“With democracy in peril at home and abroad–and civilization itself threatened by the prospects of environmental catastrophe and nuclear war–I welcome the Ellsberg Initiative for Peace and Democracy.”

— Daniel Ellsberg

The world needs more Daniel Ellsbergs.

America’s most famous whistleblower, Ellsberg has devoted his life to the nonviolent struggle for peace, truth, and democracy. In 1971, he risked his freedom by releasing to the press and public a 7,000-page top-secret history of the Vietnam War—the Pentagon Papers—exposing decades of government lies and deceit. Since then, Ellsberg’s principled activism shows us how dissent can be the highest expression of patriotism and citizenship.

Daniel Ellsberg

The Ellsberg Papers at UMass

In 2019, Ellsberg, impressed by UMass Amherst’s longstanding commitment to social justice, made it the home for his papers. With the help of an anonymous donor, this treasure trove of some 500 boxes of material became part of the Robert S. Cox Special Collections and University Archives Research Center, the university’s legendary, vast, and world-renowned holdings chronicling activism for diversity, social equity, and positive social change.

The impact of the Ellsberg papers’ acquisition was immediate and included:

Image from an online Ellsberg Seminar

Two seminars for advanced undergraduate and graduate students who developed research projects using the papers and spoke directly to Ellsberg online. “I’ve never seen a class so engaged,” he told them, adding, “Your questions have been incredibly precise and some of them I’ve never been asked.”

Ellsberg Conference

A free, two-day online international conference, Truth, Dissent, and the Legacy of Daniel Ellsberg.

Whistleblower podcast

The creation of The Whistleblower, a five-part podcast produced in collaboration with the GroundTruth Project (led by Charles Sennott, ‘84), which has drawn nearly 50,000 listeners for each episode.

The culmination of the year-long Ellsberg seminar was an international online conference to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Pentagon Papers’ release. The two-day event featured 30 presenters, including historians, activists, journalists, and formal policymakers. In a discussion moderated by Democracy Now!  host Amy Goodman, Ellsberg and fellow whistleblower Edward Snowden described their respective paths to dissent—and grounded their actions in the tradition of civil disobedience. More than 25,000 people have watched the conference recordings.

The Ellsberg papers are more than a window into our past—they are an inspiration and a call to action for all of us at this inflection point in history. Democracy, humanity, and the earth itself are at fundamental risk. How will we rise to the challenge? What will it take to confront the flagrant persistence of racial injustice; the epidemic of misinformation and lies; the normalization of autocracy; the ongoing reality of U.S. military intervention overseas; and the existential threats of nuclear weapons and climate change?

Assorted papers from the Ellsberg archive

The next steps

We believe it is essential to create a one-of-a-kind enterprise in the academic realm to address these questions. The Ellsberg Initiative for Peace and Democracy will address a unique portfolio of concerns, focused on the existential threats to freedom and democracy posed by war, authoritarianism, imperialism, nuclear weapons, and environmental catastrophe. We invite donors to help us establish this initiative.

This project will advance the UMass Amherst mission to instill in our students and broader community the knowledge, skills, and commitment to create a more peaceful and just world. It promises to enhance the university’s efforts to expand its outreach and engagement with off-campus communities, from the local to the global. 

Our plans could not be more urgent, necessary, or timely.