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Posts Tagged ‘NH Peace Action’

[This article was published in the Concord Monitor on March 24, 2019 and also appears on the AFSC website.]

With the March 20 passage in the NH House of Representatives of a resolution calling for a policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons and opposing development of so-called “low yield” nuclear weapons, New Hampshire legislators added their voices to a growing movement aimed at reducing the risk of nuclear conflict and moving the world toward abolition of nuclear weapons.

Other measures, based on a resolution known as “Back from the Brink,” also cleared the City Council in Portsmouth last Monday and Town Meetings last week in Warner, Alstead, Lee, and Exeter. The Durham Town Council passed one in December. New London’s Town Meeting kicked off the latest round two years ago.

It’s not a coincidence.

The resolutions flow from an organized effort by groups including NH Peace Action, the American Friends Service Committee, Seacoast Peace Response, Rights and Democracy, and the Union of Concerned Scientists to spotlight concerns about nuclear weapons at a time when presidential candidates are flocking to New Hampshire. The candidates are also starting to get questions on the campaign trail.

The reason should be obvious: 75 years into the atomic age and 3 decades after the Cold War ended, the world is still threatened by the possibility that through escalation of international conflict, accident, or technological malfunction, nuclear weapons could be exploded. Consider, for example, the festering tensions along the border between India and Pakistan, two of the world’s nine nuclear-armed powers, that could spin out of control.

As the Portsmouth resolution put it, “the detonation of even a small number of these weapons anywhere in the world could have catastrophic human, environmental, and economic consequences that could affect everyone on the planet.”

“A large‐scale nuclear war could kill hundreds of millions of people directly and cause unimaginable environmental damage, producing conditions wherein billions of people could die from starvation or disease,” the resolution added.

Yet, the United States and other nuclear powers are pursuing new nuclear weapons, even ones designed for battlefield use, rather than diplomatic courses to de-escalate tensions and reduce the chance that nuclear weapons would ever be used. The decisions by US and Russian leaders to pull out of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement and possibility that the New START treaty might go unrenewed in 2020 stand as stark examples.

For our country, this is a dangerous change of course from the approaches of previous presidential administrations, Republican and Democratic, which even at the height of the Cold War knew that restraint was preferable to an uncontrolled nuclear arms race.

According to a recent poll conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, 84 percent of New Hampshire residents think it is very (54 percent) or somewhat (30 percent) important for candidates in the upcoming 2020 presidential election to lay out their views regarding nuclear weapons.

Presidential candidates take notice. When you visit New Hampshire, you may be asked questions like,

“Will you oppose current plans to spend upwards of one-and-a-half trillion dollars on a plan to rebuild the entire American nuclear arsenal?”

“Will you agree that no president, even yourself should you be elected, should have unilateral authority to launch a nuclear attack?”

“Will you live up to long-standing US treaty obligations and support multilateral negotiations leading to the worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons?”

Voters will welcome the responses.

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concord 11-9-13 016

It was classic Caldicott in Concord last night at the NH Peace Action dinner: part biology lesson, part moral outrage, and part call to action.  The long-term impact of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe, the longer-term impacts of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the still unfolding disaster at the Fukushima reactors in Japan have provided the Australian pediatrician with more than enough data to underline her call for nuclear plants to be shut down and nuclear weapons to be abolished.

Part of the problem, Dr. Caldicott told the audience at Concord’s City Auditorium, is an “unholy alliance” between the World Health Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose purpose includes promoting nuclear power.  And the IAEA still bases its health assessments on outdated analysis of the health impacts of the atomic bombings of Japan.  Different types of cancer have varying incubation periods, she said, and even now people in Japan areconcord 11-9-13 046 getting sick from the use of nuclear weapons 68 years ago.  Children in the Chernobyl vicinity are still being coming into the world with high rates of birth defects, she noted.

Another problem, she charged, is that physicists, not doctors, still dominate the discussion of radiation effects.  “I’ll be damned if I’m going to let those bastards get away with it,” she said, with passion in her voice and a twinkle in her eye.

“Large areas of the world are becoming contaminated by long-lived nuclear elements secondary to catastrophic meltdowns: 40 percent of Europe from Chernobyl, and much of Japan” Dr. Caldicott wrote in a recent NY Times op-ed, reprinted on her web site

As a doctor treating children with leukemia in Boston in the 1970s, Dr. Caldicott was a key figure that animated the No Nukes movement in New England and then re-awakened the nuclear disarmament movement of the early 1980s.  She served as President of Physicians for Social Responsibility, started the Women’s Party for Survival (which became Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament and lives on as Women’s Action for New Directions), and in 2001 formed the Nuclear Policy Research Institute, now known as Beyond Nuclear.  Through books, films, and lectures like the one last night, she has reached millions across the world with an alarming analysis of the dangers we face from nuclear power and concord 11-9-13 034 weapons.

Alarm is an appropriate state to be in.

High on Dr. Caldicott’s list of concerns right now is the need to remove damaged nuclear fuel rods form the melted-down reactors at Fukushima, where she said “they’re running out of workers”  and mistakes could be deadly. [see comment]

When Dr. Caldicott turned to her slide presentation, she began with a list of radioactive isotopes, then showed slides of birds and insects with genetic mutations associated with radiation spewed from Chernobyl 27 years ago. 

The nuclear industry is carcinogenic, she said, “and it’s going to kill people.  These people should be tried like Nazi war criminals.” 

Dr. Caldicott wound up her presentation with a shorter warning about the dangers of nuclear weapons and the influence weapons builders have over US military policy.  “Who runs the Pentagon?,” she asked.  “Lockheed Martin,” she answered.

