April 4, 2006

From Vietnam to Redbud Woods: Daniel Berrigan launches events commemorating five decades of activism at Cornell

Thirty-six years after he eluded authorities during an anti-war rally in Barton Hall, the Rev. Daniel Berrigan will return to Cornell to speak on Vietnam, Iraq, U.S. imperialism and the value of nonviolent protest.

Berrigan's talk, "War and Peace Report: Vietnam to Iraq, Resistance to War and Empire," is Monday, April 10, at 7:30 p.m. in Anabel Taylor Hall Auditorium. It will launch "The Legacy of Activism at Cornell," two weeks of events commemorating and re-examining the history of political activism at Cornell, from Vietnam to Redbud Woods. The emphasis is on the range and continuity of progressive political activities over five decades, exploring the lessons the past holds for today's activists.

Berrigan, a Jesuit priest, social activist and poet, served as assistant director of Cornell United Religious Work (CURW) from 1966 to 1970, during which time he played an instrumental role in the national peace movement. Now 85, he remains a leading peace activist.

"The fact that this is part of Cornell's history is something to be celebrated," says Anke Wessels, director of Cornell's Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy (CRESP). "Hopefully this will encourage students at Cornell to know more about that history and be inspired to be more vocal and active."

In 1968, Berrigan and a group of Catholic activists napalmed 378 draft cards from a U.S. Selective Service office in Catonsville, Md. In 1970, after being sentenced to three years in prison, Berrigan decided to go underground as a "fugitive from injustice" and continue his work of nonviolent resistance to the war. "On the very day he was scheduled to begin his prison term, he left his office keys on a secretary's desk in Anabel Taylor Hall and disappeared," Wessels said. The following week, at a music and political festival he had helped to plan in Barton Hall, Berrigan made an appearance and -- while federal officers stood ready to arrest him -- escaped by hiding among the members of a puppet troupe.

The FBI managed to find and arrest Berrigan four months later. He was released from prison in 1972.

Other events on campus will include a photography exhibit in the Willard Straight Hall Browsing Library, April 10-22, and an Activist Film Night, April 17, with three films by Cornell students and faculty members: "Straight '69," "Guantanamo" and "Showdown at Redbud Woods," followed by a panel with the filmmakers and James Turner, Africana studies professor.

On April 22, a conference in Lewis Auditorium, Goldwin Smith Hall, will offer panel discussions on the divestment movement of the 1980s and the future of activism. The conference will be followed by an evening concert with local jazz, rock, gospel, hip-hop and folk artists.

The suggested donation for Berrigan's talk is $8 general, $5 for students; admission is free for children. Proceeds will benefit the families of the St. Patrick's Four, who were recently sentenced to prison for a 2003 protest action at a military recruiting station in Ithaca.

The events are co-sponsored in part by the Society for the Humanities, CRESP, CURW, Africana Studies and Research Center, the Young Socialists Organization, and Cornell for Peace and Justice.