How to Organize a Ban Nuclear Weapons Campaign, State by State, by Marie Braun

There are many reasons why we must ban nuclear weapons NOW.  I will name just a few. There is no meaningful health response to the use of nuclear weapons.  They are unique in their destructive power, in the unspeakable human suffering they cause, and in the threat they pose to the environment, to future generations, and indeed to the survival of humanity.”  Any use of these weapons would be immoral and illegal.   

By Marie Braun  Veterans for Peace Annual Convention  August 24, 2018

Editor’s Note: The following is the talk give by Marie Braun during a workshop at the VFP Annual Convention. She describes the Minnesota WAMM End War Committee project to Ban Nuclear Weapons and encourages all to adopt similar plans for their own states.

Women Against Military Madness is honored to be one of the U.S. organizations that are partners in the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, and we appreciate all the work that ICAN and their other partners have done to make the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons a reality..

Nuclear weapons were a focus of WAMM when it was founded in 1982.  It was in the 80s that Helen Caldicott was traveling around the U.S. and other countries warning us of the dangers of nuclear weapons and scaring us into action.  There was a lot going on in the Twin Cities around anti-nuclear work at that time.  But, with the end of the Cold War, some progress being made relative to reducing nuclear arsenals, U.S. wars in Central America, and the first Gulf War, the issue gradually faded from the consciousness of most Americans, and many in the peace community moved on to other anti-war issues.   For years, the primary local reminders that we continued to live under the threat of nuclear annihilation were the annual commemorations of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the work of groups like Nukewatch.

In the fall of 2016, when members of the WAMM End War Committee learned that 123 nations were coming together to agree on a treaty, we decided to initiate the WAMM Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons.  We agreed that the campaign should focus on educating Minnesotans about the dangers of nuclear war and on reaching out to elected officials.

July 7, 2017, the day 122 nations agreed on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, was a great day and people around the world  rejoiced.  The treaty was a victory for humanity.  But, the U.S., which could have used its power to end the peril that nuclear weapons pose to the world, chose instead to boycott the negotiations and worked to persuade approximately 40 countries, including our neighbor Canada and most of the NATO States, to join the boycott.

And, on July 7th, the U.S.  issued a statement that read “We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it.”

Nuclear weapons are the only weapons of mass destruction not yet prohibited under international law, despite their imminent danger and their inhumane and indiscriminate nature. There are approximately 15,000 nuclear warheads in the world today held by nine nations – U.S., Russia, UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea; 90% are held by the U.S. and Russia.

All nine of the nuclear-armed nations are currently planning to upgrade and modernize their nuclear arsenals.  The U.S. alone is planning to spend $1 Trillion (some say it will cost $1.7 trillion) in the next thirty years.  In addition to the outrageous cost and the fact that the U.S can already destroy the world many times over, this nuclear “modernization” plan violates the terms of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires the nuclear powers to engage in nuclear disarmament.

There are many reasons why we must ban nuclear weapons NOW.  I will name just a few. There is no meaningful health response to the use of nuclear weapons.  They are unique in their destructive power, in the unspeakable human suffering they cause, and in the threat they pose to the environment, to future generations, and indeed to the survival of humanity.”  Any use of these weapons would be immoral and illegal.

And they do not make us more secure.  It is interesting to note that most of the countries that did not vote for the Treaty said nuclear weapons were “essential for security.”  Nuclear weapons, in fact, make us less safe.  Rather than keeping the peace, they breed fear and mistrust among nations.  And these weapons are useless in addressing today’s real security threats, such as terrorism, climate change, extreme poverty, overpopulation and disease.

Also, there have been many documented instances of the near-use of nuclear weapons as a result of miscalculation or accidents, including times when the decision to launch was seconds from happening.  Many of these are documented in Eric Schlosser’s book Control and Command.  Unless we eliminate nuclear weapons, they will almost certainly be used again, either intentionally or by accident, and the consequences will be horrific.

Nuclear weapons are the only devices ever created that have the capacity to destroy all life on earth.  The use of even a fraction of current arsenals would cause catastrophic climate disruption, a devastating agricultural collapse, and a global famine that could kill more than two billion people. And as climate change progresses the danger of nuclear war will increase dramatically as nations experience limited food and water resources and try to deal with forced migrations that could dwarf the current refugee crisis.

And, as we all know, nuclear weapons programs divert public funds from health care, education, infrastructure repair, disaster relief and other vital services.

