"Stop the Bombs!" Nuclear Abolition -
Our Responsibility in the US

by Diane and Peter Swords

Danielle carried this peace walk banner and peace Walk all the way from Oakridge, Tn. on March 13th to the United Nations on May 1. Photo: Peter Swords

On May 1, United for Peace and Justice sponsored a "Stop the Bombs" march and rally for nuclear disarmament, held in Central Park. The date was chosen to coincide with the beginning of the five-year UN review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"The Walk"
For three days leading up to the march, we walked with the Stop The Bombs International Peace Pilgrimage. It was a wonderful opportunity to get fit, get acquainted with committed activists and support a worthy cause. On the way through northern New Jersey, the signs we carried opposing nuclear weapons juxtaposed with the clear evidence of neglected infrastructure - on the bridges we crossed and the housing complexes we passed - which emphasized the sick priorities of our nation. We had an overwhelmingly positive reception from passers-by, and were welcomed in churches, meeting houses and recreation centers.

"The Walk," as the walkers called it, had begun March 13 in Oak Ridge, TN, where uranium was enriched and fashioned into the first atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima 60 years ago. The US is still building new nuclear weapons and refurbishing and upgrading old ones intended to last for 100-120 years at the Y-12 National Security Complex. Ongoing efforts to "stop the bombs" will come together on the 60th anniversary of the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima with a large demonstration on August 6, 2005 at Oak Ridge and other weapons complexes.

Walkers, including Buddhist monks and nuns led by Jun-San Yasuda, came from as far away as Australia and Japan. We chanted with their drumbeat as we walked, "Na-Mu-Myo-Ho-Ren-Ge-Kyo," a medieval Japanese mantra that recalls the Lotus Sutra, a central Buddhist text about how all life is sacred and connected.

While not all walkers chanted, the sound of the drums and voices provided a peaceful presence, spurring walkers and drawing onlookers. It moved people from the inside out, and gave a sense of healing strength.
Diane Swords (second from left) with Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba (center) and several Hibakusha. -photo Peter Swords

A highlight of the walk was the evening we met Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba of Hiroshima, who spoke of miracles. The dedication of the walkers was one, he said. Sustaining human life itself was another, especially over the last 60 years. As a third, he introduced several Hibakusha, survivors of the Hiroshima bombing, who felt a duty to share their experiences, though it was difficult for them. They had come to urge the UN delegates to set a timetable for negotiating complete nuclear disarmament. The kernel of their message was, "Nobody else should ever again suffer as we did." That was the same message carried by some survivors of the 9/11 attacks who joined the walk in NYC.

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the US
Many activists and leaders of non-governmental organizations worked hard to prepare for the UN review of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), scheduled to start in early May. Meanwhile, the US media's daily coverage of the NPT talks focuses on "rogue states" such as Iran and North Korea. Even though George W. Bush said, "Free nations do not develop weapons of mass destruction," Egypt was blamed for blocking progress by asking the nuclear nations to account for their progress on disarmament. If the treaty is supposed to prevent proliferation, there should be nothing wrong with holding nuclear nations to their obligations.

What is missing in US coverage of this drama? Article 6 of the NPT requires the nuclear states to make progress on disarmament. As Alice Slater put it, "The US and Russia are in a league by themselves, because they each have over 12,000 nuclear bombs. England, France, and China have in the hundreds ­- 300 or 400 ­- and they're not going to do anything until the US and Russia get their act together." All governments agreed to a 13 point "action plan" at the last NPT review in 2000, including "Reaffirmation that the ultimate objective of the efforts of States in the disarmament process is general and complete disarmament under effective international control."

Years of polls have shown 80% of the US public wants abolition of nuclear weapons. A very recent US poll found that, given the choices of which states should have nuclear weapons, 66% said none should. This is encouraging, given that the US government boasts of creating its own reality ­- for example by using WMD as a pretext for invading Iraq.

Mayors' Campaign
In contrast to the image-making, spin-doctored world of Bush, Mayor Akiba's own work is practical and evidence-based. He joked that mayors have to give evidence of what they accomplish, even down to taking photos before and after picking up the garbage. With tireless energy and faultless logic, he leads the Mayors' Emergency Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons. Along with doctors, mayors have reasoned that the only way to protect their people from nuclear disaster is to prevent it, and the only way to prevent it is to rid the world of nuclear weapons. The Mayors' Statement has been endorsed by the US Conference of Mayors, and has been signed by over 100 US mayors. US governors will be approached next.

The objective of the Mayors' Campaign is to begin negotiations now, conclude them in 2010, and set 2020 as the date for nuclear abolition - hence it is called the "2020 Vision Campaign." Meanwhile, the UN must persuade all nuclear nations to "de-alert" their weapons from "launch on warning."

Though we hear little in the US media about them, the Mayors have had some big successes. The Belgian Senate recently voted to ban nuclear weapons from Belgian soil, and over one-third of Belgium's mayors have signed the Mayors' Statement. The European Parliament will be considering similar measures soon.

This year, 60 years later, the Hibakusha are still speaking with one voice: "Nobody should ever again suffer as we did." As painful as it is, they are using their experiences to call for a clear commitment to nuclear abolition for the survival of humanity. Mayor Akiba is pressing for this commitment to occur while the Hibakusha are still alive and has announced an international effort to recognize this lifelong aim. A committee is preparing to nominate the Hibakusha as a group for the Nobel Peace Prize during this 60th anniversary year.

Events Planned
Please mark your calendar. On Saturday, August 6, mass demonstrations at Oak Ridge, TN, and other nuclear weapons sites around the world will say "NO!" to nuclear weapons production. At Oak Ridge, activities will include a legal march, rally and demonstration, plus an opportunity for nonviolent civil resistance.

To find out what's going on at the NPT Review conference on a day-to-day basis, check [www.banningthebomb.tv]. For more information, also see [www.stopthebombs.org].

Here in Syracuse, plans are under way for August 6 commemorations, as well as for approaching Mayor Driscoll to sign the Mayor's Abolition Statement. Watch for notices of the August 6-9 events in the PNL. Call Diane or Peter at 479-5658 if you would like to join the committee working on the Mayor's campaign.

Diane is an academic/activist and Peter is a social worker in the Syracuse community.