Connecticut College News
Activist Profile: Miriam Wasser - by Samantha Herndon ´1004/13/2009
Voice readers will be familiar with the dedication to many causes demonstrated by the late Elizabeth Durante, class of 2010- activism least among these. To honor her vibrant spirit, as well as the many diligent activists within Conn´s staff, alumni, faculty and students, a new weekly feature will profile these advocates for change. This week the College Voice interviewed senior Miriam Wasser. Wasser, who is from Lexington, Massachusetts, recently received the designation of Winthrop Scholar. She and twelve others were inducted into the national Phi Beta Kappa society of excellence. Winthrop Scholar status, indicating the college´s highest academic honor, is based on otherworldly grade point averages and a broad liberal arts focus in studies. Miriam Wasser has been involved in activism within, outside, and before attending Connecticut College. Groups she has been involved with as a college student include: ccleft, SAVE (Students Against Violence to the Environment), and STAND (Students Take Action Now: Darfur). These clubs organize and participate in conferences and events both on and off-campus, such as bringing an Iraq Veteran Against the War to speak, participating in SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) conferences, and attending the Northeast Regional Darfur activism conference at Brown University. In high school, Wasser served as president of her school´s Model United Nations club, which did a lot of fundraising and advocacy work for the genocide in Darfur. Last winter, she published an article in the Earth First! Journal, a radical environmental media outlet, and has written pieces in The College Voice as well. The Government major says that her courses at Conn have expanded her understanding of the world and politics. Asked what her motivations for being involved in these movements were, Wasser replied, "getting to know upper classmen in CCLeft and SAVE. Living in Earth House also influenced me- people I was living with introduced me to the Buffalo Field Campaign." The BFC has been a major component of Wasser´s activism, and she has gone to Montana on three separate occasions to work with them. Monitoring buffalo migration and documenting their abuse is part of the group´s effort to end the mistreatment of the endangered Yellowstone Buffalo population. Of working with the BFC, Wasser said, "part of what´s awesome is you´re there with experienced activists, so there is constant stimulation and they are a constant resource. It was really inspiring in a lot of ways." Last year was the worst buffalo slaughter since the 19th century, as 1,616 buffalo were killed. Based on the accusation that buffalo can transmit a disease called brucellosis to cattle, many were slaughtered even though "There has never been a documented case of a wild buffalo giving a cow brucellosis," said Wasser. She and another BFC volunteer, Cat Simonidis, felt this was unjust and took matters upon themselves. Separate from the Campaign, the two chained themselves to the Mammoth Visitor Center in Yellowstone National Park to protest the Park´s role in the slaughter. The women shut down the facility for over an hour. "We had prepared ahead of time for the rangers to put us in stress positions, or use pepper spray, and we came up with a code word that would mean it was time to unlock- if either one of us came to that, we would stop." Miriam and Cat remained locked even after the Fire Dept. arrived, and the two unlocked only after a Park Ranger cut the webbing that held the locking device together. Simonidis and Wasser were arrested and spent one night in jail. At their trial, both plead guilty to disrupting an agency operation, and received a fine, one year of unsupervised probation, a one year ban from entering Yellowstone National Park, and a federal misdemeanor on their records. "We didn´t have the right to lawyer or a jury for our crime," said Wasser, because it was a class B misdemeanor, but friends were able to provide helpful, free legal counsel. Though Wasser´s family initially had some concerns, they are now proud of their award-winning and controversy-stirring daughter. "We were watching this every single day, and it was so wrong, and no one knew about it," Miriam explained her decision. Wasser said this was her and Simonidis´ reaction to the "feeling of needing to take it into your own hands in a nonviolent way." Wasser´s activism has changed courses, but the state of the buffalo is an ongoing struggle. "Wildlife has been really mismanaged in Montana and Wyoming," she said. "An important part of activism is realizing what´s effective and what´s not. I´m sure other activists struggle with the feeling that your one specific action, no matter how much time you put into it, isn´t going to change things- that it usually takes a series of actions. The Civil Rights movement was, in part, a lot of smaller actions," she explained. Other buffalo activists have been charged for civil disobedience: last winter another activist erected a bipod in a buffalo trap to prevent and draw attention to the killing, writing on a large banner, "I´ve called, I wrote, no response. This is my response." Asked whether she identifies with one cause in particular, or sees avenues of activism as being interconnected, Wasser replied, "I really think that all these causes are connected in a lot of ways. It has to do with injustice, inequality, power structures, mismanagement of resources -- Darfur is a human rights issue, an environmental, and a power issue. The buffalo are connected to indigenous rights of Plains Indians tribes" as well as animal and environmental rights." Wasser´s political activism lends her a unique perspective on the new administration in the White House. Replying to the question of whether things will improve quickly, she said, "I hope so. I think my less-than-optimistic expectations may have to do with studying Government, which allows me to see that changes that need to be made are beyond the power of any one person or administration. It will be interesting to see how much [things change]." Wasser´s recommendations for new and prospective student activists are to "Talk with upperclassmen activists, and get in touch with activists in the community outside Conn." Scheduling can be a challenge, as with any activity, but "you find time for it the way you find time for your other hobbies; if your friends are other activists, organizing is another way of hanging out with your friends. You put it into your schedule because it´s a priority."