On Wednesday, Oct. 6th from 12-3 p.m. on the Student Union lawn, a coalition of seven student organizations will host the Rally for a Peaceful Planet. This partnership between Undergraduate Student Government, UConn Collaborative Organizing, Praxis, UConn Human Rights Symposium, PowerUp UConn, Sunrise CT and Fridays for Future seeks to start a national discussion around issues of police militarism, refugee admission and racism.
The Rally for a Peaceful Planet has three demands:
1. Reform the 1033 program
2. Remove refugee caps
3. Declare racism a public health crisis
To understand the three tenets of the upcoming rally in greater depth, The Daily Campus spoke with several members of the rally steering committee. These include Irene Soteriou, a fifth-semester statistics and cognitive science major who is the director of the Rally Steering Committee and is president of UHRS; Michael Christy, a fifth-semester political science and human rights major who is the chief diversity officer of USG and executive director of State Affairs for PowerUp UConn; and Neeharika Sistu, a fifth-semester molecular and cellular biology and global health major who is the director of student development of USG.
Starting with the first demand, Soteriou explained that “The Pentagon’s 1033 program is a federal program that transfers the U.S. military’s extra or outdated weapons and equipment to state and local authorities, as well as Customs and Border Protection, just for the cost of shipping.” According to Human Rights Watch, since the start of the program in 1997, over $7.4 billion of excess equipment has been transferred to more than 8,000 law enforcement agencies. Soteriou stated that the rally wants “to draw attention to the intersectionality between our foreign and domestic policy,” when it comes to the program. Because of this, it is the position of the rally committee that the 1033 program should be reformed.
The second demand calls for removing caps on refugee admittance. Sistu detailed that rally organizers believe that “Refugee caps make it extremely difficult for refugees fleeing Afghanistan to take refuge in the United States, constituting a major human rights crisis.” Certain local organizations, such as the New Haven chapter of Integrated Refugee and Immigration Services, yearn to accept more refugees. Yet, as Soteriou explained, “They cannot do so if refugees cannot enter to begin with.” Thus, it is the position of the rally board that caps on refugees admitted to the country should be lifted.
The final demand of the Rally for a Peaceful Planet is that racism should be declared a public health crisis. As Christy explained, it is the position of the rally leaders that “Racism is a driving force behind social determinants of health. It serves as a barrier to attaining any form of health equity.” This demand has precedent within the state, as the Connecticut State House passed legislation declaring racism a public health crisis back in June. Christy elaborated that passing this declaration will “[Allow] us to talk about these issues openly and will serve as a force, jump-start, push, whatever you want to call it, to taking tangible action at this university to address our history of racism and the present-day effects it still has on many students.”
The date of the Rally for a Peaceful Planet is rapidly approaching, coming this Oct. 6th from 12-3 p.m. Rally organizers recommend that students bring their own posters, though there will be a poster creation station, as well as wear something black.
During the Rally, leaders can expect several guests to deliver speeches regarding the demands.
“We’ve invited President Agwunobi, Chief Diversity Officer Tuitt and state representatives to the rally. We’ve also asked several UConn student leaders, including Student Body President Mason Holland, to speak,” Christy said. “Finally, the founder of the non-profit organization PowerUp Connecticut, Keren Prescott, will be talking directly about the importance of declaring racism a public health crisis. Students will have the opportunity to listen to some fantastic speakers and exercise their right to protest for the causes they believe in.”
Sistu elaborated, mentioning that “Students will be able to listen to the speakers, speak directly to their state representatives, as well as sign letters to legislators and petitions regarding the three demands of the rally.”
There is much excitement among Rally leadership, as an event with seven organizations as co-sponsors is a rare sight. Soteriou stated that “Campus activism is woven into the fabric of democracies across the world, and the [Rally for a Peaceful Planet] will serve as a continuation, and hopefully a revitalization, of this tradition.” Christy cosigned this saying, “This event is undoubtedly unprecedented … It is our hope, with all these organizations coming together and starting this coalition, that we create a new type of UConn student organizing space. We are setting the bar on what coming together as a community looks like.”