By Alex LaRoza
Even though the Freedom Café is known mostly for its open mic nights held every Wednesday, one can find all sorts of events held there throughout the year. The Peace and Justice League felt the casual feeling of the café made it a great location for intellectual debates and discussions.
That’s why the organization put on its annual “Food for Thought” community event on Monday, Nov. 23 at the Freedom Cafe. The event was put together by Molly Biron, a community organizer for the group.
“We really just want to create an avenue for informal discussion around current issues that obviously everybody sees on the news, in the media and on Facebook. But it’s really special when people can get together and talk about it in person beyond the classroom,” Biron said. She feels that that the informal “café” feel of the event, along with the free food, will draw help to draw students to events like these in the future.
Five discussion tables were present, with each having its own specific topic of discussion. Each table’s discussion was monitored by a member of the Peace and Justice League, and students were encouraged to speak their minds and engage in civil debate about the topics at hand. The five topics discussed were the decriminalization of drugs, money in politics, xenophobia, family planning, and U.S. involvement in the Middle East.
Jonathan Brown ran the table discussion on the decriminalization of drugs, and he felt there was a general consensus among students on the topic. “We hear a lot about marijuana, and almost all young people would say they’re in favor of legal, recreational marijuana,” Brown said.
One controversial topic Brown discussed was the recent proposed ban on cigarette smoking at UNH.
“I would say a lot of people believe the cigarette ban would actually be detrimental to the university,” Brown said. “We obviously see the health benefits in such a resolution, but at the same time, I don’t think just telling someone to not smoke cigarettes will prevent them from smoking cigarettes.”
Griffin Sinclair-Wingate led the discussion on xenophobia, and how it relates to both the refugee crisis and the terrorist attacks in Paris. “There were some differing opinions, but the general consensus among people was that we should be letting more refugees in, and we should be fighting xenophobia and racism,” Sinclair-Wingate said.
On a related issue, Kai Forcey-Rodriguez co-led the discussion on U.S. involvement in the Middle East with Molly Biron. “When I was 18, I did five months in Israel, where I took 500 hours of Hebrew.” he says. Once again, Forcey-Rodriguez felt there was a non-violent consensus among students. “I noticed that most students who were here were interested in doing something involving supporting different nations, instead of putting boots on the ground or sending drones somewhere,” said Forcey-Rodriguez.
Although few would argue that any of these issues matter more than the others, Max Stahl might.
Stahl is the political director for the New Hampshire branch of the Democracy Matters organization, and he feels that campaign finance reform is the key issue that ties everything else together.
“I think that it’s at the core of anything. No matter what issue we’re talking about, if you’re trying to solve it without taking money out of politics, its essentially like Sisyphus trying to push the boulder uphill,” Stahl explains.
He strongly holds the belief that the system is rigged due to the amount of money large corporations can pour into candidates of their choosing, thanks to Citizens United.
“To get elected, these guys literally lock themselves in rooms and make phone calls 70 percent of the time. And if you think about it, if they’re calling all that time, those are the voices that they are hearing. And they’re selling themselves to us like Nike or McDonalds. So it’s more important to get the opinions of the money people so you can fund the ads to convince everyone else,” Stahl says.
Despite this, Stahl believes there is still hope. He points to a poll showing that 84 percent of Americans feel that there is too much money in politics, and believes that raising awareness on this issue is the key to finding a solution.
“Right now we’re in a situation where people believe that there’s too much money in politics, but they’re voting on other things. We need to have people vote collectively, with this being the number one issue.”
While she cannot say for sure whether there will be another “Food For Thought” event in the upcoming spring semester, Molly Biron is optimistic.
“I know that the reason we are doing it again is because we got really good feedback on it. And as I said the off-campus feel, this ‘cafe’ feel is unique, and so we are really excited,” Biron said.