Training a New Generation of Activists: UNH’s Peace and Justice League

1620957_602016343223904_784775404_nIn February, 2015, I sat down with two officers of UNH’s Peace and Justice League (PJL), Meg Battersby and Griffin Sinclair-Windgate, in an effort to learn more about their student activist organization.

It’s difficult to define the goals of PJL, because the organization focuses on a wide range of topics, but Griffin summarized them by explaining that PJL students strive to promote equality in all forms, including racial, gender, and economic equality.  He also pointed out that what appears to be an unrelated issue, may actually have quite a lot to do with inequality.  For example, climate change is an environmental issue, but it causes more harm to those in developing countries, where rising temperatures damage crop production and cause, not just economic crises, but food shortages that impact people’s health as well.  This means that PJL’s focus is quite broad, but this isn’t a shortcoming.  Meg emphasized this, and said “We like being a broad group.”  She explained that by not giving the group a narrow, specific goal, the organization has the benefit of attracting a variety of students with different views and interests.

Having members with different perspectives makes for productive and interesting meetings.  Students often come with suggestions about causes that other students may have little to no awareness of, and then students pick the topics that sound most important or fascinating and research them a little on their own.  As a result, Peace and Justice League is a great organization for learning about causes, in addition to promoting them.  This was part of what made Meg decide to join Peace and Justice because, when she first came to UNH, she had a limited knowledge of world issues and activism. She also joined because, when she first met PJL on U-Day, she was given a “disguide”, a guide which Meg described as “essentially everything they don’t tell you at freshmen orientation. It [includes information regarding] how to deal with the police, what to do if an RA knocks, [a] farmers market schedule, professors that have been recommended, different articles that people submit to us, info about parking and the buses, etc.” When she went to grab a disguide, Meg was also given information regarding the School of the Americas Watch, an organization that seeks to close the School of the Americas, “a U.S. Army training school that trains soldiers and military personnel from Latin American countries in subjects like counter-insurgency, military intelligence and counter-narcotics operations” that has provided its students with training in torture and other human rights abuses, and is all funded by taxpayers’ money. During Meg’s freshman U-Day, she learned about a trip PJL goes on, to Fort Benning in Georgia, where students protest the SOA’s human rights abuses and hold a vigil. Meg was interested in traveling, as well as learning about causes, so PJL was a great fit.

Griffin joined UNH’s Peace and Justice League because, in his own words, “the world has a lot of problems and things need to change.” Because Peace and Justice has a broad mission and an eclectic mix of participants, a variety of problems are addressed.  Additionally, PJL teaches students how to be powerful activists in any issue.  For example, one technique students are taught to employ is bird-dogging. Bird dogging is essentially strategically asking politicians questions to obtain candid, substantive, and direct answers. PJL provides students with an education in activism through conferences, so students don’t need to have engaged in activism prior to joining PJL.

Students can learn about Peace and Justice League by going to the myriad of successful events and campaigns the student activist organization puts together.  Last February, PJL brought Damien Echols, an innocent man wrongly sentenced to death for murder, to UNH to speak about his experiences before, during, and after his stay on death row.  He and his wife did a phenomenal job telling their story in an honest and raw way, and the turn-out to the event was incredible, as the audience included well over 200 people.  PJL also organized a lecture by Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, which also brought a large audience of around 200 people.  Currently, PJL is working on a campaign for the University of New Hampshire to divest from the fossil fuel industry, by getting students to sign petitions.  Fossil Fuel Divestment is a process of removing investments from the fossil fuel industry, and it is intended to stymie climate change.  PJL is also working on a campaign to keep money out of politics, which included a conference on February 28th.  You can learn more about the issue of money in politics by consulting this timeline.

This semester, PJL hopes to repeat Food For Thought, a set of break-out groups in which controversial topics will be discussed in groups lead by people with careers or backgrounds in those topics.  PJL will also continue working on their money out of politics and divestment campaigns, but they are still looking for more ideas about what to do this semester.  If you have an idea, or if you feel like listening to the ideas of others, you should consider joining Peace and Justice League.  Anyone is welcomed to join, attendance is flexible, and no prior experience in activism is necessary.  All you need is a desire to learn and an interest in helping others.  Meetings are every Monday at 7:00 PM in MUB 139, and you are encouraged to attend.