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University News

UMass Amherst Libraries Acquire Al Weinrub Justice Papers

The papers of Al Weinrub, the social justice activist who co-founded the national anti-imperialist organization Science for the People (SftP) in 1969, have been acquired by the UMass Amherst Libraries’ Robert S. Cox Special Collections and University Archives Research Center (SCUA), as part of their collections documenting social change. The Al Weinrub Justice Papers span 50 years of justice activism in the labor, anti-war, human rights and climate justice movements in the U.S. The collection, donated by Weinrub, joins SCUA’s array of activist papers and records, including several collections related to SftP.

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“What's special about this collection is that it not only provides insight into the early years of Science for the People, but also shows the diverse political activism a single activist-scientist has engaged in over the course of his life,” says Sigrid Schmalzer, professor of history and the organizer of the 2014 conference “Science for the People: The 1970s and Today.” “Weinrub went on from founding SftP to supporting anti-imperialist labor struggles in Central America in the 1980s, to taking part in Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. He has brought these experiences together in his more recent efforts to advance the cause of climate justice by building a movement to democratize energy in the U.S.”

The Al Weinrub Justice Papers document the breadth and depth of Weinrub’s anti-racist and social justice activism and its intersections with political struggles over the past five decades. The collection contains materials on SftP and the anti-imperialist science movement; the 1970s energy crisis in the United States; the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary political struggles of the post-Vietnam War era; the struggle in U. S. labor against the war in Central America, as represented by the Labor Network on Central America; the National Rainbow Coalition of the 1980s and the associated work of Line of March political organization; defense of the rights of freelance writers by the Nation Writers’ Union, including the struggle to free political death-row prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal; and more recently, taking on the existential threat posed by climate injustice, especially in the U.S.

Aaron Rubinstein, the head of SCUA, notes that “Al Weinrub’s collection will provide a vital lens on the history of many of the most important movements of the last fifty years, and also a roadmap for contemporary activists, who are fighting many of the same societal ills Weinrub dedicated his life to addressing.”

Al Weinrub
Al Weinrub

The collection – over 48 linear feet of material – contains correspondence, meeting minutes, planning documents, pamphlets, newsletters, photographs and more, documenting the many organizations Weinrub founded or participated in and is a rich trove for researchers and activists of all backgrounds.

Weinrub earned his doctorate in applied physics from Harvard, where he taught undergraduate courses. In the late 1960s, he was part of a group of scientists and engineers based in Cambridge, Mass., who questioned their role in the broader political culture, the economy, and in relation to the unpopular Vietnam War. In 1969, they founded SftP as a decentralized national organization with chapters mainly at research universities across the country. Weinrub served for five years as managing editor of SftP’s magazine.

In 1974 he moved to San Jose, California, where was engaged with the energy crisis of the mid-1970s, as well as with the movements for Black liberation, women’s liberation, national liberation movements, defense of affirmative action, organized labor, and leftist politics, among others.

His labor activism took on an international scope when he co-founded the Labor Network on Central America in the early 1980s, uniting unionists and leadership at all levels of the U. S. labor movement in support of Central American unionists. His involvement with the Labor Commission of Line of March aligned him with Jesse Jackson’s National Rainbow Coalition as he worked to build a more powerful class-struggle based, multi-racial labor movement. 

Weinrub’s involvement with the National Writers’ Union began while he was working first as an editor and later as a technical writer. He became a leader of the Bay Area Chapter of the union and subsequently a First Vice President of the national union, joining efforts to further the rights of writers and other exploited freelance professional workers. 

Most recently, Weinrub has devoted himself to the climate crisis and to the democratization of energy, building local, state, and national alliances grounded in environmental, economic, and social justice. He was recognized in April 2023 as a Lifelong Energy Justice Champion by the California Alliance for Community Energy.

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In Sept. 2019, UMass Amherst announced the acquisition of the papers of Daniel Ellsberg, one of the nation’s foremost political activists and whistleblowers. Following a decade as a high-level government official, researcher and consultant, Ellsberg distributed the top-secret Pentagon Papers in 1971, exposing decades of deceit by American policymakers during the Vietnam War.