People from all over Ithaca came to Cornell’s campus this past weekend to enjoy a weekend-long music festival and dialogues as part of “Celebrating Peace Activism: America is Still Hard to Find.”
The Center For Religion, Ethics and Social Policy (CRESP) hosted the weekend in honor of two influential non-violent activists for peace and social justice in Cornell’s history, Father Daniel Berrigan and Reverend Jack Lewis, and to encourage the community to become more involved in peace activism.
Berrigan, who served as the associate director of Cornell United Religious Work (CURW) from 1967 to 1970, had a significant impact on the national peace movement of the late 1960s. “He is perhaps best known for direct actions such as the ‘illegal’ napalming of draft record in protest of the ‘legal’ napalming of Vietnamese villages,” according to Anke Wessels, executive director of CRESP.
This is the second such weekend to be held at Cornell. The first festival, from April 17-19, 1970, was held as a tribute to Berrigan for his services to Cornell and the nation. At the time, Berrigan was being hunted down by the FBI, but chose to attend the festival in disguise. He escaped afterward, hiding underground for four months.
Berrigan was eventually apprehended and spent 18 months in prison, but was paroled in 1972 and continued to protest and write on behalf of peace.
“He has a very powerful history at Cornell,” Wessels said. “If we could bring him back, I thought that he might serve as an inspiration for students and others.”
One of the biggest draws of the weekend was the music festival, which included performances by the Bread and Puppet Theater and popular artists Michelle Shocked and Stephan Smith. Wessels explained they wanted artists who were “committed to the cause of a peace movement.”
Qayyuma Didomenico, a former student from Ithaca, came out to see the Bread and Puppet Theater. “I think their message is very effective,” she said.
The show, entitled “How to Turn Distress into Success,” demonstrated its point during the performance, by cutting truth in half with a pair of scissors and throwing a sign that read “REASON” out a literal window. The group performed at the original festival and also played an instrumental role in helping Berrigan escape from the FBI in the 1970s.
Although the festival brought many people to Cornell, it failed to attract a large number of Cornell students.
“They did a good job of bringing the community to campus,” Lisa Krauthamer ’04 said. “It would have been great to have more student interest.”
Later that evening, Berrigan spoke to a full house in Barton Hall. Audience members, mostly from the Ithaca community, sat on the floor when they ran out of seats and gave a standing ovation when Berrigan walked up to the podium.
A brief documentary on the life and activism of Lewis was shown, which concluded with Lewis saying, “Caring about others is what life is all about.” Berrigan spoke at length on the nature of doing good works, activism and the role of faith in regard to his past experience and that of his mentor, Jack Lewis.
“It was more of a poem than a lecture,” said attendee Tom Joyce. “I thought it was striking that he was saying a lot of interesting and profound things in a poetic way.”
Sarah Elbert ’65, who was a participant in both weekends said that it “was very sedate.”
Elbert reflected on the intense religious experience of the first festival, which took place during the weekend of both Easter and Passover and during what many felt was a very dangerous time. “There is no huge student movement to stop the war in Iraq and there should be. The Cornell campus is not at this moment in that place.”
Other aspects of the weekend included a public display of Berrigan’s poetry across the campus. On Friday night a poetry reading was held at the First Baptist Church Sanctuary in Ithaca to celebrate Berrigan’s poetry. Entitled “Spoken Freely: Words and Music in Celebration of Peace Activism,” the evening including performances by Wimmin in Black and Michelle Berry and Hippee Harlem. Yi Ping and Ogaga Ifowodo read poetry.
On Saturday morning the film “This is What Democracy Looks Like” was shown. A round table debate followed, discussing the effectiveness of direct action and voting in political discourse. The discussion included participants with a variety of political backgrounds, including Mark Finkelstein, chair of the Tompkins County Republican Party, Irene Stein, chair of the Tompkins County Democratic Party, Jennifer Daniels, a New York State Green Party Candidate for Lieutenant Governor, and Dr. James Turner, of the Africana Studies and Reserch Center.
The weekend concluded with a sermon given by Berrigan in Sage Chapel on Sunday night.
Archived article by Stephanie Baritz