Newton North Students Protest Hypocrisy

 

This past May, Newton North High School (NNHS) held a new event, Middle East History Day, during which invited speakers gave presentations throughout the day. We, the NNHS Peace Action Club, were thrilled that faculty and students began open conversations about the Middle East. However, we noticed some hypocrisy in the criteria that the NNHS set for the speakers.

In October of last year, NNHS Peace Action planned to invite Phyllis Bennis, an analyst and writer on the Middle East, to give a presentation about Syria. This proposal was denied because of concerns that Ms. Bennis would spark controversy because she has been critical of Israel’s actions and policies — although the event was to focus entirely on Syria — and the administration did not feel that there was sufficient time to prepare for the expected backlash.

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Then, only a week before Middle East History Day, we learned that the members of the Jewish Student Union had invited Arielle Schwartz, the New England Progressive Outreach Director from AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), the powerful, explicitly pro-Israel political lobbying group without previous notifications to the main organizers of the event. If controversy and time constraints made NNHS draw the line at hosting Phyllis Bennis, so should have AIPAC caused discomfort for the administration. But the AIPAC speaker was confirmed.

The NNHS Peace Action responded accordingly: during the AIPAC presentation, two Jewish students held a banner that read “AIPAC does not represent us / Not in our name! #JewishResistance,” and as the audience left the presentation, three other students distributed flyers that gave context on what AIPAC really stands for. The entire protest was civil and nondisruptive, and we hope the administration takes a lesson from our response.

Sure, the Middle East History Day did offer a range of speakers with differing perspectives, including MAPA’s Jeff Klein who discussed Syria; and sure, clubs and students of whatever political stripe may invite whomever they choose. But since that privilege was not extended to my club with Phyllis Bennis, the school should at least have been consistent with the precedent it had set. This incident also prompts these questions: what narratives are schools willing to sanction? When a pro-peace speaker is considered too controversial but rabidly pro-Israel AIPAC is accepted, whose free speech seems to matter more?

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From Local Student to Global Citizen: Matthew Hahm

Matthew Hahm, president of Boston College’s student chapter, was accustomed to hearing about war and its inevitableness, but it wasn’t until he took a certain course during his junior year as an undergraduate at Boston College that he was offered an alternative. Through his learning, peace became a possibility to him.

“That course really helped me see that one of the biggest things that we need to do is just try to imagine peace,” said Hahm. “If you believe that it’s not possible, then it will never be possible.”

The following summer, Hahm – originally from Washington state – interned with Massachusetts Peace Action, hoping to help turn around the foreign policy he realized was “wicked” and “corrupt.” The internship gave him the opportunity to attend the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia with MAPA executive director Cole Harrison. He also went to Washington, D.C. for the Climate March and sat on a student panel at a peace convention.

“MAPA has a lot of cool opportunities for students and interns,” said Hahm. “I think what I gained the most from MAPA was knowledge. The people that work for Peace Action are extremely knowledgeable and very aware of what is going on… they dig beneath the headlines.”

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During his senior year at Boston College, Hahm started a MAPA student chapter. The club hosted a nuclear weapons educational event, which gathered a sizable crowd for a new organization. After graduating this spring, Hahm left the club to grow in the hands of two co-leaders while he pursues work with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Belize. For the next two years, Hahm will help with pastoral ministry work in the parish of a Belize community.

“The idea of being a global citizen is connected to my faith,” said Hahm, a student of sociology and theology. “We shouldn’t see ourselves separate from another, and we need to see how one policy here can affect other people across the world. It’s not right if we infringe on somebody else’s rights so that we can gain more as a nation.”

2017 Campus Update

Compassion. Equality. Social Justice. These are just some of the answers given when Micaela Fraccolossi, previous President of Emmanuel Peace Action, asked a group of demonstrators to describe what peace meant to them. In early December, our student chapters, led by Newton South Peace Action, joined with other allies to organize in front of the Massachusetts State House. They were protesting against the appointments of Steven Bannon, Jeff Sessions and Michael Flynn, all who represented the recent frightening turn in US politics. Yet, as dark as that turn has been, the students’ December demonstration and subsequent efforts gives us a glimpse into a more hopeful future. Our student leaders continue to promote peace, in all of its interpretations.

The candlelight demonstration was one of many highlights from our students’ efforts this fall. Other notable events and initiatives included the Phyllis Bennis talks at Brandeis, Tufts, and Emmanuel; Harvard Peace Action’s dinner discussion with Martin Malin, the Executive Director of the Project on Managing the Atom at the Belfer Center; and workshops led by the Newton North and Emmanuel chapters presidents at our fall conference, which also attracted various student club members. Brandeis Peace Action also achieved official recognition and Boston College launched their club.Tufts Open Mic Night

The spring semester promises a host of exciting activities for our students. Some possible initiatives include a Tufts open Mic Night, a brown bag lunches series at Emmanuel, collaborations with Pugwash through Harvard, and an information panel with the ACLU at Newton North. Newton South recently hosted Angela Kelly and Reese Erlich at an on-campus event that drew over 100 students.

