Protesters gather against College of Computing celebration
Speakers point to Henry Kissinger’s actions in Vietnam War, MIT’s defense funding
Students, faculty, and members of the local community protested outside the student center Feb. 28 against the College of Computing celebration. The protesters decried speaker Henry Kissinger as a war criminal, claimed donor Stephen A. Schwarzman profiteered from the 2008 housing crisis, and attacked MIT for its involvement in defense research.
The protest was led by Alonso Espinosa-Domínguez ’20 and Husayn Karimi ’19 and included speakers such as Bryan Garvey from Massachusetts Peace Action, Gabby Ballard ’19 and Alia Husain Rizvi ’22 from the Student Worker Alliance, and Arif Hussain from Coalition for a Democratic India.
According to an email to The Tech from Karimi, the protest lasted from 2:30–4:00 p.m., and around 150 people were at the protest at its height, while about 300 people in total filtered in and out.
On the landing, a one-story tall plastic inflatable missile read “complicit.” Behind it, a large sign on the second floor windows of the student center read “Celebrating Complicity with a Billionaire and War Criminal,” in reference to Schwarzman and Kissinger, respectively.
Protesters held up signs such as “Inviting a human rights violator to talk about ethics. Does not compute,” “MIT serves imperialism,” and “MIT stop supporting genocide.” At intermittent points, Espinosa-Domínguez and Karimi led protestors in chants, such as “Kissinger you can’t hide, you committed genocide.”
After the protest, students brought the inflatable missile and various other signs to President L. Rafael Reif’s office.
Reif and Schwarzman spoke at 2:30 p.m., and Kissinger spoke at 3:10 p.m., both in Kresge Auditorium. Schwarzman, who donated $350 million for the college and is its eponym, is the chairman and CEO of the Blackstone Group. Kissinger served as national security advisor and secretary of state during Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford’s presidential administrations.
Earlier that week, a teach-in titled “AI Can't Fix This: MIT, Imperialism, and the Future of AI” was organized by several groups on campus, including MIT Students Against War, Prison Education Initiative, Queer West, MIT Prison Divestment Campaign, the Black Student Union, Palestine @ MIT, and Radius.
They also created a petition, which has since received 157 signatures. The petition included a list of demands, such as that MIT not use defense industry funding for the college and that MIT rescind Dean Dan Huttenlocher’s appointment.
In an interview with The Tech, Espinosa-Domínguez pointed to Henry Kissinger sabotaging the 1968 Vietnam War peace treaty, which extended the war for an additional five years, and architecting a coup in Chile as reasons for the protest. Additionally, Espinosa-Domínguez said that MIT wanted to make the College of Computing a “factory for the technical foot soldiers.”
Karimi also mentioned concerns about defense industry funding in an interview with The Tech. “It seems very likely that the College of Computing will have a lot of research for military applications” and that “this is expected but distressing nonetheless,” he said.
Alice Pote, a protest organizer and staff software engineer in the department of open learning, told The Tech, “Broadly the push for AI is part of a strategic shift for the U.S. Department of Defense to maintain in competition with rivals.” She also decried Schwarzman for making “money off of the financial crisis” and called him a “slumlord.”
Randy Morantes, another attendee and a member of the Smedley D. Butler Brigade Veterans for Peace, told The Tech he attended the protest because he had “a lot of reservations, questions about the things that Kissinger has done” and wanted “to learn more.”
Karimi spoke about the importance of community involvement in decisions affecting MIT as a whole. “They’re not going to think it’s a threat unless we’re sustaining our work,” he said. Pote said the protest was “inspiring to see” and hoped for more similar events.
Editor’s Note: Alia Husain Rizvi, a speaker at the protest, is an arts writer for The Tech. Fiona Chen, a protest organizer, is an opinion editor for The Tech. Their participation in the protest is independent of their Tech positions.
Update 3/7/19: The article was updated to reflect that Prison Education Initiative, Queer West, MIT Prison Divestment Campaign, the Black Student Union, Palestine @ MIT, and Radius were also involved in organizing the teach-in.