At Exeter Assembly
Anti-war activist argues for socialism
Published Feb 14, 2008 8:38 PM
Sara Flounders, co-director of the International Action Center, delivered a
30-minute assembly program on Feb. 8 to the 1,000-person student body of
Phillips Exeter Academy, a prominent private high school in New Hampshire. Her
talk was divided into four sections: why capitalism requires war and
inequality; why capitalism requires racism; the basics of socialism; and the
choices that we make that impact society.
Assembly programs are held three times a week at Phillips Exeter and, judging
by the buzz Flounders’ talk created on campus, this was the most notable
assembly of the year.
At one point during the assembly, Sara Flounders sparked giggles throughout the
crowd when she pointed out how people refuse to treat socialism as they’d
treat any other area of life, refuse to even “allow room for trial and
error.” She asked the crowd if we’d say the same things about
scientific pursuits as we do about socialism: “The Wright Brothers. If
god wanted us to fly he would have given us wings. It’s a good idea but
an ideal that will never work. Would you say that about electricity ...
lightning kills? If we were supposed to have light then night wouldn’t be
On a less humorous note Flounders also mentioned the $660 billion U.S. military
budget, compared to the $40 billion required to end poverty in developing
nations. Her exposure of U.S. foreign policy raised a few eyebrows and murmurs
throughout the crowd. Keep in mind the Phillips Exeter Academy has a $1 billion
endowment—that’s over $1 million per student—and that Duponts
and Rockefellers attend Exeter, as did former National Security Adviser John
Negroponte’s son last year. But now one-third of the students
get financial aid, about 20 percent are Asian and 5-10 percent Black.
After the assembly, Flounders continued the discussion in the dining hall with
a group of about 10 students. A few students spent a good portion of this
smaller discussion making hostile right-wing remarks; however, when Flounders
invited the only two females to speak, one of them made the most productive
remark. “I think you can see even from this table the ill effects of a
still predominantly patriarchal society,” she said, poking fun at the
male belligerence around the table.
The student went on to ask Flounders how she maintained her revolutionary
enthusiasm, to which Flounders responded that she was motivated by the
movements of the 1960s and the gains that have been made from those struggles.
Flounders also spoke to three classrooms on different subjects.
The student response to Sara Flounders was mixed on class lines and political
lines. The arguments of detractors were the same typical ones often heard
during debates at Exeter: socialism won’t work because of human nature.
For them, Flounders’ socialist analysis of society was too
“simplistic” and “idealistic.” The first argument
assumes that people are innately and fundamentally selfish, always have been
and always will be, and do not have a capacity to cooperate well enough to
As for the second argument, it might appear to be a refutation of ideas in
general. Most people who argue it also subscribe to Adam Smith’s peculiar
idea that by rapacious and vicious pursuit of their own self-interests,
capitalists benefit all of society. At a rich school like Exeter, these stale
arguments are inevitably exhaled and inhaled, unaltered, in all
More important are the students who said that Flounder’s assembly was the
best of the year, the students who were energized and encouraged to action by
her speech. That IAC co-director Sara Flounders managed to rile up the whole
campus and spark heated debates attests to the success of her assembly
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