The Ellsberg Initiative approaches public education as a tool that can inform our imaginations, understandings, and strategies to build a more just, peaceful, and democratic society. Each year, the initiative will focus programming on an issue of vital importance that reflects Daniel Ellsberg’s major concerns and legacy. We have a five-year agenda of these topical “projects”: U.S. imperialism, whistleblowing, democracy, secrecy and surveillance, and existential threats.
Each year’s programming will include:
- A public Ellsberg Lecture
- Public panel discussions and presentations
- Workshops for students and the general public
- A week-long teaching institute for high school and community college educators
- A UMass Amherst in-person course and a University Without Walls online course
- A fellowship program for visiting scholars and graduate students
- Undergraduate research grants
- A cultural exhibit or performance in collaboration with UMass Amherst partners
- A public film series
- Collaborations with the grassroots community groups and national and international organizations leading the charge on these issues
Alongside this annual programming, we also seek funding for:
- The development of best-practices news reporting standards in collaboration with journalists, scholars, activists, and relevant experts
- A major biennial conference that will be a product of cross-university collaboration and feature speakers who exemplify civic courage and the power of nonviolent dissent
- Ongoing research and discovery, to leverage the remarkable resources of the Ellsberg Papers to inform the public and impact thought leaders and policymakers
- A new certificate program in peace and democracy studies for UMass Amherst undergraduates
The Imperialism Project
The first focus of our work will be U.S. imperialism and its institutions, resources, practices, goals, justifications, and consequences. We’ll study how U.S. imperialism affects different groups at home and abroad, and how it reshapes relations and experiences of class, race, gender, and sexuality. We’ll also explore efforts to make U.S. foreign policy more peaceful, democratic, and accountable to Congress and the public.
The programming for this project is offered by the UMass Amherst history department’s Feinberg Family Distinguished Lecture Series. As co-sponsors we have been part of the planning to bring together scholars, journalists, activists, whistleblowers, organizers, educators, and survivors of state violence to examine the historic role, forms, and impacts of U.S. imperialism. Lectures, panel discussions, workshops, film screenings, and other programming will focus primarily on U.S. imperialism and anti-imperialism since World War II in Vietnam, Latin America, and the Middle East.
The Whistleblower Project
What is whistleblowing? When does whistleblowing advance democracy and when is it merely a sign of democratic dysfunction? How can whistleblowing inspire collective forms of dissent? How can we encourage and support positive whistleblowing? We will devote year two of our five-year program to this topic—never more relevant in the wake of revelations by Trump Administration whistleblowers, including Alexander Vindman, and Frances Haugen’s leak of Facebook research.
Daniel Ellsberg himself will help us address these questions when he serves as keynote speaker for a conference that will also include panels of government/foreign policy whistleblowers, corporate whistleblowers, journalists, and legal experts.
The Democracy Project
At the end of the Cold War, many commentators announced the ultimate triumph of democratic capitalism. Yet democracy has been profoundly threatened in recent decades at home and abroad by authoritarian regimes of every stripe. Inequalities—economic, political, and racial—have also persisted in many capitalist nations, including the United States. What have been the major threats to the survival and enrichment of democracy, and what are some of the most effective movements of the past and present to overcome them? How can journalism standards and practices be reformed to serve the goal of achieving a multiracial and just liberal democracy?
Programming for this year three project includes a collaboration with the University of Massachusetts Press to publish a book of essays by scholars, journalists, and activists for the series Journalism and Democracy. We also plan advocacy work with the UMass Initiative for Digital Public Infrastructure to promote development of a digital infrastructure oriented toward the public good in the United States and the world.
The Secrecy and Surveillance Project
Since 9/11, state and corporate secrecy and surveillance in the United States have expanded. What are the consequences?
In year four, our work will explore the extent to which constitutional rights and freedoms have been eroded. We’ll bring together experts with a wide range of perspectives to discuss secrecy and surveillance, how much of its citizens of a democracy should tolerate, and under what circumstances. We’ll look at the possibilities for making our institutions and organizations more transparent and accountable and our technology more democratic.
The Existential Threat Project
Our first five years will conclude focusing dually on climate change and nuclear weapons—the greatest threats to humanity. We’ll take a multidisciplinary approach to understanding how these threats developed, as well as their complex ramifications. What damage have they already done? How can they be mitigated and eliminated?
Among our possible programs includes: a collaboration with scientists and students in the UMass iCons Program and the Energy Transition Institute to explore political and scientific responses to climate change and other catastrophic environmental threats. We also plan a one-week summer teaching institute at UMass Amherst on climate change and nuclear weapons at UMass, bringing together area high school, community college, and university faculty.
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?
What risks are you willing to take for the cause of democracy and truth?
Democracy is under attack at home and abroad. The dangers posed by climate change, disease, and warfare are as great as ever. When you support our initiative’s creation and ambitious programming, you become partners with scholars, students, policymakers, and activists in advancing international diplomacy and peace, and creating a more just, transparent, and accountable society.