Endurance Marks Draper Lab Protests

This is the first in a two-part series.

About a dozen people gathered inside the entrance to Draper Laboratory in Technology Square yesterday, lofting banners and handing leaflets to entering workers in protest of the lab's involvement in designing nuclear weapons.

Some lab employees thanked the protesters--members of a group called "Ailanthus"--while others ignored them or stopped to ask questions.

Many recognized them from previous Monday mornings. Ailanthus (named after a hearty tree that grows even through cracks in city sidewalks) has sent leafletters to the site every week for nearly a year, hoping to persuade workers the lab should not design nuclear weapons. A proposal that Draper design mass transit systems failed in the early '70s when it did not get federal funding.

"Mostly we just ask people to think about the consequences of spending such a high percentage of federal funds for military purposes," Kriss D. Worthington, a third-year graduate student and a member of Ailanthus, said yesterday.

Even when only two protesters show up to demonstrate between 7 and 9 a.m., "we feel it's really important to keep a continuing presence," Tom Lewis, an Ailanthus member, said yesterday.

Draper Laboratory designs prototype guidance mchanisms for MX, Cruise, and Trident missles, all first-strike weapons. Its major customers are the Air Force, Navy and the Department of Defense, Joseph F. O'Connor, executive assistant to the president of the lab, said yesterday.

O'Connor said Ailanthus and the lab had agreed in July that the group would distribute leaflets within designated boundaries on the property Draper rents.

He added that the agreement gives the protesters the "opportunity to directly express their ideas to employees that are interested in hearing them, without making others feel pressured."

But in December Ailanthus members decided to cross the line. After they blocked one entrance to the lab and handed out leaflets at another, Cambridge police arrested 13 Ailanthus members and they spent more than a week in jail.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology owned the laboratory, but sold it ten years ago because of strong student protest of its research programs.

Since then, O'Connor said the lab's focus has remained basically unchanged. "There have been no changes attributable to them (Ailanthus)," he added, saying Draper lab will "continue to be responsive to U.S. agencies that we have always worked with."

John Leary, a third-year graduate student in History and Religion and an Ailanthus member, said yesterday, "They haven't disarmed any warheads, but we have had encouraging responses."

Worthington praised the addition of a solar energy project to the lab's list but said Draper "may be diversifying just to get the pressure off."

"I think the problem is inside all of us--it's in a society that would accept violence as a way of settling a difference of opinion," Worthington said.

Ailanthus was formed last year from a study group that discussed religious writings and tried to give a spiritual perspective to non-violent action.

Worthington added that middle-aged, and upper-middle-class Ailanthus members are mostly "basically college students who have graduated and become successful," he said.

Leary said, "We're trying to reflect on the political and social realities of which we are a part. Personal change does make a difference--changing our lives will help us gain some insight into how to confront the issue," he added.