One week after 100 students from local universities gathered to protest the Iraq war, campus activists met this weekend to discuss how to run campaigns on more local issues.
The Student Activism Summit drew about 30 students from five different universities to City Hall on Sunday. The all-day meeting featured speeches from Assemblyman Bill Dyson and Tom Swan, Ned Lamont’s SOM ’80 campaign manager, and was attended by former Ward 1 Alderwoman Rebecca Livengood ’07 and current Ward 1 Alderman Nick Shalek ’05. The students networked, ate pizza and discussed their various causes. At the end of the day, the students voted to work together on a campaign for clean energy.
Ted Fertik ’07, the treasurer of New Haven Action Fund and one of the organizers of the event, said his organization has been looking to bring students from the region together for years.
“From the moment the [New Haven Action] Fund was founded in the spring of 2005, we had wanted to create an organization focused on advancing progressive causes in New Haven and involving students from all New Haven schools,” he said.
While students ultimately voted to unite around the issue of clean energy, activist groups made presentations on a variety of issues, from education reform to changing the health care system. Nadia Minor, a junior at Southern Connecticut State University, said she is pushing for a system of identification cards for undocumented workers. Lovely Lorde, a sophomore at the University of Connecticut, said she is an organizer on campus in the fight against global warming.
Students said they appreciated the opportunity to meet with their peers and to be exposed to issues that they otherwise might never have thought about. Minor said she found the sessions in the morning — where students brainstormed about how to most effectively raise awareness about their campaigns — particularly helpful.
“It helped me sharpen up on my skills,” she said. “They were talking about things like op-eds that I hadn’t thought of.”
The results of the morning activities were plastered across the walls of the conference room on long sheets of paper covered in slogans such as, “Be organized and seem organized” and “Keep in mind the politics of the people you’re working with.”
Minor said the burgeoning coalition gave her hope that a united student movement could help institute change on a local level.
“Power does come from unity, from getting together,” she said. “And this stuff hits close to home.”
Both Minor and Lorde said that even if their personal issues were not selected by the group for a united campaign, they would work with the other activists to promote the cause that came out on top.
Notably absent from most of the students’ discussions was the war in Iraq, which last month prompted more than 100 Yale students to form a new antiwar coalition on campus.
In his speech, Swan put his views in the most emphatic terms, telling the students that “We’ve got to stop this f—ing war.” Swan told the activists to “think globally and act locally,” and he drew on his experience as a student organizer in the 1980s to give examples of how that could be done.
But Fertik said the war was not a focus of the planning because the global scope of the war makes it hard to affect real local change.
“We want to look at places where students can have the largest impact,” he said. “There’s clearly a lot of work to be done around the war, but it’s very difficult to map out a way we can achieve concrete change in local communities.”
While the students in attendance were committed and driven, it remains to be seen how strong the coalition will be in the future. Fertik said the success of this collaboration could inspire future activists to reach across campus lines and unite around other campaigns. But Colin Bennett, an environmental activist at SCSU, said he is still waiting to see how effective the new coalition will be.
“Hopefully it has staying power,” he said. “Instead of saying that we came together, had pizza and had a good time, hopefully we’ll really do something.”