Essay by lil-tomboy December 2014

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Suicide Protests An eager young activist with a thick cinnamon beard shouted at his fellow Brown students who whisked hurriedly past his table and into the post office in the spring of 1984. Few, if any, had time to listen to a lunatic raging about the end of the world and nuclear disarmament. An older woman stopped to listen to his angry litany "Do you know that the government expects you to survive a nuclear war in your dorm basement?" he asked. The woman paused, contemplating. Finally, she answered, "Why don't you start a club, Students for Suicide Pills?" since, she said, suicide pills seem a better option than any fallout shelter. Jason Salzman did not take the proposal as a joke as it was intended. Instead, he immediately visualized Students for Suicide Tablets (SST). Justifying the existence of such an odd, morbid group of students caused a major logistical problem: how to find members who would consider joining.

Salzman had a group of activist friends, but he was tired of long meetings and the apathy of his peers about the seriousness of nuclear war. Many were diligent in 1981 and 1982 about circulating anti-nuclear weapons petitions around campus and attending in 1982 the nation's largest peaceful protest in New York City to support a nuclear freeze. The idea seemed to have lost its novelty, however, and instead was replaced by a pervasive Reagan-esque attitude that nuclear war was an inevitable and winnable showdown. The decade of the 1980s was filled with patriotic rhetoric about staying ahead in the nuclear arms race, with the heads of both superpowers insistent on playing a game of nuclear chess, instead of engaging in earnest discussion about disarmament. The US was both on the offensive and defensive, demonstrated by Reagan's paranoid, expensive and useless...