Activists stage annual protest

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By Arin McKenna

Two dozen anti-nuclear demonstrators dressed in sackcloth and ashes gathered Saturday at Ashley Pond – at the site where the Manhattan Project laboratories once stood – to protest Los Alamos National Laboratory’s continuing nuclear weapons program.
The protest, staged by PAX Christi New Mexico and led by Rev. John Dear, was in its 13th year. The demonstration was considerably smaller than last year’s, when 300 people commemorated the 70th anniversary of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, on Aug. 6 and 8, 1945. Dear took it in stride.
“It’s just very hard to face Los Alamos on this day alone,” Dear told the group. “And we’re not alone. I count 28 of us, including the animals, who are peacemakers, as well.”
Dear admitted that “it’s just so darn strange and ridiculous to be sitting in sackcloth and ashes,” but noted that it is the “oldest form of protest,” dating back 3,000 years and cited in the Bible.
Dear would like to see a worldwide boycott of the United States to force it to end its nuclear weapons program.
“I hold a vision for all religions to reclaim the nonviolence at the heart of every religion,” Dear said.
Dear reacted to reports that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has asked why we can’t use nuclear weapons, and to Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton’s accusations that Trump is not fit to have his finger on the nuclear trigger.
“That’s insanity, too. No one should have their finger on the button. There shouldn’t be a button. There shouldn’t be any nuclear weapons. And we need to make that happen,” Dear said.
Ken Mayers, from Veterans for Peace in Santa Fe, spoke about his vision for LANL.
“My image of a real success here would be to transform the labs from an instrument of destruction, take advantage of the fact that this is as high a concentration of intellectual power that we have in the country,” Mayers said.
“And if that power were turned to solving the problems of water, of air, of the fair distribution of resources, of all kinds of problems that are creating the objects of despair floating to the surface, this could become the symbol of the transformation of our species that’s necessary if the species is going to survive.”
Mike Weber and his wife Frances Spivy-Weber from Sacramento, California, joined Mike’s sister Karen Weber from Santa Fe.
“I was born in 1949, so I spent a good part of my childhood with the threat of nuclear annihilation, and World War III nightmares and things like that,” Mike said, recalling “all the air raid drills and all the constant fear of nuclear annihilation.”
“So it meant something personally to me…This really has brought back a lot of those memories, and a lot of people living nowadays don’t know what that was like.”
Weber is concerned with the new investment going into nuclear weapons.
“I’m personally afraid, with the new approaches to “improving” nuclear weapons, we’re entering a brave new world of tactical use of nuclear weapons,” Weber said.
Pamela Gilchrist recalled going to a panel discussion on nuclear proliferation when she was 12 years old with the pastor of her church.
“And I, of course, didn’t follow everything, but I got the gist, and that was that the weapons were just outrageously prolific. There were many more than we needed to destroy a city or a country,” Gilchrist said.
“So I remember, I was sitting to my pastor’s left, and I poked him in the ribs and I said, ‘why don’t they just stop making them. I was mad. And he said to me, ‘Well tell them. Ask them. Keep asking them.’ I think that’s what we do. We keep asking. We’re here.”
That experience, 65 years ago, prompted Gilchrist to become a community organizer in the 1970s for a Western Massachusetts petition drive for a nuclear freeze and later in support of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, signed in 1996.
Bud Ryan asked participants to write their congressional representatives about that treaty. He quoted Article 6, which reads, “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
“I would ask each of you to write and ask how this trillion dollar upgrade doesn’t break the MPT treaty, Article 6 specifically,” Ryan said.
“Then I would ask you to ask them – like President Obama – to go visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Because when I went there in 1991 to Hiroshima, it changed my life. I guarantee that if you could get President Obama to be honest, he would tell you that nuclear weapons are a bad idea, after visiting Hiroshima.”
Many of the protestors acknowledged the apparent lack of progress towards achieving their goal. “The only way anything’s going to change is if we wear the issue down, and eventually somebody might get it,” Earl Rohleder said.
Dear ended with, “I just feel so sick about what we’re doing with these nuclear weapons. But then you look at the sky and the trees and the beauty of this place, and before we made all this evil, the creator made all this beauty and did a darn good job. We just need to keep claiming that and honoring the earth and putting an end to these nuclear weapons.”