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Student Launches Crusade against Whale Killing

April 14, 1989

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. (AP) _ With a little help from his friends, a teen-ager who wants to save whales has taken on big business, organized a rally and helped dispel the notion that youthful activism is dead.

Eric Kessler, a senior at Highland Park High School, said Thursday he launched his crusade after seeing an environmental group’s petition urging Marriott Corp. to stop buying Icelandic fish in a move to halt commercial whale kills.

″Amazing things are going on at our school and all over Chicago. This started with five or 10 of my friends and it’s grown to astronomical proportions,″ Kessler, 17, said in a telephone interview.

Marriott, a diversified hospitality company, had a contract to supply Icelandic fish to the cafeteria at the school in this northern suburb - until Eric got involved.

Eric expressed his concern to school food-service workers, and telephoned Marriott headquarters in suburban Washington. Icelandic fish was taken off the menu last month, as a result of his efforts.

Bolstered by success, Eric and a handful of friends began planning a rally to support their position that Iceland is violating a 1986 International Whaling Commission moratorium on the killing of whales for commercial purposes.

Iceland maintains whales are being killed only for research.

With advice and help from environmental groups like Greenpeace, which has organized an international boycott of companies that buy Icelandic fish, Kessler began distributing leaflets and making phone calls advertising the rally.

He said celebrities such as scientist Carl Sagan, musician Paul Winter, Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., and Highland Park’s mayor have promised to write letters of support for the April 21 rally.

Students urged students at other high schools to come to the rally in front of the school, and Kessler estimates more than 1,000 people will show up to hear speeches by him, a Greenpeace official and others.

″Things have just been flying. I get calls every night from people who say, ’I can do this for you, or have you tried to take this route,‴ Kessler said.

School authorities are barred from officially endorsing the rally, but several said they support Eric’s activism and plan to attend.

″I think Eric raised appropriate sensitivity to the issue to the food- services division,″ said Principal Ronald Tesch, adding, ″I’m certain it had an influence″ on the decision to stop buying Icelandic fish.

″We encourage our kids to think and to act on their convictions,″ said counselor Vernon Hein. ″Eric isn’t making it a school issue, he’s making it a kind of community concern.″

″He’s really a go-getter. People like Eric are making it happen,″ said Sally Shoup, a whale campaigner at Greenpeace’s Washington office.

Marriott contends it’s a politica - not an environmental - issue.

″To our knowledge, Iceland fish processors have nothing to do with the establishment of that country’s whale-research program,″ said Marriott spokeswoman Leslie Schlaggs.

″We feel that any kind of economic boycott would be harming or targeting the wrong people,″ she said, and Marriott explained that position to Eric.

But he’s hooked on activism.

″It’s taking over my life and it’s a great feeling,″ said Eric, who plans to study environmental conservation at the University of Colorado next fall.

Said 15-year-old colleague Becky Auster, a Highland Park sophomore: ″It definitely gives me hope, because a lot of people tend to think that today’s younger generation is really apathetic and doesn’t care what’s happening.

″This shows they do care, they just need someone to help them get started.″

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