Student Organizing for Peace at Syracuse University
From the November/December 2016 PNL #853
The student group Peace Action at Syracuse University is ready to begin its organizing! With students coming and going, busy schedules and a bureaucratic system, it has been hard for the Peace Action at SU chapter to get on its feet, but we have. This semester, our focus has been on recruiting members, collaborating on campus events and beginning the conversation around ways to take action on social injustices. The chapter wants to help rejuvenate the peace movement with student energy in order to work towards a peaceful world.
As the current president of Peace Action at SU [Whitney], with Stefan Nielsen-Sperb as vice president, we have struggled to motivate students to become interested in the issues of nuclear weapons and energy, refugees, militarism, etc. Michaela Czerkies, a former student organizer at the University of Albany Peace Action chapter, stated that in the beginning stages of her chapter, only a handful of students were interested. Today, the Albany chapter has over 40 members.
We at Peace Action at SU understand that it will not be easy to reach the success of our neighboring chapters. However, we have a passionate drive to fuel the peace movement. Michaela explained that she initially joined the UAlbany Peace Action chapter because she was looking to join a campus group that was organizing around causes that she cared about. At Peace Action student meetings, she felt welcomed and saw her peers’ dedication to advocacy. Not only did the group take action on issues, but Michaela found incredible people to call her closest friends. Michaela and I met at the National Peace Action New York State (PANYS) conference in Washington, DC, and I witnessed firsthand the strong bond between students in their chapters. Upon arriving back to Syracuse University, I felt it essential to re-create that passion in activism and family-feeling that I saw there.
UAlbany Peace Action is PANYS’ most successful chapter. They were recently awarded the Don Shaffer Peacemaker Award for their work during the 2015-2016 academic year. The chapter hosted their two biggest events that year: “Refugee Visibility Day” and “The Journey: Life as a Refugee.” The first event used photos as a way to highlight the experiences of refugees, rather than the statistics often used to discuss them in the media. Michaela stated that, “Members got a lot of students engaging with us about the issue, inspiring them to actively support refugees by signing over 90 pages of petitions.” In the chapter’s second event, more than 75 people participated in a simulation of the journeys of refugees from Syria to the Europe, learning about the harsh obstacles that refugees face when they are forced out of their country.
Peace Action at SU hopes to bring the same awareness on our campus that other chapters do on theirs. Currently, multiple PANYS university chapters are working on refugee campaigns. While Peace Action at SU wants to build on the increasing momentum surrounding refugee advocacy, we feel that it’s important to first establish a foundation on peace activism. Since our chapter is new on campus, we want to show Syracuse University students and community members Peace Action’s mission to work toward abolishing war and weapons of mass destruction.
This generation’s youth will one day be the country’s leaders. Ultimately, this country needs social justice organizations like the chapters at University of Albany and Syracuse University. When a few students begin to take action for social justice and human rights issues, it encourages more of their peers to become involved. If we can start seeing the importance of working towards a militarization-free, nuclear-free and peaceful world, a lot of other problems will start falling apart. The Peace Action chapter at Syracuse University is still fairly new, but it’s a big step towards a more just world. People in the community and SU students can become involved by attending meetings and events, and staying in touch with us through social media or email. Our journey is just starting in Syracuse and we can all be a part of seeing what it will flourish into.