New initiatives launched vs. nuclear arms

BERKELEY, Calif. — Never mind that finals were in progress, or that a sharp, chill breeze fluttered their handmade banner as they greeted passers-by on a main campus walkway, May 11. The little group of hunger strikers on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley had a higher mission in mind.

Together with their counterparts at UC Santa Cruz and UC Santa Barbara, over 40 in all, they were seeking to send a message to the Board of Regents at its May 17 meeting: sever the university’s ties with nuclear weapons labs at Livermore, Calif., and Los Alamos, N.M.

“We are protesting the fact that over half the federal dollars for scientific research on this campus are coming from the Department of Defense or the Department of Energy,” said 2006 Berkeley graduate Chelsea Collonge. “We’d like our professors to be aware of the ways their research feeds development of new weapons systems.”

First-year student Marisa Schneidman added that given her intended major, peace and conflict studies, joining the hunger strike is “a final for me, and an act I can contribute to make a change.”

Pancho Ramos Stierle, a graduate student in astrobiology, said, “If the U.S. feels nuclear weapons are necessary for its security, why wouldn’t other countries do the same?”

Though the Berkeley students said they planned to continue their strike only through the Regents’ meeting, they said some strikers on the other campuses intended to continue until the university acts on their demand.

The University of California, which has been the main nuclear weapons lab research contractor in the U.S. for over six decades, was just awarded a new contract to manage the labs together with Bechtel Corp. and others. Earlier this spring the Bush administration designated the Livermore lab to develop a new hydrogen bomb under the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead program to refurbish the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

The strikers said students have worked for years to end the UC system’s nuclear weapons involvement, writing letters, circulating petitions, holding press conferences and conducting nonviolent civil disobedience at Regents’ meetings.

An online letter and contact information for the Regents can be found at


Also last week, religious and peace leaders announced a far-reaching new faith-based initiative to press the United States to take the lead for nuclear disarmament, and to drop plans for the “2030 Complex” to develop the Reliable Replacement Warhead.

“The religious communities have historically been leading the opposition to nuclear weapons,” Dr. Bob Edgar, head of the National Council of Churches and a former congressman, told a May 10 telephone press conference. Of the Bush administration’s demands that Iran and North Korea end their nuclear programs, Edgar said, “We ought not to be hypocritical, we ought to be cutting our weapons, not increasing them.”

Edgar said the effort would involve preparation of materials “to help churches really look at this question and speak with their elected officials on the basis of an informed set of principles.” Bulletin inserts, reports and studies, direct mail and online resources will be involved, he said.

Participating, besides the National Council of Churches, which represents some 45 million congregation members, are the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Muslim Society of North America.

Citing recent poll figures showing 84 percent of Americans want nuclear arms eliminated, Jessica Wilbanks, coordinator of the National Religious Partnership on the Nuclear Weapons Danger, emphasized that the new initiative brings together people of many different political perspectives.

Wilbanks and Jon Rainwater, head of Peace Action West, said the recent action by the House Armed Services Committee’s Strategic Forces Subcommittee, now chaired by California Democrat Ellen Tauscher, to cut over one-third of funds the administration wanted for the RRW program and to eliminate funds for new plutonium pits marked the start of the first real debate on the issue in Congress for many years.

Participants also highlighted the need to shift resources from nuclear weapons to human needs. “We’re choosing to spend money on weapons that can obliterate our civilization rather than spending for health, education and humanity. This is utterly unacceptable,” said the Rev. Rick Schlosser, head of the California Council of Churches.