialism; and limit or completely expunge a woman’s right to bodily autonomy and choice. We cannot allow such zealots to spread their anti-democratic agenda here in New Hampshire, thereby degrading our human rights, and our own democratic traditions and tools. We are better than that.

Second, boycotts shine a critical light on companies that make money (lots of money) by selling high-tech weaponry to facilitate Israel’s campaign of destruction and starvation in Gaza. Divestment campaigns do the same for companies, like Chevron and Hewlett Packard, that continue to profit from business-as-usual in a blatantly racist system. In the 1980s, activists in the U.S. and elsewhere proved that boycott and divestment campaigns, shaped by nonviolent practitioners and traditions, were essential and effective in calling the world’s attention to apartheid in South Africa and leveraging significant democratic reform. That work is not finished, but nonviolence offers devastated communities their best chance at sustained progress.

I’m proud to say that our United Church of Christ, a denomination with deep roots in New Hampshire, has supported boycott and divestment campaigns like these for many years. Recently, we recommitted our efforts to working with other nonprofits, religious communities and peace groups to boycott companies complicit in Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

We deplore violence. We insist on nonviolence. And we believe that economic activism is critically important to oppressed movements for justice and liberation — in Palestine and around the world.

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