by André de Quadros & Kathie Malley-Morrison
Artists of all varieties—songwriters and singers, poets, novelists, short story writers, mural painters, performance artists, cartoonists—have long played roles in either promoting or resisting wars. Today, we desperately need artists to work together with progressive activists and commit to ending existential threats such as climate chaos, racism, and the thousands of nuclear weapons scattered around the globe. Far too many nuclear weapons are available to power and profit hungry bullies who thrive on terrifying and manipulating others. On the positive side, recently we’ve seen growing recognition of the toll on human lives caused by racism through the centuries, by imperialism, colonialism, lynching, genocide, and capital punishment. We also see growing recognition of the extent to which fossil fuel use and rapes of the environment by the military industrial complex have helped bring the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds before global annihilation.
On the darker side, we have to acknowledge that much less attention is being given to the most imminent threat of all— the development, storing, selling, and transporting of nuclear weapons. Worse yet, the “modernization” of nuclear weapons is being promoted at the same time as Cold War rhetoric and threats of war are flooding our airwaves, and possibilities for an accidental launch or sabotage are increasing. In response, we progressives must enhance our work by incorporating the arts in our efforts to resist calls to arms and promote not just the pursuit of peace but the elimination of nuclear weapons.
We have two specific recommendations. First, we must reach out to artists of all varieties, go to their virtual exhibits and performances, make contact through social media, get to know and support their work, discuss the nuclear threat with them, call on them to join in the effort to ban the bomb. Perhaps most important, encourage them, in their artistic communications, to emphasize the possibility of solutions and pathways to solutions. Rather than just illustrating the level of risk for global destruction, emphasize that solutions are possible, and that we need to pursue those solutions now. Fascists and powermongers may accomplish a great deal with scare tactics, but we progressives can develop effective messages based on human rights, humanitarian concerns, international law, the Golden Rule of mutual care, and a universal concern with the survival of our descendants. We need to stress the facts that peace is better for people and the planet than war, that the conversion of warheads to windmills can and should be accomplished, and that it’s not too late to save the planet. We must promote the wisdom of negotiating rather than threatening, of being peacemakers rather than warmongers and committing to nuclear disarmament—perhaps even within the decade.
Our second piece of advice is to trust the artist within yourself. Write your anti-nuke stories, poems, letters to the editor, and songs. Paint murals, and make YouTube anti-nuke videos with friends. And again, we should not focus solely on doom and gloom and hopelessness. Most people, when they come to believe that there is a looming threat to themselves and their families, ask (and you’ve all heard examples of this), “What can I do? How can I help?” Respond with some concrete answers. Work with your artist friends to create examples in art and music for things they can do. As one personal example, we keep thinking of the wonderful inspirational civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.” Indeed, think about adding some additional verses starting with lines like, “We shall hold our rallies, we’ll form picket lines, we’ll vote you out of office.”
Finally, for a wonderful example of expressive art in the service of eliminating nuclear weapons, please check out this video by MAPA member Susan Mirsky: https://youtu.be/1oWhqRwihLo
This paper is based on presentations given by André de Quadros and Kathie Malley-Morrison in the breakout session on Mobilizing Cultural Workers, Musicians, and Artists at the conference on Reducing the Threat of Nuclear War: Rebuilding a Broader Movement, Sponsored by Mass Peace Action, January 29, 2022.
-André de Quadros is a Professor of Music and Affiliate faculty in African American Studies, Center for Antiracist Research, Center for the Study of Asia, Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies, Institute for the Study of Muslim Societies and Civilizations, Latin American Studies, Pardee School Initiative on Forced Migration and Human Trafficking, and the Prison Education Program, at Boston University.
-Kathie Malley-Morrison is Professor Emerita in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences at Boston University, where her research centered on violence and nonviolence, including international studies on family violence, war, torture, terrorism, peace, and reconciliation.