In early April, all of our student clubs will join together for a training day led by Mass Alliance. There, they will spend time learning about power mapping and campaign planning, and then apply these tactics to the issues on which they focus. We want to empower our students by providing them with a range of tools; this way, they can pursue the issues that impassion them.

In a similar push towards student empowerment, our Boston College and Tufts chapters recently attended a student conference hosted by Peace Action New York State. The conference was weekend-long event, with 100 students and 9 partner organizations including Amnesty International, CODEPINK, and Global Zero. Student were educated and trained about various issues, from humanitarian medical efforts to de-escalation instruction. From meeting with Congressman Tonko, the keynote speaker, to collaborating with fellow peace-minded students, the trip inspired our students, and is sure to energize their efforts now that they are back in Boston.

With MAPA’s annual meeting and the DC trip on the horizon, our students will continue to grow their knowledge and network, proving themselves invaluable to the peace movement. Their impact is evidenced by the number of students and community members they consistently reach. Help us keep growing their numbers by donating to MAPA and by emailing me about interested Student Organizer candidates. We can guarantee a peace movement tomorrow by supporting our students today.

Thoughts on the Technologies of Peace conference

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a conference called Technologies of Peace, which brought together US high school students from Boston and Japanese students from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We learned about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki archives, an interactive mapping tool that allows people to view historical and current maps of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, chronicling the history since the atomic bombings interspersed with stories from survivors.

 
The conference started with an analysis of how badly the US educational system deals with the story of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In many schools, two simplistic narratives are offered: either that using nuclear weapons was necessary because the Japanese were fanatical and an invasion would have been much worse (in terms of US casualties, which is all that matters), or else that it was a triumph of technology and helped us fight communism. In any case, the human casualties in Japan resulting from our dropping of nuclear bombs are never really faced.

Furthermore, the stories we’re taught in school rely, maybe just implicitly, on racist imagery of the Japanese as war-crazed and so dangerous that any drastic measures were justified. My school, Newton North High School, taught along the lines of the unfortunate-but-necessary rationale, which awards greater value to US lives and also conveniently ignores other nuances of the war, like the US military’s desire to use the last undamaged Japanese cities as a testing ground for new weapons technology, and the Japanese military’s desire to prolong the war and get better terms of surrender. Japanese curricula also lack understandings of more than the Japanese perspective, but some students from Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the conference described their school’s peace studies curriculum, like signature-gathering activities for nuclear abolition and collecting stories and interviews of Hibakusha to add to the archive.

 
I think it’s an interesting note that technology can play such a positive role in helping to understand other very destructive technologies like nuclear weapons. Professor Hidenori Watanave, who convened the conference, calls the mapping a time machine, which is an accurate phrase — and it’s a time machine that is especially critical as the hibakusha, atomic bombing survivors, age (their average age is over 80 now). It’s all the more urgent to use this time machine, to collect their stories and their messages.

 
One message that rang particularly clear at the conference was that we are responsible for the future. Peace is possible. We must remember what happened to civilians and cities because peace is our work now, we the young activists of today and tomorrow. The baton has been passed to us; we owe the (relative) peace we’ve been able to grow up in to the efforts of those who came before, and we must continue that work.

– Newton North High School Peace Action club president

So Long Summer

The heat of summer is still on us but school is officially just around the corner. For our student organizers the fall semester means planning for club fairs, hosting an interest meeting, firming up executive boards, and outlining goals for the coming school year. And for Brandeis and Tufts, the fall semester is an exciting opportunity for them to achieve official recognition.

While our organizers are certainly heading into a busy fall, they have by no means been inactive this summer. Remy Pontes spent much of his summer interning at our Cambridge office while Haleigh Copley showcased her dedication by hosting a Tufts Peace Action meeting from China and later attending the 2016 World Conference against A&H Bombs in Japan.

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Our high school organizers have also been busy preparing for an exciting opportunity at this fall’s Technologies of Peace Summit, where students from New York, Boston and Japan will learn peace lessons from the Hiroshima & Nagasaki Digital Archives. And excitingly, two of our summer interns, Matthew Hahm and Daniel Perea-Kane, will be kicking off a new student chapter at Boston College. For being on summer break, our students have certainly managed to accomplish a lot.

Wanting to ensure that the organizers hit the ground running this fall, I have spent much of summer busily compiling supporting materials. From new and detailed speaker lists to presentation guides to issue fact sheets, MAPA’s organizers now have access to an array of resources to support their individual campaigns.

