never been about making a difference. It's about doing the right thing
By KEVIN CLAPP Staff Writer, (609) 272-7255
(Published: May 21, 2006)
Cohen was raised in a political world, a product of civics-inclined parents. But
this was different.
was April 1970. America had just invaded Cambodia, and Cohen was an 18-year-old
freshman at the University of Pennsylvania. To protest the military action,
students took to the streets for a march to the Liberty Bell.
was, I guess, empowerment, he says, remembering thousands of young people
standing as one, It was kind of exciting to see so many students out.
experience kick-started a 30-plus-year career of activism for the executive
director of the Coalition for Peace and Justice. From the march on the Liberty
Bell to a takeover of the university's administration building two years later,
Cohen steadily became more active. Although he stepped away from activities for
a while in the late 1970s, joining the coalition in 1982 cemented his place as
all of his contemporaries have shared his commitment. Cohen has watched a
generation whose members made speaking out as common as rolling out of bed
slowly abandon their younger selves with age and shifting priorities.
might break the spirit of some. Not Cohen.
change. Maybe they give money rather than time, which is all they had in the
'60s. Maybe they have families that preclude involvement. Or maybe ” gasp!”
they grew up to be Republicans.
long ago, Cohen tracked down a handful of former college friends with whom he'd
lost contact. One former surfer hippie, he says, found religion. Another, who
was never very political, moved to Texas and is a fan of President Bush. A third
is a doctor in Buffalo, N.Y., working with the poor.
goes on, he says. People change and get going in different directions.
can relate. With daughters ages 11 and 14, family dictates Cohen's involvement
now. Days once dedicated to protesting are now spent watching soccer games or
plays. It doesn't mean the commitment isn't there; he just has to pick his
troubling than participation in the coalition, which has gone up since the
nation sent troops to Iraq, are matters of succession. As a stay-at-home dad,
Cohen can pour time into organizing the coalition that others don't have. What
will happen when he is gone? He wonders.
has become very short term, instant gratification, he says. A lot of people will
come into our movement and they don't see anything happen in six months or a
year and they move on. Unfortunately, the issues of peace and justice are
long-term. If you don't come in looking at it that this is a long-term thing
that may or may not be achieved in your lifetime, you're just going to get
he continues, pleased that members of the baby boom have had an impact in areas
such as establishing equality for women and speaking against nuclear weapons.
all, things could be worse. He returns his thoughts to that first march in
Philadelphia. It was not, he says, about making a difference. It was about doing
what was right, a philosophy he holds today.
involvement with peace and justice work has always been from the moral
perspective, that you've got to do something to make the world better for your
kids, not ˜We're gonna win,' he says. We're taking on forces that are very
powerful. It's important to do the right thing so you can look your children in
the face and say, ˜Yeah, I tried to make a difference and set an example.'