There are still 20,000 H-bombs in the world, and the US and Russia control most of them.  “How dare America have enough weapons to destroy life on earth?  How dare the Russians?”

Dr. Caldicott’s pleas would have been strengthened by references to efforts by Beyond Nuclear and SAPL to concord 11-9-13 001 block a 20-year license extension for Seabrook Station and to the fact that Vermont Yankee (which she mentioned several times) is actually going to be closed after decades of No Nukes campaigning.  But at least she did follow Will Hopkins and Sandra Yarne, who talked about NH Peace Action’s current projects, including efforts to place “Move the Money” resolutions on New Hampshire Town Meeting warrants and city council agendas.  

One thing we’ve learned over the years: the best way to deal with the realistic dread that comes from living in the nuclear age is to work for a nuclear-free world.  

You can find out more about Dr. Helen Caldicott on her web site, http://www.helencaldicott.com/

 

 

 

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New Hampshire Peace Action’s annual meeting today in Sanbornton featured a7-13-13 sanbornton 017 presentation by Mike Prokosch of he New Priorities Project on the national campaign to alter federal budget priorities away from militarism and toward social justice objectives.  

“We are not necessarily the prime movers,” Prokosch said to the assembly of more than 40 members of the statewide peace group.  “We need to be allies with the people who will benefit the most.”

Prokosch’s recounting of the movement to transfer federal spending from war-making to programs that meet human needs referred back to the 1970s “transfer amendment” and demands from black leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. for the government to turn away from war and toward the needs of poor communities.  

For me, his message conjured up memories of several decades of “fair budget coalitions,” “fair budget action campaigns,” priorities projects, and the like, none of which seem to have made much of an impact on the federal budget.

The new effort, 7-13-13 sanbornton 030which began in the period following the 2008 economic collapse, might be different, Prokosch suggested.  Bringing the peace movement together with community organizing networks, faith groups, and organized labor at a time when  competition for federal resources is fierce, the latest “move the money” movement is built on a “long term, grassroots, and big tent” approach, he said.

“It’s clear we have a long term fight on our hands,” he said, and “the peace movement doesn’t have the strength to do this alone.”

In fact, under its current leadership, the US House of Representatives is already trying to “move the money,” but in the wrong direction, from social programs toward more militarism.   But this creates an opportunity, Prokosch insisted, for peace activists to build relationships with people who care about the victims of austerity budgets.

The type of organizing that’s needed requires more than slogans and graphs.  It has to be done “in a deep way,” taking peace activists outside their comfort zones, for example building alliances with military production workers who might understand that budget politics and world changes will put pressure on the Pentagon to reduce spending.  The corporations that profit from weapons production won’t drive the transition to a new economy, he said, but workers who care about the futures of their communities have incentives to consider alternatives.  

A agenda focused on jobs, services, fair taxes, and cuts in Pentagon spending can provide common ground for a coalition that can achieve long-term c7-13-13 sanbornton 005hange.  To illustrate the potential, Prokosch described last years’ “Budget for All” referendum in Massachusetts, where voters endorsed a “move the money” resolution by 3:1 margins in diverse districts, including ones that chose Mitt Romney for President.  

NH Peace Action’s Will Hopkins said the organization is planning to bring similar  resolutions to NH Town Meetings next year.  (Contact him for  more information.)

The Peace Action members also held a brief business meeting at which they elected their board for the coming year.  NH Peace Action is lamperti 7-13-13 sanbornton 009a statewide membership group, affiliated with the NH Peace Action Education Fund.  Board Chair John Lamperti did a good job explaining the relationship between the two entities and the tax categories that limit what they can do and affect how they raise funds.   

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A scruffy young man wearing a knapsack approached Martha Yager at a rally.  “How do I get to world peace,” he asked?

“Practice,” said Martha.

Okay, that didn’t really happen.  But it’s a pretty good summary of Martha’s message to a small group gathered at the Concord Friends Meeting House in Canterbury on September 23.

canterbury 9-23-12 004 Martha, who used to live in New Hampshire but now coordinates the American Friends Service Committee’s South Eastern New England Program, was invited to make a return visit as part of NH Peace Action’s “Amazing Women for Peace” series.  Acknowledging that the peace movement is in rough shape at the moment, Martha asked her audience to find a partner and answer the questions, “When I think about the state of the world, the thing that concerns me most is __________,” and “When I think about that, it makes me feel __________.”

“It’s all pretty overwhelming,” she said, as participants expressed concerns about apathy, resource depletion, climate change, inequality, and violence.   And it’s no surprise that “people kinda’ zone out,” she said.

“It’s not an accident that people are being encouraged into isolation, disconnected from each other,” she observed.   The powers that be use their power to silence people and keep people feeling powerless even when we’re not.

Martha recommended three types of action to pursue:

First, “holding actions,” or those that help people survive with dignity in a world where that can be difficult.  Local examples might include volunteering at the seasonal homeless shelter at South Church in Concord, a project Martha started several years ago.

Second, actions that support life sustaining practices outside the status quo system.  Examples include community gardens, time banks, food co-ops, anything that helps to create “a new society in the shell of the old.”

Third, Martha said we should support actions that lead to a change in consciousness, that help us shift from a paradigm of “power over” to “power with.”

We are small actors in the midst of a complex world, so we should think about how canterbury 9-23-12 006 our small actions can support changes that are likely to extend beyond our lifetimes to bear fruit. 

And we need to practice, in two senses of the word.  We need to put our ideas and values into practice, not leave them in our heads and hearts.  And we need to try them out, try them over again, and see what works. 

Martha finished up by asking pairs to fill in the blank:  “The thing I’m most passionate about is __________.”

There was some discussion of whether “passion” was what we should strive for, but the point was clear:  our capacity to make change will depend our willingness to put ourselves into it. 

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