Nuclear Disarmament Advocates gather at MIT

Rep. Barbara Lee and Secy. Ernie Moniz at MIT conference Rep. Barbara Lee and Secy. Ernie Moniz at MIT conference

Michael VanElzakker, Somerville, and Jonathan King, Cambridge

On May 6 more than 200 concerned people gathered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for the 2017 “Resisting the Threat of Nuclear War” conference.  MAPA was a key co-sponsor of this gathering along with AFSC, Council for a Livable World, MIT Radius, and the Future of Life Institute.

In a foreboding sign of the dangerous instability to come, then President-elect Donald Trump had tweeted out:

“The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes”.

The new instability created by Trump was on the mind of everyone attending the MIT conference. There was considerable concern over the need to protect hard-won nonproliferation advances such as the Iran nuclear deal from the current political reaction.

Many of those present had worked on nuclear disarmament issues for many years, and they know that some of the hardest battles will have to be fought against both major US parties. Perhaps most salient is the Obama-supported $1 Trillion (with a T) nuclear weapons escalation (euphemistically called a “modernization” by its proponents in the weapons industry and by their representatives in government).

In addition to the disarmament advocates, representatives from local, state and the federal government spoke towards the end of the day. In a panel with US Rep. Barbara Lee and chaired by former Rep. John Tierney, former Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz continued to advocate for the “Iran deal,” his proudest achievement.

Rep. Lee pointed out that Trump’s “budget puts forth a $1.4 billion increase for the National Nuclear Security Administration [NNSA] to build more bombs, yet it doesn’t make our planet any safer, nor does it advance NNSA’s goal of nuclear nonproliferation.”

Cambridge City Councilor Dennis Carlone and Mayor Denise Simmons discussed municipal initiatives such as Don’t Bank on the Bomb, and State Representatives Mike Connolly and Denise Provost described efforts within state legislatures to raise awareness of Congressional budget priorities.

This focus on budgets echoed a general theme among the more seasoned community members. When Rev. Paul Ford turned to housing shortages, and others addressed public education and biomedical research, conferees seemed to agree that an argument should be made to the public that nuclear weapons are a huge waste of money that could be better spent on almost anything except nuclear weapons which, by definition, must never be used.

At the close, there was support for establishing a national nuclear disarmament organizing network, which as a first task would try to expand campus-based groups.

Representatives were present from many regional and national organizations with the mission of preventing nuclear war, including Union of Concerned Scientists, Women’s Action for New Directions, Ploughshares Fund, Council for a Livable World, Pax Christi, national Peace Action, New Jersey Peace Action and Peace Action of New York State. (See www.masspeaceaction.org/MITconf  for Program).  The gathering  was both an inspiring success and a sobering chance to see with clear eyes the enormously daunting tasks ahead.

The members of MAPA’s Nuclear Disarmament Working Group, including Christie Dennis, Joseph Gerson, Gary Goldstein, Shelagh Foreman, Cole Harrison, Guntram Mueller, Jerald Ross, and Elaine Scarry, played important roles in making the conference possible.