We live in a world where the risk of nuclear war is greater than it has been for a long time.  In recognition of this, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists recently moved the Doomsday clock to 2½ minutes to midnight.  Meanwhile our political and military establishments are launching a new arms race and are working to build a consensus in favor of a possible first strike pre-emptive U.S. nuclear attach against both nuclear and non-nuclear nations.  And, the confrontational U.S. military posture toward Russia, China, North Korea and Iran is creating conditions that could easily trigger a nuclear war.

This need not be.  Relationships with Russia, North Korea, China and other countries can be normalized, economic ties can be strengthened, trust can be restored, and the nuclear threat can be defused.  But it will take a major change in U.S. military and foreign policy from global dominance to global cooperation, and leaders who genuinely want peace more than war.

The next step toward attaining a world free of nuclear weapons must involve the nuclear armed states.  Disarming nuclear weapons should not be a difficult process since we have the technical expertise and verification procedures in place.  The U.S. and Russia have dismantled tens of thousands of warheads since 1986, when their combined inventory peaked around 70,000.  Noam Chomsky said “There are feasible peaceful solutions and clear, well known ways of pursuing diplomatic options.   But the people must demand it.”  We must demand it.

When we submitted our proposal for this workshop, it was our hope that the Minnesotans who came to the workshop would join our Campaign, and that those of you who are from other states might want to organize a campaign of your own, using some of the ideas presented here.  Or that you might already have campaigns in your communities that you could talk about and that we could learn from.

I put 40 packets describing our campaign on your chairs.  The packets contain (1) a sticker, (2) the initial Overview of the Campaign, (3) a sample postcard to our senators, (4) a copy of the petition (5) a copy of the MN Senate Bill, and (6) a sample resolution to take to city councils.

The Long Term Goals of the WAMM Campaign are:

  • Ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by the U.S.
  • Stop the trillion dollar modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal
  • U.S. takes nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert
  • U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
  • U.S. President vows no first use of nuclear weapons

The short term goals were goals that we hoped to accomplished by January1, 2018.  We thought we could get one MN U.S. Senator and three MN U.S. House members to publicly support the Treaty.  We wanted to send 2,000 postcards to each of our senators and gather 5,000 signatures on a petition to ban on nuclear weapons.  We planned to engage 100 new people in actively promoting the campaign by reaching out to churches and other peace groups around the state. And we were hoping the Mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul would make statements in support of a ban because they were both members of Mayors for Peace, a world-wide group of cities working together to raise international public awareness regarding the need to abolish nuclear weapons..

Due to time constraints, we focused on getting signatures on our petition and sending cards to our two senators.  We reached out to forty local churches and eight peace groups from around the state of Minnesota to help in this effort. We sent more than 2,000 cards to Senator Klobuchar and Franken, and now Tina Smith,  and to date we have collected almost 14,000 signatures from 472 cities and towns around the state of Minnesota with the help of the Twin Cities Chapter 27 of Veterans for Peace, who traveled around the state in their Peace Bus.

We have passed out thousands of “Ban Nuclear Weapons” stickers at numerous venues, put out a number of educational pieces and calls for action, and took resolutions to our political caucuses.  The WAMM Movie Committee showed the documentary Control and Command and, on another occasion, showed a dialogue between Daniel Ellsberg and Noam Chomsky on nuclear issues.   We are also reaching out to city councils to encourage them to pass resolutions, and hope to meet with our archbishop to see what he can do to engage more churches in this effort, especially since Pope Francis has made the issue one of his key concerns.

We were a bit naive when it came to our public officials.  We were able to meet with the staffs of our two senators and seven of our House members, but not one of our elected officials would take the time to meet with us, even when we delivered 8,107 signatures to their offices in October of last year.  And while we have asked repeatedly, only House members Justin Lewis and Betty McCollum responded to our letters.  Neither said they would publicly support the Treaty.

The more involved we become, the more we realize that there are so many things we can do to reach out to elected officials and others in our community.  One of the wonderful unexpected things that happened was that, unbeknownst to us, three members of the Minnesota Senate introduced a bill to ban nuclear weapons.  They will introduce a new bill next session and one of our representatives has agreed to introduce a companion bill in the Minnesota House.

For more information on the WAMM Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons, and to receive a packet, contact Marie Braun at braun044@umn.edu or call her at 612-275-2720.

Marie Braun is a member of Women Against Military Madness, the Minnesota Peace Action Coalition, and other Twin City activist organizations.

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