Political Activism on Campus Takes on a Cyberspace Twist 'Birks' Have Replaced Earth-Shoes but Human Rights Still Rile Students

Article excerpt

BRAD SIMPSON, a PhD candidate in history at Northwestern University, spends most of his spare time mobilizing fellow students to protest human- rights abuses in faraway East Timor.

A doctoral student named Zarni at the University of Wisconsin in Madison devotes about 15 hours a day to on-line organizing, rallying classmates behind a campaign to divest US firms from his native Burma, also known as Myanmar.

At Ohio State University, Brad Watson, a junior in sociology, leads 20 Ohio student groups in demonstrations and letter-writing campaigns aimed at freeing political prisoners identified by the human rights organization Amnesty International.

No one is claiming to have reached the heights of antiwar fervor achieved in the Vietnam era. Central America is no longer a cause celebre. But political activism on the American college campus is alive and well in the 1990s. It is increasingly sophisticated, high-tech, and, at times, just as effective as its tie-dyed '60s exemplars in making politicians and corporate executives take notice.

"Student activism is on the rise," says Roberto Guerra, Midwest campus coordinator for Amnesty International. "A lot of students are realizing the US frequently plays a role in human rights situations overseas."

This weekend, for instance, more than 300 student activists from across the Midwest gathered at Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., for a day of training, speeches, and advice on campus organizing run by Amnesty International. The gathering was the largest regional get-together of student activists ever held by Amnesty, says Mr. Guerra.

And last Friday, hundreds of students at 75 universities, including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, and Northwestern joined an international day of protest against the military dictatorship in Burma, says Mr. Zarni, head of the Free Burma Coalition.

Students in cities around the country dumped out cans of Pepsi and staged sit-ins at PepsiCo Inc. …