No problem, say energized organizers of Nuclear Ban US
By Linda Pentz Gunter
When you meet Vicki Elson and Timmon Wallis, they will tell you, without blinking, that they have one purpose: “the total elimination of all nuclear weapons from the face of the earth.”
In the wake of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons — signed, but not yet ratified by the mandatory 50 countries — Wallis and Elson are determined that the US should honor the treaty. Not that there is any hope that the US government, whether the White House or Congress, will do so. But we can, they insist. City by city, and even person by person.
On the website for their new campaign — Nuclear Ban US — the banner headline reads: “How to get rid of all nuclear weapons, not just ‘some,’ not just ‘theirs’ but every single one.”
And it will happen, says Wallis, without a shadow of hesitation or skepticism in his voice. He was speaking at a recent meeting with members of the Nuclear-Free Takoma Park Committee — a citizens’ advisory group for the City Council of Takoma Park, one of the first US cities to become a Nuclear-Free Zone (in 1983).
The committee’s role is to ensure the Maryland city, just outside Washington, DC, adheres to its ordinance that prohibits the city from doing business with industries and institutions engaged in the production of nuclear weapons and their components. The ordinance also bans production, transportation, storage, disposal and activation of nuclear weapons in the city, a less likely eventuality.
Several weeks after their visit, the Takoma Park City Council introduced a resolution declaring its support for and compliance with the UN Ban Treaty. It passed unanimously and Takoma Park became the first US city to make such a declaration (it is already Treaty compliant.) This was precisely the goal Wallis had in mind and he planned to use the Takoma Park vote as impetus to get other cities to do the same.
Wallis, an author, holds a PhD in Peace Studies from Bradford University in the UK and has a long history in the peace movement in that country as well as in his native US and around the world. Elson is relatively new to the issue, although she worried about nuclear war when raising her children. But after working all her professional life as a childbirth educator, it was the Fukushima, Japan nuclear power plant disaster in 2011 that was the wake-up call for her.
“Thank you for your positive energy,” said one Takoma Park committee member, as the discussion in a pastel-painted city conference room drew to a close. In the midst of the general gloom and pessimism, as the nuclear sabres rattle louder, their campaign was indeed a refreshing boost to morale. But can it work?
Absolutely, say Wallis and Elson. They met relatively recently in their mutual home town of Northampton, Massachusetts, not yet a nuclear-free city, “but we’re working on it!”
They were present when the ban treaty was agreed to at the UN in New York, in July 2017. Duly energized, they embarked on their grassroots Nuclear Ban US campaign to get communities in the US to comply with the treaty, even if the government will not.
Despite their cheerful demeanor, they feel a strong sense of urgency. They recognize that we are running out of time before the deliberate or accidental use of nuclear weapons is not only inevitable but actually happens. On their website they list the reasons we need to act fast (shown at at right.)
Their approach is both policy oriented and personal. They were interested to know how many other US cities, like Takoma Park, and along with Berkeley, Oakland and Chicago, are still actively nuclear-free, a status assumed long ago during the Cold War. The list of US nuclear-free zones, once held by the now defunct Nuclear-Free America, has been lost. But Wallis felt it was important that those cities still upholding their anti-nuclear laws connect with each other, and help other towns and cities follow suite.
But it need not even take cities. People can act on their own, they said. We can all divest from the nuclear weapons business. “WE THE PEOPLE can be working through our cities and towns, schools, businesses, unions and faith communities to comply with this Treaty — and you yourself can sign up to become personally Treaty Compliant right here, right now!” says another headline on their website.
To do that, you need to know who the nuclear weapons manufacturers are — and it’s that list that Wallis and Elson are concentrating on right now, rather than the next level — banks who invest, companies that supply nuclear companies and so on — although they plan to go after them too. “The ban is about the companies that make the missiles and the warheads,” explains Wallis. “Not the airplanes and the submarines because these can be converted to non-nuclear use.”
Wallis hands out two brightly colored leaflets — a pink one teaching towns and cities how to implement the nuclear weapons ban and a yellow one for individuals to fulfill a personal treaty compliance. Both handouts list the nuclear arms manufacturers. Many of the names are familiar. But which of us does business with the makers of atomic arms? Quite a few of us, at it turns out.
Honeywell is the company that immediately stands out, because if you have an air conditioning or thermostat system in your home, chances are you will see “Honeywell” stamped right on it.
Wallis speculates that a consumer boycott might quickly persuade Honeywell to get out of the nuclear weapons business. The company manages and operates the National Security Campus which produces about 85% of the non-nuclear components for US nuclear weapons, and is also involved in managing other US nuclear weapon facilities including the Savannah River Site, the National Nuclear Security Site (former test site), and the Sandia Lab.
Boycotting Honeywell would be relatively easy to do, Wallis insists, and the steps to divest from all nuclear weapons manufacturers are there are in the leaflet.
1. Don’t work for any of the 26 companies that make nuclear weapons;
2. Don’t hold investments in any of those 26 companies; and
3. Don’t buy any of their products.
And of course you must tell those companies why you won’t work there, invest in them or buy their products.
Beyond that there are of course further steps. Don’t Bank on the Bomb is a campaign very close to the heart of Nuclear Ban US. But they don’t want to overwhelm people. Nevertheless, divesting from banks who fund nuclear weapons companies, and pulling pension plans and other investments out of the banks who do, is already proving quite successful.
All of this, say Elson and Wallis, will add up to forcing the US to sign the treaty. Eventually. It just needs enough of us to act. And it will take the enthusiasm, energy and absence of cynicism of people like Wallis and Elson, to get us there.
If you would like to learn more or join Nuclear Ban US see their website.