Autumn Convergence: Speaker Biographies

Speaker Biographies for the Autumn Convergence

Leslie Cagan

LeslieCaganLeslie Cagan has worked in a wide range peace and social justice movements locally and nationally for more than 45 years: from the Vietnam war to racism at home, from nuclear disarmament to lesbian/gay liberation, from fighting sexism to working against U.S. military intervention. Leslie helped create and served as the National Coordinator of United for Peace and Justice, a coalition that grew to over 1,400 member groups. Her coalition-building and organizing skills have mobilized hundreds of thousands of people in many of the nation’s largest demonstrations and literally hundreds of other public events and activities including: the million person June 12, 1982 Nuclear Disarmament demonstration in NYC; the historic lesbian/gay rights march on Washington on October, 1987; the march on Washington against the Gulf War in January, 1991; and the largest mobilizations against the war in Iraq (2/15/03, 3/22/03, 8/29/04, 9/24/05 and 1/27/07).

Leslie’s major organizing projects have included: work against the first War against Iraq, normalization of U.S./Cuba relations, work in the LGBT and women’s movements, efforts against the occupation of Palestine, work against police brutality and for budget equity, and much more. She’s worked on several progressive electoral campaigns, including serving as the Field Director in the 1988 Dinkins Mayoral race in NYC. She played a major role in winning back the nation’s first listener-sponsored media network and was chair of the Interim Pacifica Radio National Board. Her writings appear in 9 anthologies, and in scores of journals, newspapers and on-line outlets. 

Neta Crawford

 NetaCrawford Neta Crawford is a Professor of Political Science at BU. She became an activist, working with the Mobilization for Survival and AFSC in RI the 1980s. She was also a staff person in the Freeze campaign and worked with Randy Forsberg at the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies in the 1980s. She’s done and organized the usual peace camps, marches, and organized rallies etc.  She got her PhD at MIT and has taught at UMass Amherst and Brown, before joining the faculty at BostonUniversity.  Her books include Argument and Change in World Politics: Ethics, Decolonization, and Humanitarian Intervention (Cambridge University Press) and Accountability for Killing: Moral Responsibility for Collateral Damage in America’s Post-9/11 Wars  (Oxford University Press) this year.  She is currently the co-director of which has tallied the costs of the post-9/11 wars.  She’s also on the board of FayerweatherStreetSchool in Cambridge.

Harris Gruman

HarrisGrumanHarris Gruman is the Executive Director of the SEIU Massachusetts State Council and the Massachusetts Political Director for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Previously, he was Director of Massachusetts Neighbor to Neighbor, which builds political organizations in low-income communities across the Commonwealth, where he helped lead organizing campaigns to increase child care funding in 1998, raise the minimum wage in 1999 and 2006, and win a $1.2 billion progressive tax package in 2002. He began his organizing career with 14 years experience in Baltimore, Maryland, working on affordable housing, health care, and auto insurance, and local electoral and ballot campaigns. In the early 90’s, he was the Colorado health care organizer for the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers.

Currently, he is playing a leading role in the Raise Up Massachusetts ballot initiative campaign to raise the state minimum wage and guarantee earned sick time for all workers.

On the electoral front, he has run field operations for numerous campaigns challenging conservative incumbents, including John Tierney’s election to Congress in 1996, Worcester State Rep. Jim Leary in 2000, and Medford/Somerville State Rep. Carl Sciortino in 2004. In 2008, he was statewide Campaign Director for the No on Question 1 Campaign, defeating 70 to 30% a ballot proposal to eliminate the state income tax. In 2010, he helped plan and implement the first-ever statewide canvassing effort of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, which successfully prevented Republican gains for all higher offices in the Commonwealth this past November, and in 2012, he was a key leader of an SEIU canvassing campaign in low-income urban areas that increased turnout 13% over the 2008 presidential surge vote.

Ben Thompson

BenThompsonBen Thompson grew up in New Hampshire’s Seacoast Region, and attended college in Iowa. He returned to the East Coast to enter a PhD program in Mathematics at BostonUniversity.  Ben became a outspoken advocate for climate action in high school.  Since coming to Boston He has worked with Students for a Just and Stable Future and 350 Massachusetts.  Ben worked in the Climate Justice Hub last summer and helped organize a 6-day, 70-mile march from the Brayton Point Coal Plant towards CapeWind.  Ben is taking a leave of absence from his graduate program to volunteer full time for the Climate Legacy Campaign, encouraging Governor Patrick to cement his legacy as a climate champion before leaving office.  Outside of activism and academics Ben enjoys trying to teach himself various instruments.  Currently, he is trying to start a climate marching band (horns and brass needed!)