New Yorkers plan “no nuclear” actions during UN meet

NEW YORK — Actor Vinie Burrows urged New Yorkers to create a world with peace and justice and to bring an end to nuclear weapons.

The award-winning Broadway actor moderated a Granny Peace Brigade Forum with three veteran peace activists who spelled out in detail what needs to be done to get the United States to dismantle its nuclear arsenal.

Frida Berrigan, senior program associate at the Arms and Security Initiative, recalled that during the heyday of anti-nuclear protests, activists split into groups that just opposed nuclear weapons or just opposed nuclear power. The opponents of nuclear weapons argued that nuclear energy is part of the bargain for nuclear disarmament. In the meantime, the number of nuclear weapons states has increased from 5 to 9 because nuclear energy programs have been used as a covert way to develop nuclear weapons. Berrigan argued that nuclear energy and nuclear weapons must be fought against together to advance the cause of nuclear disarmament.

Horace Campbell, professor of political science at Syracuse University, said for America to live in peace, we must have a society where people live in justice, not just in the absence of war. He argued for dismantling the military-industrial complex. He asked why is the U.S. raising questions about Iran nuclear policies, but not about Israel’s nuclear capabilities. He called on peace activists to take up the exploitation of Africa and its peoples, particularly to oppose the U.S. military’s Africa command and the poisoning of the land by corporate polluters.

Judith LeBlanc, coordinator of International Planning Committee for the Nuclear Abolition, Peace and Justice conference and march, reminded the audience that the right wing is gearing up to oppose nuclear disarmament so the peace movement must “organize, organize, organize.” She said that President Obama has a vision of a nuclear weapons free world, but a vision isn’t enough and his opponents are blocking it. Obama needs a movement to make the fight for nuclear disarmament. People must be there to support the Obama administration but also to challenge it to do more and to say to it that ending war and actually engaging in nuclear disarmament is the only way to economic growth and racial justice.

The forum showed an excerpt of John Pilger’s documentary “Stealing a Nation.” It showed the forced expulsion by the British government of the native population of the Indian Ocean island Diego Garcia to allow the U.S. to establish a major military base there. The excerpt ended with an account of the attempts of the deportees to return to their island. Besides the expulsion issue, the presence of U.S. nuclear weapons there is in violation of the African Union’s Treaty of Pelindaba, which has made all of Africa and its island nations into a nuclear weapons free zone. Diego Garcia is claimed by the African island nation of Mauritius, but it is still involved in a dispute over sovereignty with the United Kingdom.

The forum is part of the buildup to events in New York City that include an April 30-May 1 conference at Riverside Church and May 2 march coinciding with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference at the United Nations in May. The NPT requires non-nuclear weapons states to never possess nuclear weapons in return for the declared nuclear weapons states, five at the time the treaty went into effect, to start and eventually complete a process of nuclear disarmament. This treaty, which entered into force in 1970, has had review conferences every five years since to allow the participating countries to measure progress towards its goals.

There are many reasons that more of the public must be involved in the peace movement’s work during and after the review conference to ensure that the provisions of the treaty are actually carried out, speakers said. A number of the non-nuclear weapons states that have ratified the treaty are considering withdrawing from it because now after 40 years since the treaty went into effect, the nuclear weapons states still show no serious signs of eliminating their stockpiles.

Many right-wing sources are attacking the treaty as worthless due to alleged nuclear activities of North Korea, Iran, and some other states. Even some leftists are critical of the treaty for its history of, in effect, allowing the nuclear weapons states to remain so while having kept almost all other countries out of the so-called “nuclear club,” which now numbers nine.

The current atmosphere might best be summarized by a New York Times quote of Senator John Kerry at the Munich Security Conference in February: “The NPT risks unraveling unless we do something about the challenges.”

For those who can get to New York City, there is limited seating for the April 30-May 1 conference at Riverside Church. Everyone is invited to the march on the day after the conference. People are also encouraged to become involved in the activities around the May NPT review conference. For those who cannot come to New York City, there is much that can be done locally. Go to  for more information about all of these events.

Photo: Vinie Burrows speaks at a 2008 Granny Peace Brigade event.  Eliza Griffiths