Student leaders tackle peace organizing

Student leaders from 15 Northeast campuses attended MIT peace conference in April. Photo by Mutsuko Ohnishi. Student leaders from 15 Northeast campuses attended MIT peace conference in April. Photo by Mutsuko Ohnishi.

This article appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of the Massachusetts Peace Action newsletter.

Students from across the Northeast gathered at MIT this spring to share their experiences in campus organizing for peace and social justice. They joined dozens of older experts and activists at the conference “Invest in Minds, Not Missiles: Reducing the Threat of Nuclear War” on April 7 and 8.

The students, whose academic levels ranged from high school through graduate school and beyond, traveled from more than 15 campuses in New England, New York and New Jersey to attend. Organizers of the conference had responded to the call from the 2017 MIT anti-nuclear conference to focus on recruiting young people. Grants from the Amy Rugel Foundation and the Ploughshares Fund subsidized student travel and lodging. 

The first day of the conference consisted of a series of plenaries and workshops by experts analyzing the current war danger. For more on their compelling and informative presentations, see https://www.peoplesengagement.org/

Students Exchange Organizing Strategies

On the second day, the students gathered for a round-table discussion of campus organizing. They described a low level of concern among their peers about nuclear war; however, they noted, linking peace issues to related subjects such as the suffering of refugees, the militarization of police forces, and the defunding of human service programs had allowed them to reach a broader audience. Their practical tactics included holding forums with guest speakers, showing films, creating curricula, and collecting signatures on petitions. 

 

Luisa Kenausis

Luisa Kenausis

Luisa Kenausis, a former MIT undergrad, described how she and other students contacted Physics Dept. faculty members, asking them to include in their lectures material on the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, including the unimaginable human suffering they caused. Now Luisa and her MIT mentor, Physics Prof. Aron Bernstein, are developing a website with model curriculum modules to distribute broadly.

Hainan Zhang of Rutgers described his participation in research on “nuclear winter,” the inevitable result of a general nuclear war, or even a limited nuclear exchange: the smoke and soot from the firestorms would be lofted into the stratosphere, would block out the sun for a decade or more, and would kill harvests around the globe. He promised to share his material with other campus groups.

Andrew King, from UMass Boston, described the importance of student peace activists joining in the Poor People’s Campaign. He noted that one of the six weeks of PPC non-violent civil disobedience this spring was devoted to protesting the war economy, which is draining resources from essential social programs, including education. 

Emma Budd and Eric Stolar

Emma Budd and Eric Stolar

Emma Budd and Eric Stolar of Fordham University addressed the issue of student groups obtaining resources from their universities. They described how their organization, “Humanitarian Student Union,” was able to hold educational talks and secure resources from an academic department interested in international affairs. Several groups mentioned receiving support and resources from their campus ministries.

Sebastien Phillipe reported success at Princeton University in securing financial support from academic departments for a campus-wide Day of Action, which covered a range of issues including climate change, immigration, and restrictions on free speech.

Participants agreed to form a Northeast Campus Peace and Justice Organizing Network to provide mutual assistance and support, and to help seed peace and justice clubs on other campuses. This work will build on the campus organizing efforts of Peace Action of New York State and of Massachusetts Peace Action.

Jonathan King, an MIT biochemistry professor and chair of Mass. Peace Action’s Nuclear Disarmament Working Group, served as chair of the MIT conference.