N. Calif. rallies against nuclear weapons

LIVERMORE, Calif. — Hundreds of protesters from around northern California gathered here in blazing summer heat Aug. 8 to commemorate the 59th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and to renew their vow of “Never again!”

Following an early afternoon rally, chanting demonstrators marched to the gate of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory — a key research facility for new nuclear arms — behind a giant banner proclaiming, “Books not Bombs!” There, under the watchful gaze of police in riot gear, they built a pile of donated books, later to be given to area social service organizations.

It was a family day, with marchers ranging in age from tiny infants to veterans of decades of protests. Young participants painted the colorful lead banner during a lively children’s program.

Speakers representing a spectrum of antiwar and community organizations emphasized the escalating threat from the Bush administration’s drive to develop new nuclear weapons and its stated willingness to use them. They demanded a shift of resources to meet human needs.

California Peace Action Executive Director Jon Rainwater called on demonstrators to urge their senators to deny funding for new nukes, as the House of Representatives did earlier this year. He told the crowd, “If we build a grassroots movement together, writing letters, making phone calls, getting people out to vote in battleground states, we will beat back the Bush vision, and the vision that will be realized will be our vision to abolish nuclear weapons.”

Noting that Sept. 11 provided the pretext for the Bush administration to introduce the Patriot and Homeland Security Acts “that have resulted in anger, humiliation, frustration and total despair in our country,” Samina Faheem Sundas, executive director of American Muslim Voice, called for “bridging the gap between all communities” to overcome the scapegoating that now targets Arabs and Muslims.

“We’re here to say ‘never again’ to nuclear arms and to war,” Marylia Kelley, executive director of Tri-Valley CAREs, told the crowd. “We’re also here to look forward, to look for the things that we want in our culture and our society — books, schools, libraries, health care, creativity, cooperation.” Kelley told of the enormous environmental damage the lab has caused in the Livermore area, and the area elementary schools that are closing because the resources have been diverted to the military budget.

Jacques Depelchin, a spokesman for the Ota Benga International Alliance for Peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said, “From where we stand in Africa and beyond, the clouds which arose over Hiroshima and Nagasaki struck us as the culmination of five centuries which fast-forwarded humanity from its cradle to the brink of its grave.” Depelchin urged that the memory be preserved of the Congolese miners who died after extracting the uranium for the first bombs.

Among other speakers were Jacqueline Cabasso and Andrew Lichterman from Western States Legal Foundation, Dr. Robert Gould of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Maurice Campbell of the Communities First Coalition in the San Francisco neighborhood of Bayview-Hunter’s Point, and author Rebecca Solnit.

Similar observances took place throughout the country, including in Chicago; Seattle; New York; Austin, Texas; and in Oak Ridge, Tenn., the site of another nuclear research complex.

The author can be reached at mbechtel@pww.org.