Nuclear War Danger Breakout Reports

Conference breakout group discussing working with nurses, public health professionals, and healthcare workers to fund healthcare, not warfare.

The 2023 “Reducing the Threat of Nuclear War” conference was held virtually on Saturday, January 21. This annual gathering is one of the major national conferences addressing this acute problem. The sub-theme this year was “The Social and Economic Costs of the Nuclear Weapons Buildup.” Particular attention was given to the destructive effect of excessive weapons spending on human needs. The detailed conference agenda with the complete list of speakers can be found here.  

Below you can watch the recordings of part 1 and part 2 of the conference and read summary reports from the conference breakout groups.

Conference Recording Part 1

Conference Recording Part 2

Summary reports from the conference breakout groups

Advancing Back from the Brink 

In a rewrite of the Back from the Brink platform with “ we need” in front of each item Ira Helfand outlined the platform:

  • Pursue global elimination of all nuclear weapons and delivery systems as well as TPNW we and the 8 other nuclear armed states oversee each other’s activities

  • No first use

  • Take arsenals off hair trigger alert of past 40 years

  • Cancel all new construction

  • End sole launch authority

  • He compared the program to ICAN, a loosely structured coalition of 600 organizations world wide And the Freeze movement of 1980’s We reach out to faith communities, city, state, and national legislators and insist on multilateral not unilateral disarmament.

  • Representative Jim McGovern introduced our platform as resolutions in 2022 but it did not get out of committee. In the new year he plans to reintroduce it and we will disseminate the number for citizen and group  communication with Congress in support.

  • We will add the new Famine Report which stated radioactive soot from an exchange will lower temperature worldwide and cause famine killing 2 to 5 billion deaths from starvation

  • Jeremy Love stated the campaign has 13 coalition partners, 400 signatures, national, state, and local legislators in ten regional hubs. The latter make local activities self-sustaining, ease of obtaining meetings with legislators, to respond to new legislation (such as the soon to be filed new version of McGovern’s bill) and to outdo with a grass roots movement more effectively than with paid lobbyists.

  • Helfand and Love agree that this program may win conservatives’ support. Last session some state level Republicans helped with state level activities. Internationally organized Mayor’s for Peace have endorsed. Some Congress members have pledged to pass the package whenever submitted. Nancy Pelosi could be approached to champion the new bill since she has more time. Conservative Congressman Neal has signed the pledge and could be advertising for moderates doing so.

  • Ira Helfand shared an example of reaching young people. He spoke at Boston Latin High School and 300 students signed a petition given to the Boston City Council. This moved the Council to endorse the program.Passing local resolutions can persuade Congresspeople to co-sponsor.Folks said that the threat by Putin to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine is sobering thought for the public and may aid in our pursuits.

  • We were encouraged to visit and spend time on the web site

Resisting a New Cold War with China

Watch this group’s breakout meeting here

  • Wei: Code Pink work on China, see web. We need to reclaim humanity interactions with China and oppose new cold war.
  • Joseph: Make distinctions between Govts and people. US China struggle over hegemony and dominance.  71 Chinese planes crossed median line on Taiwan strait this week, plus US military in Taiwan Strait. 40% of world’s trade in South China Sea.  Last week US/China planes were within 10 feet of each other.  Other tensions. Thucydides trap with declining and raising powers tendency to conflict. Competition between US and China, with role of nationalism exacerbating things on both sides.  China sees 5,000 years of history, with much domination by other countries. Need to focus on largest threats: Climate change, nuclear war and health issues
  • Rudd:  create guard rails to keep things under control. Need to continue 1 China policy.  Need continues for negotiations in South China Sea.  East China Sea, Japanese kicked things up.  Need to stop provocative military maneuvers.
  • John Ratliff: year of rabbit — will it be a year of hope? US responsibility to see that a war doesn’t develop.  US history of hegemony and starting wars. Threat of nuc war due to US positions of empire wrt China and other countries. China is 1.4B, US 3/4B.  China has many more technology people.  China has lifted almost all people out of poverty. China economy larger measured by PPP.  Growing faster than US economy.  Why should be concern for US?? Chinese power can be power for world’s good.  Wrong for US to insist on being main world’s power. US is traditional imperialist power.  China 200 BC was also, but not now.  Thus we activists need to focus on US. We need to look at Feb 4 Russia/China statement. Need to focus on climate issues together.
  • Joseph: US strategic goal:  US gain hold on Chinese markets would be ultimate economic prize. Senkaku islands uninhabited.  End of WWII, US was neutral on sovereignty but recognized administration of Japan.  Issues not settled.  Control over inner island chain and mineral resources.  Rightest mayor of Tokyo tried to buy the islands.  US favors Japan if J/C war. China:  near abroad, vs US global empire.
  • John: Ukraine:  US provoked to destroy Russia.  China in good place to help resolve.  Pushing for negotiations. China seeks to prevent militarization of outer space.  Our focus should be on our own government. Racism drives much US foreign policy.  Study that R predicts stance on US foreign policy. Cooperation more important than competition.

