Our lives and much of what we’re accustomed to will have been changed forever by the coronavirus but the existential danger presented by nuclear weapons remains unless we act collectively as we have during the pandemic. The remarkable project described here entailed visits to all of the towns and cities in Minnesota and provides proof that throughout every corner of the state, there is a desire to abolish nuclear weapons. Read about it and further actions you can take now. ~ editor’s note
By Steve McKeown WAMM Newsletter Vol. 38 Num. 2 Spring 2020
In a press release dated January 23, 2020, Rachael Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said, “It is 100 seconds to midnight. We are now expressing how close the world is to catastrophe in seconds ¾ not hours, or even minutes. It is the closest to Doomsday we have ever been in the history of the Doomsday Clock. We now face a true emergency ¾ an absolutely unacceptable state of world affairs that has eliminated any margin for error or further delay.”
In this same press release, former California Governor Jerry Brown, the Bulletin’s executive chair, said: “Dangerous rivalry among the superpowers increases the likelihood of nuclear blunder. Climate change just compounds the crisis. If there ever was a time to wake up, it’s now.”
Wake up indeed.
There was a time when Americans woke up to this. In the early 1980s Randall Forsberg, founder of the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies, issued a call for a freeze on the production, testing, and deployment of nuclear weapons. Grassroots peace groups embraced it. In 1982, one million people marched in New York City to support the “Freeze,” reflecting the millions around the nation who marched, conducted study groups, leafleted, petitioned, and committed civil disobedience, in support of the movement.
Thousands in Minneapolis held Mother’s Day parades to renounce these weapons. Even though the Freeze was strongly opposed by the political conservatives, including the Christian Right (especially the “Moral Majority” founded by the Baptist minister Jerry Falwell Sr.), it attained 72 percent approval by Americans in both 1982 and 1983. The Freeze was supported by major presidential candidates including the eventual nominee, Walter Mondale. Earlier in 1982, in spite of opposition on the right, Congress passed a resolution in support of the Freeze.
Ronald Reagan changed his hawkish position on nuclear weapons largely due to the impact of the Freeze movement, international protests against the weapons, and the conciliatory efforts of Soviet Premier Gorbachev. Later antinuclear sentiment when H.W. Bush was president ledto the IMF Treaty, Start I, and Start II, which drastically reduced these weapons. The problem was that countries other than the U.S. and Russia started producing these weapons, which led to the two major powers stalling on their agreements to further disarm.
Given this continued disarmament stalemate, in 2007 the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was formed by the Nobel Prize winning (1986) International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. ICAN drew its inspiration from another international peace group ¾ the Campaign to Ban Land Mines ¾ and organized accordingly. ICAN worked with the United Nations, and was instrumental in getting that body’s General Assembly to pass the Treaty to Abolish Nuclear Weapons by a near unanimous vote in 2017. It becomes international law when it is ratified by 50 of the legislative bodies of the signing countries. Thirty-five have done so.
The WAMM Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons, a project of the Twin Cities-based grassroots organization Women Against Military Madness (WAMM), joined ICAN and complements its work with educational outreach, large-scale postcard mailings to Minnesota’s U.S. senators, and a petition drive on paper in support of the UN treaty. Shortly after WAMM launched its campaign, the Minneapolis-St. Paul chapter of Veterans for Peace joined the effort.
As partner members of ICAN, Marie Braun representing WAMM and I with Veterans for Peace were on a panel discussion with Beatrice Fihn, the director of ICAN, when she came to Augsburg College in Minneapolis for the annual Nobel Peace Prize Forum in 2018, the second largest one in the world. After the discussion, Beatrice was the keynote speaker in the main assembly. When she finished her speech, some of us were invited on the stage with her. She whispered to me, “Tell them about the map of signatures.” Unfortunately, it had already whisked away and I did not have it to display, but for those who are wondering, here is what she was referring to about the map and how we made it happen.
After the WAMM Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons obtained 8,000 signatures in support of the treaty, we began to take the stacks of paper petitions in to the offices of our congressional representatives and senators. The responses we received, other than that of Keith Ellison (a Minnesota representative at the time), were that they don’t receive many calls on this issue. Our strategy then changed to obtaining signatures from at least one person in all 851 towns and cities (plus another 41 that aren’t incorporated) in Minnesota, and indicating each by marking with a pushpin on a map of the state.
We obtained the signatures by traveling throughout the state and visiting the likes of American Legions, VFWs, auto stores, the back and front doors of butcher shops, bait shops, jewelry stores, carnivals, festivals, and 24 county fairs plus the Minnesota State Fair ¾ where we got signatures from young guys waiting to do pull-ups for the Marine recruiters. We even got a signature from a bank. The Veterans for Peace bus went out four times on overnight trips outstate. Thanks to Veterans for Peace member Craig Wood, when we ran out of gas on Interstate Highway 35W, we even obtained a signature from a woman who gave us a ride back to our bus with gas. Another time, while the bus was waiting at a crossroads in northern Minnesota for an ore train, we took the opportunity to get out and get signatures from those in a long line of cars.
We now have a total of nearly 23,000 signatures, and have started the outreach process asking people to keep the phone lines of Congress busy, especially to our two senators. Marie Braun and I have met with office staff of both Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Senator Smith, and we were well received. They have been getting calls from constituents about urging the U.S. to sign the treaty. They took photos of our map peppered with pushpins representing all of the Minnesota towns and cities, and sent the photos to Omar and Smith. We await a scheduled meeting with the congresswomen themselves, in response to this evidence that there are people throughout the entire state of Minnesota who want a ban on nuclear weapons.
We are now asking you make phone calls in support of the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Call Senator Tina Smith: 651-221-1016 smith.senate.gov/contact-tina#
and Senator Amy Klobuchar: 612-727-5220 email: klobuchar.senate.gov/public/email-amy Urge them to listen to their Minnesota constituents and have the United States sign and ratify the International Treaty to Abolish Prohibit Nuclear Weapons.
Details in the process of U.S treaties: tinyurl.com/y8z3nqzt.
Steve McKeown was conscripted into the U.S. Army in 1965 and was a radio operator in Vietnam. He was one of the founding members of the Minneapolis/St. Paul chapter of Veterans for Peace, and is co-coordinator of the chapter’s quarterly newsletter. Both he and his wife, Joan Johnson, are longtime members of Women Against Military Madness. Steve is also active on WAMM’s End War Committee and the WAMM Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons. He has traveled all over Minnesota for two years obtaining signatures on the petition urging the U.S. to sign and ratify the treaty to ban nuclear weapons.