by Shaghayegh Christine Rostampour and Maryellen Kurkulos
Nearly four years after 122 countries voted in its favor at the United Nations, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) became international law on Friday January 22, 2021. The treaty makes nuclear weapons illegal in the 52 ratifying countries with many more soon to follow. Anti-nuclear activists, students, academics, faith leaders, legislators, and veterans organized events across the Commonwealth in concert with the global celebration coordinated by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICANW.org).
At marches and demonstrations, protesters held banners, cheered, and chanted, proclaiming the good news. Bells chimed at noontime from church towers in Worcester, Needham, Bedford and Cambridge and at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer. As Reverend Annie Britton of the Union Congregational Church in East Bridgewater rang their church tower bells she announced, “We celebrate one step closer to a full and absolute ban of nuclear weapons on our planet earth. May it be so!” Nearby in Bridgewater, activists held “The End of Nuclear Weapons” placards and rang hand-held bells outside the Unitarian Parish. At Bridgewater State, the bell towers at Boyden Hall were rung as an expression of the commitment by the University to regional and international sustainability. “These examples remind us that people everywhere are ready to work with us to eliminate nuclear weapons,” said Frances Jeffries, Emeritus Director of Grants and Sponsored Projects.
At Worcester’s Lincoln Square, activists with the Center for Nonviolent Solutions banged pots and pans alongside a huge “Nuclear Weapons are Now Illegal” banner.
At Fresh Pond Mall in Cambridge, some 25 activists from groups including Veterans for Peace, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), and Newton Dialogues on Peace and War held a noontime vigil, receiving many positive responses from shoppers. Harvard professor and philosopher Elaine Scarry, Mass. Peace Action Assistant Director Brian Garvey, and Healthy Tomorrows president Susan McLucas were among the speakers. They stressed that the abolition of nuclear weapons depends on the US taking the lead and joining the treaty.
In Boston, activists from Brandeis University Students’ No War on Iran Campaign, Veterans for Peace/Smedley Butler Brigade, and Food Not Bombs gathered on the Commons to hear speakers decry how nuclear weapons testing has harmed vulnerable communities and warn of the heightened risk of a nuclear exchange since the global system of arms control was dismantled by President Trump. Sister Clare Carter of the New England Peace Pagoda led the procession to the Statehouse to hear remarks from Professor Gordon Fellman of Brandeis University. After a broadcast recording of the poignant testimony of Nobel peace laureate and Hibakusha Setsuko Thurlow, survivor of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima, the crowd observed a moment of silence for the hundreds of thousands of victims of these weapons of mass destruction.
At local facilities of the weapons manufacturers General Dynamics in Pittsfield, L3Harris Technologies in Northampton and Raytheon in Cambridge, activists from NuclearBan US and the Resistance Center wearing white “Treaty Compliance Unit” jumpsuits delivered official copies of the UN treaty along with letters explaining its legal ramifications to employees.
Some 70 people braved the wind and sleet to attend the boisterous Northampton rally and hear from Lindsay Koshgarian from the National Priorities Project, Joaini Herrera Diaz from NuclearBan US and State Representative Lindsay Sabadosa (1st Hampshire District). That morning, Rep. Sabadosa had filed a Resolve (HD455) in the Massachusetts legislature “providing for an investigation and study by a special commission relative to the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons to the commonwealth of Massachusetts.” She told the crowd at the rally, “This is an issue that the legislature of Massachusetts can and must weigh in on!”
More events were organized over the next days, including one in Arlington’s town center on January 23 and in Newton on January 25.
Thanks also to the passionate activists in Mass Peace Action’s Nuclear Disarmament Working Group for helping to organize these events. Many hands make light the work! Contact us at info@masspeaceaction to participate!
—Maryellen Kurkulos is Mass. Peace Action’s treasurer and a member of the Public Education Subcommittee of the Nuclear Disarmament Working Group. She lives in Fall River. Shaghayegh Christine Rostampour is a volunteer member of MAPA’s Nuclear Disarmament and Middle East working groups and NuclearBan US and a research assistant at Brandeis University’s Crown Center for Middle East Studies