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The Carletonian

Professor Joel Weisberg appears at court date for RNC protest

<tember 14th marked the start of a new school year, and while many Carleton professors were busy setting up Moodle sites and tweaking syllabi, one was appearing before a judge.

Joel Weisberg, professor of Physics and Astronomy and the Natural Sciences, went to trial along with 7 others last week following an arrest at the 2008 Republican National Convention.

The “other RNC 8,” as the group calls itself to distinguish from another set of RNC protesters, were found guilty after 4 days of court proceedings and sentenced to pay a $100 fine or perform 20 days of community service.

The group was initially taken into custody on 31 August 2008, when, in an attempt to deliver a letter to representatives at the convention, they crossed a police barrier.

This defiant undertaking was an act of civil disobedience intended to protest the Iraq War, U.S. torture policies, and the perceived hesitancy of political leaders on both issues. Weisberg says that he and the others saw the recent court proceedings as an opportunity to continue the work of the August demonstration, as a time and place to further promote their nonviolent message. “The trial itself was a second…social justice action,” Weisberg states.

As to whether or not the group was successful in spreading its message, Weisberg seems to think so, although the judge did not allow the 8 to cite the Constitution and its support of international law in their defense.

He admits this was disappointing, as “challeng[ing] the court not to be complicit in torture and the war” and educating jurors about the U.S.’s violation of international law were some of the group’s main goals. However, speaking of both the days in court and the August demonstration, Weisberg states, “We accomplished a lot of what I hoped.”

He also admits to having great faith in the catalytic and influential power of “breaking the law for justice.” “I’ve been greatly inspired by other people’s civil disobedience,” he says, “profoundly inspired.” He hopes that his actions and those of the other 7 will prove to prompt and propel others.

Weisberg states that, as of yet, he has received no penalty from Carleton College for his rebellious undertakings and adds that most Carls have been very supportive. Dean of the College Beverly Nagel states, “I respect Joel’s passion and commitment. Nonviolent civil disobedience has played an important and legitimate role in many social movements. I would prefer to have seen the charges dismissed, but am glad that the trial has concluded.”

Upon being asked if the future holds more acts of this nature, Weisberg says “yes” but specifies only “under the right conditions.” Though this was his first act of civil disobedience, he admits that the desire to do something like it had been bubbling within him for almost 40 years.

He believes actions like these, though, should only be pursued when all other channels have failed, and remarks that he was drawn to this particular demonstration because it was a “nonviolent, thought-out action.”

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