The Student Peace Action Network (SPAN) was established in the fall of 1995 to: “bring the voices of young activists into the forefront of the peace movement”; “decrease the number of young people who enlist in the [U.S.] military”; help bring “an end to physical, social, and economic violence caused by U.S. militarism at home and abroad”; promote “nuclear abolition, disarmament, and an end to weapons trafficking”; advance an American foreign policy “based on human rights and international cooperation” rather than aggression; “oppose the complex webs of corporate and military power that perpetuate racism, damage the environment, deprive people of basic needs, and violate human rights”; and “mak[e] connections between unchecked militarism and the diminishing [of] social services.”
SPAN’s major ongoing initiative is its Counter-Recruitment campaign, which aims to “end the military occupation of our schools” – an “occupation” whose hallmarks include “the presence of military recruiters in our hallways”; “Jr. ROTC and ROTC programs diverting precious education funds”; the “continued use of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery … as a ‘career test’”; and the “bunch of lies” – e.g., “promises of funds for college and job training” – by which recruiters allegedly “lure” young people into the military.
SPAN is the student arm of the Peace Action Network. Though both entities describe themselves as “peace and justice organizations without affiliation to any political parties or other ideological agendas,” their public protests and demonstrations have been directed overwhelmingly against Republicans rather than Democrats.
By 198, SPAN had active chapters on more than 100 high-school and college campuses in the United States. The Network saw its membership rolls grow even more during the run-up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq. Through its various chapters, SPAN provided activist students with transportation to anti-war, anti-American, and anti-capitalist demonstrations in their vicinity. It also disseminated literature, and it sponsored initiatives like teach-ins and letter-writing campaigns.
From SPAN’s inception, the Network’s worldview has been founded on the premise that American foreign policy is the principal cause of most of the world’s more serious problems – i.e., poverty, famine, international hostilities, and war. As then-Peace Action program associate Carrie Benzschawel wrote in 2002, for instance, “the biggest nuclear threat we now face doesn’t come from some rogue nation, but from the radical unilateralists within the Bush administration.”
SPAN’s antipathy for the United States has long been mirrored by its equally low regard for America’s closest ally, Israel. For example, in April 2002 SPAN collaborated with a number of other radical campus groups to coordinate a Palestinian Solidarity March where, according to the Washington Post, some protesters wore “black masks and black military-style uniforms,” displayed swastikas, and “shouted anti-Jewish slogans.”
In October and November of 2003, SPAN organized a campus speaking tour to “bring important anti-war voices to college students and communities” throughout New England. The tour reached seven schools in total, including Harvard, Dartmouth, and the University of New Hampshire. The principal speakers were Hiroshima survivor Seiko Ikeda (of the Japanese Congress Against A- and H-Bombs) and Andrew Rice (of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows).
In 2007, SPAN and Peace Action together launched a national petition drive condemning the possibility of a U.S. military attack against Iranian nuclear facilities. Addressed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the petition stated: “Iran’s current nuclear energy program is within [Iran’s] rights under international law. Even if Iran decided to build a nuclear weapon, experts agree that it would take several years. There is no crisis, and our government should not create one with inflammatory rhetoric or military threats that increase the incentive to develop nuclear weapons rather than reduce them.”
Also at that time, SPAN was a member organization of the United for Peace and Justice anti-war coalition, and was aligned with the Books Not Bombs campaign, which aimed to redirect financial resources away from the military and toward education-related initiatives instead.
In the mid-2000s as well, SPAN exhorted young people to help “pressure our government to act on our demands” by contacting their respective Congressional Representatives by phone, by mail, or in face-to face meetings. Activists could maximize the effectiveness of their efforts, said SPAN, by signing up for the organization’s “weekly email alerts” containing information about “when good and bad [House or Senate] bills are coming up for a vote.” “Pressure your local representative on how they will vote on an upcoming bill or sponsor a particular piece of legislation,” said SPAN. “Ask for a definite yes or no answer, and if that’s impossible request a detailed response in writing of their position and reasoning to support or oppose something. Even 5 calls [or letters] can make a difference on how your [House] member votes.”