Politicizing Princeton on a Monday: March 6 Day of Action

By Nora Schultz ’19

Princeton Citizen Scientists members are expecting big things for their March 6 Day of Action: they’ve booked the entire Frist Campus Center. And no less remarkably, they’re expecting students to miss a full day of class: the scheduled date is a Monday.

However this might be just what the university needs.

Days after the election on November 8th, 2016 graduate students Sebastien Philippe and Michael Helper formed Princeton Citizen Scientists to organize around understanding what the coming years will present and identifying actions for the Princeton community to take in response.

Since December, the new graduate student organization has surpassed 50 members and allied itself with the undergraduate organization Princeton Advocates for Justice. Since Inauguration Day, its petition calling for a campus-wide day of action has gathered more than 1,000 signatures, and counting.

Beginning with a town-hall style meeting at 9am, the day will be a series of teach-ins, workshops, and panels hosted by around 50 university faculty and scholars, some in partnership with undergraduate students.

The first half of the day is intended as informational, and the latter half as discussion of practical methods for organization and action. The program covers human and civil rights (“Sanctuary Politics”), environment and climate (“Making Progress on Climate Change Policy in the Next Four Years”), and international peace and security (“The Border Wall as a Policy Option and Political Symbol”). A final meeting will ask how to build on the day’s discussions to chart the course for progressive campus activism.

The scope envisioned by the organizers is sweeping, opening it up to the criticism that followed the Women’s March that the event may trade depth and focus for mass appeal. Perhaps more provoking is the decision to hold the event on a Monday. Although some may attend for only part of the day, the directive to choose participation over class is steep.

However, Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs and co-leader of the aforementioned teach-in on climate change policy, argues that March 6 is “an opportunity to avoid paralysis generated by fear.” And, he says, a chance to “share ideas on how to make our individual and group voices heard, both as citizens and experts” while faced with inaction and even denial by the administration at critical junctures on issues like climate change.

The organizers have responses as well. Working as facilitators, the Citizen Scientists have recruited scholars who will provide depth to the full range of issues the group wants to address. And Philippe is quick to specify that the day is only a natural extension of the classroom, and that defending the stated university values of scholarship, pluralism and free speech is only possible by stepping outside of routine; as students and faculty, our ability to research and learn can be political action if we construct it to be.

So on the 6th, show up and fill Frist all day. Philippe knows that it’s ambitious to expect that degree of commitment of students with full schedules and full lives. Yet “the times require us to be very ambitious”, he says. Let’s fulfill our obligation.

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