Anti-nuclear weapons activists take on Santa Cruz
Beneath a magnolia tree in the parking lot behind the Resource Center for Non-Violence, a group of five young adults pulls a makeshift puppet show out of a dust-covered white Astrovan. A puppet in a lab coat steps out in front of a meager audience—five people, including the press, sit on chairs and a tattered gray couch and watch as “Dr. Lab” learns a nightmarish lesson about the detrimental and lasting effects of his work in a nuclear laboratory. A deformed frog tells the doctor that nuclear waste has poisoned his frog family; a visitor from 30,000 years in the future informs him that the effects of nuclear radiation and waste continue to poison and frighten the world’s residents; and a pile of uranium canisters dance and chant about the cancer they will inevitably spread to surrounding residents.
“A lab is where we turn rocks into dangerous weapons to keep us safe,” Dr. Lab says to the deformed frog in one of the play’s many satirical jabs. So began the July 10 Santa Cruz stop of the Think Outside the Bomb (TOTB) National Tour—part of a nation-wide journey designed to spark the first steps towards nuclear abolition.
Since the use of the Atomic Bomb in World War II, our nation has cultivated a close relationship—an addiction of sorts—to nuclear spending and development. The Obama administration recently declared a plan to cut the U.S. nuclear arsenal 30 to 40 percent from today’s total of approximately 5,000 weapons. Reductions already underway will reduce the arsenal to 4,700 weapons by the end of 2012. However, spurred by the recent Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Hearings in New York City, a group of young activists has dedicated its summer (and pocketbooks) to travel the nation and spread a more radical message: It is time to seriously think outside the bomb.
“What [they] are saying is so vital, and it’s not just what [they’re] saying, it’s how [they’re] saying it. They’ve managed to fuse together creativity—the arts—with a very potent message to awaken us,” says Esther Frances, who, at 63, is noticeably the eldest audience member among the other four 20-something viewers. “For those of us who are older this gives hope that there is intelligence and caring in the youth.”
TOTB is the largest of few existing activist groups dedicated to the ultimate abolition of nuclear energy and weaponry. They snake out across the nation, educating and uniting diverse cities and social groups in the name of breaking our national addiction to nuclear production. The tour is part of ongoing efforts to create a new module for U.S. nuclear weapons policy.
For a town that is considered to be markedly progressive minded, Santa Cruz turned out a scant audience. Organizer Rebecca Riley explains the low turnout as a combination of lack of organization and outreach on her own part, and lack of interest on the part of Santa Cruz venues. “I didn’t have the same contacts here as in some of the other cities, but I must have sent out at least 20 e-mails to venues in Santa Cruz and I didn’t get back one response,”she says.
Despite a less than lukewarm welcome in Santa Cruz, TOTB is having a successful response overall as it visits more than 40 U.S. cities. At their recent stopover in Berkeley, the TOTB event filled the Long Haul meeting space. The tour kicked off on May 1 when the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review hearings began in New York City. It will visit roughly 40 cities on its journey toward Los Alamos, New Mexico—the home of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and birthplace of the atomic bomb. There TOTB’s ongoing Disarmament Summer campaign will culminate in a campout nearby. The encampment will encourage people to network, share experiences, information and strategies, and to organize a series of nonviolent direct actions focused on Los Alamos National Laboratory. The encampment will focus on disarmament while simultaneously revamping the nuclear infrastructure. From July 30 to Aug. 9 the encampment’s focus will be training young activists to work toward nuclear abolition through alternative living methods, ending reliance on nuclear energy through permaculture infrastructures and technologies. Encampment attendees will receive hands-on training building composting toilets, rainwater catchment systems, passive solar heating for showers, graywater showers and gardens. The infrastructures will remain on the camp permanently for future use.
“Folks will come in from all over the country and help us build the infrastructures for the camp, and they will be able to go back to their communities and share what they have learned,” says Riley.
The members who are traveling on tour this summer do so almost entirely out of pocket. “Think Outside the Bomb is struggling for funding,” says member Jono Kinkade. “We have groups supporting us and small donations from members, but we could use money.”
TOTB National Tour highlights the ongoing environmental and health effects caused by nuclear waste and contamination. As the tour enters California, the issues are especially relevant as California is a historical center of nuclear support. Just east of the Bay Area is the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which continues to play a major role in the nation’s nuclear weapons program. The University of California manages the lab, as well as Los Alamos National Laboratory.
For more information about Think Outside the Bomb, visit thinkoutsidethebomb.org.