40,000 march to abolish nuclear weapons

Protest calls for end to U.S. occupation of Iraq

NEW YORK — On May 1, the eve of a world meeting at the United Nations to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), tens of thousands of people from around the globe marched through the streets here under the slogan “No nukes! No wars!”

Organizers said more than 40,000 people took part in the march from the UN to Central Park. There was a spirit of international solidarity for peace on the stage and in the crowd as New Yorkers and other Americans mixed with people from all over the world.

Japan had a contingent of 1,000 peace activists, trade unionists, mayors and “hibakusha” — survivors of the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 60 years ago.

Sheila Hart, who was visiting the city from Illinois, said, “I heard about the demonstration and parade from a woman at the UN who told us to come.”

Hart was in “full support of” and “deeply moved” by the sea of global peace activists and the call to abolish nuclear weapons.

Such sentiment illustrates the results of a recent Associated Press poll showing that two-thirds of Americans believe that no country on earth — including the U.S. — should possess nuclear weapons. The overwhelming American sentiment is in line with global opinion.

“Delegations from peace and disarmament groups from around the world are here to participate in activities organized around the treaty,” said Judith Le Blanc, a national co-chair of United for Peace and Justice, which co-sponsored the demonstration with Abolition 2000.

“This is a treaty that Bush would like to torpedo, but our brothers and sisters have come here to help protect the agreement.”

Le Blanc told the World that the coming together of grassroots, U.S. activists from the movement to end the occupation of Iraq with the movement to abolish nuclear weapons was especially significant, giving the day’s actions even greater power.

Leading a delegation of mayors from around the world was the mayor of Hiroshima, Tadatoshi Akiba. “Normally mayors stick to their job of collecting garbage and taking care of education,” Akiba said. “But in this case we consider the peril of nuclear war so great that we really have to come here to voice the opinions of the majority of the citizens of the world.”

Josep Poblet Tous, the mayor of Vila-Seca, Spain, and a deputy in the Catalan Parliament, said, “We are the only [governmental] group here from Spain. We are cities where the people want a culture of peace and not war. A culture of war is not part of the value system of the people.”

Many countries, including U.S. allies, are trying to exert pressure on the U.S. to adhere to the treaty. But non-weapons states say they are increasingly frustrated by Bush’s policies.

An 89-nation meeting in Mexico City last week adopted a pre-conference declaration expressing “deep concern” over moves that run contrary to the treaty’s disarmament clauses.

The Bush administration plans to develop new nuclear weapons and threatens a nuclear first strike against a host of countries, including non-nuclear states.

“The United States is the major culprit” in the erosion of the NPT, wrote former President Jimmy Carter in a May 2 International Herald Tribune article. Carter said the administration’s “indifference” towards nuclear proliferation was appalling.

“While claiming to be protecting the world from proliferation threats in Iraq, Libya, Iran and North Korea, American leaders not only have abandoned existing treaty restraints but also have asserted plans to test and develop new weapons,” Carter said.

“It’s become quite clear that nuclear weapons have become a much more major part of U.S. policy,” Kate Hudson, chair of Britain’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and officer of the UK-based Stop the War Coalition, told the World.

“Development of new nuclear weapons and tactical nuclear weapons that can be used in the battlefield makes it much more likely that nuclear weapons can be used in a war,” she said.

“The U.S. has used the nuclear proliferation issue as a means for attacking countries, for example, Iraq — where it clearly wanted regime change.” The Bush administration is now using the same rhetoric on Iran and North Korea, she said.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll taken over the weekend found 57 percent of Americans now say it was not worth going to war in Iraq, a new high.

Pyon Yeonshik of Solidarity for Peace and Reunification in Korea said, “We don’t want North Korea to be another Iraq. We are urging Bush to end the pre-emptive strike policy towards North Korea. We have lived for more than 60 years divided, and that is enough. Both north and south Korea are trying to get along well and cooperate. The pre-emptive strike policy of the United States is the root cause of the so-called Korean nuclear problem.”

The international character of the rally certainly left its mark on many people from the U.S. Joyce Ellwanger came from Milwaukee in a van with four other people.

“We can abolish nuclear weapons if we, the people of the world, are united.” She said that she wanted to let the victims of Nagasaki and Hiroshima know that “we stand with them.”

Martin Frazier and José A. Cruz contributed to this story