Alongside resource compilation, I also spent time checking in with working group leaders, MAPA members, and meeting other Peace Action representatives. Student organizing was a hot topic at our Northeast Retreat where other Peace Action affiliates learned about the steps needed to initiate a Student Organizing program. Peace Action New York State’s Director of Policy and Outreach, Kate Alexander, and I led a discussion about our current structure, as well as the successes and failures we have both experienced. Importantly, the conversation shifted to consider the role of youth in the peace movement and how we can better support their engagement. Moving forward, expect exciting new initiatives such as a young alumni network and meetings with a social component.

Here’s to hoping that such a productive and promising summer points to an equally inspiring fall. 

 

Reflections on the Orlando Shootings – Words from Newton South Peace Action President

One death is one too many. When 33,000 gun deaths occur annually, gun reform is something that every single one of us, no matter which party we support, should fight for. This is no longer a matter of what is right or wrong. This is a matter of life and death.

Every time a mass shooting occurs, we send our thoughts and prayers, but when will we stand up and offer solutions? It isn’t enough to say that we are “deeply saddened” and then continue going about our lives. It isn’t enough to wear the color orange on National Gun Violence Awareness Day or light candles for the innocent lives that have been lost. It isn’t enough to promise “not one more” but stand idly by as the number of victims to senseless gun violence increases day by day. NOTHING will ever be enough until every single one of us takes action.

Here are the facts: The shooter in Orlando used the same military-grade assault rifle (AR-15) that was used in Newtown, San Bernardino, Aurora, and many other shootings. It can fire bullets as fast as a person can squeeze the trigger.

I’d like to hear if anyone from the NRA can explain how this type of weapon is necessary to shoot a deer or defend your home from an attacker.

Unfortunately, at this moment we find ourselves at yet another turning point in America’s path and rather than merely sending our condolences and telling ourselves that we’ve accomplished something we must choose to take a firm stand against gun violence. We must stand up to politicians who prioritize their popularity with the NRA above their dedication to American lives. We must restore the CDC’s freedom to study the issue of gun violence. We must reach out to our local and federal officials and urge them to support universal background checks to reduce violence. We must insist that assault weapons have no place beyond the battlefield.

In addition to our mourning must come the conviction that we will do everything in our power to keep tragedies like this from ever happening again.

Kimia Tabatabaei, President of Peace Action Chapter at Newton South High School (Newton, MA)

Build a Student Peace Chapter

Interested in building a student peace chapter? In the past year, Massachusetts Peace Action has developed seven student chapters at colleges, universities, and high schools. We are passionate about our work and excited to share our knowledge and hopefully receive feedback on best practices!

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When building a student chapter, our top priority is attracting and retaining a dedicated Student Organizer for each campus group. Each Student Organizer (SO) is in charge of developing and maintaining his or her chapter, which means a chapter’s success depends on the success of the organizer. In order to find the right candidates, we focus on a few basic recruitment strategies and then prioritize candidates based on target criteria.

Recruitment Strategies:

  1. Massachusetts Peace Action Events: MAPA hosts multiple events throughout the year, many of which appeal to students. By ensuring that these events are advertised to our target audience, we can expect to meet and mingle with students who are already interested in our campaigns and have received an introduction to our organization
  2. Direct professor outreach: Teachers, instructors, and professors  – as well as other community leaders – are the direct links to our students. Their daily student interactions make them crucial allies because they have the knowledge and ability to recommend likely candidates
  3. Maintaining an active social media presence: Our social networks are where students go to become familiar with our persona. Social allows them to engage with the culture that supports the issues we promote.
  4. Internship postings: Simply and effective, a strategically written internship posting on the top sites and school career portals will bring results

Now, on to our Target Criteria when interviewing and selecting Student Organizers:

  1. Passion for the peace movement: Campus organizing takes work and requires independent initiative. Students who are already invested in the peace movement are far more likely to take the extra steps needed. To do this work well, they need to believe in it.
  2. Leadership abilities: Organizing a chapter means stepping out of your comfort zone; it means standing up in front of classes and pitching your ideas; it means asking uncomfortable questions, talking to people you have not met, and not getting frustrated when your efforts don’t always get results. In other words, organizing a chapter requires a true leader.
  3. Campus Involvement: Whether a high school or a college, educational institutions are usually buried in red tape. For every written rule there are two to three unwritten stipulations, never mind the ever-changing social expectations. Students who are already familiar with the ins and outs of campus bureaucracy are one step ahead of the game.

These tried and true methods have allowed us to identify and work with incredible student leaders. Their work inspires our continued efforts and makes us excited to build future chapters. Our methods are constantly evolving but we hope our baseline offers food for thought for other organizations. Let’s collaborate soon!