Cutting Budgets for Nuclear Weapons

Watch this group’s breakout meeting here

  • Main take away from this breakout is that now is a time of crucial intersection – SYNERGY – was the descriptive word David Borris used.  Many of the elements that made it successful for the American public to demand an end to tobacco subsidies exist again now.  As was pointed out by our panelists currently American taxpayers are paying hugely for the dubious privilege  of dying agonizing deaths.  With the tobacco subsidies death was by cancer.  The military industrial giants are building nuclear weapons to kill all the lives on earth.  Ours, and the animals.  The weapons manufacturers are making trillions of dollars.  
  • As happened with the anti smoking campaign the medical establishment is coming to the fore to spell out the  dangers we face and what we can do to stop the carnage.
  • Educating young people about the horrendous danger of nuclear war was key during the anti smoking campaign and is being strongly encouraged now.
  • A major challenge now is the extreme hesitation by many people to set aside their denial and deal with the grim reality of nuclear war.  Denial is the least effective defense mechanism.
  • Connor Murray, Council For a Livable Word, discussed the need for advocacy for cutting back on military spending.  Especially with the new even more hawkish legislators taking leadership positions in the House.  A major issue is the free range – literally – being given to plutonium pit mines.  500 exist now. Many are on land sacred to indigenous peoples.  
  • Another cause for concern is the funding that has been added by the Biden administration for sea launch missiles.  45 million dollars more in insidious expenses going to the weapons makers.  
  • A third extremely important subject Connor talked about is the dissolution of the arms control treaties that have been painstakingly put together.  The New Start Treaty is up for signing again.  
  • A working group in D.C. is continuing.  The Council For a Livable World is advocating for arms control at every opportunity. 
  • Paul pointed out how much more the U. S. spends on defense spending than other countries.  10 times more than Russia.  And that there is no arms race.  We won.  The irony is that the more the U.S. wastes on dangerous, unnecessary, useless weapons the less safe we really are.  The big 5 are making trillions from weapons manufacture.  The money is deducted from childrens’ lunches, health care, infrastructure restoration, education, medical research, senior citizen care.  
  • The risk of an accidental nuclear war is growing all the time. The danger of this happening is escalating because enormous pressure is being put on adversaries.  If they have weapons on their borders that are increasingly dangerous the more likely a nuclear exchange becomes.  There is less and less time for the person in charge to decide whether to launch the deadly missiles or not.  
  • There are social costs of enriching the military industrial giants as well as monetary.  
  • Raytheon is local.  The need to confront this negative, self centered greed is absolutely necessary.
  • Paul made the crucial point that the enemy we face currently is the covid virus.  A tiny organism that can kill us and that no technological weapons system can stop.  What works best against a virus is for people to use human attributes.  To think about the common good, the needs of the whole community, the we can do this together mentality that puts aside petty differences.  Morality instead of mortality.  The Golden Rule.
  • Sayre Sheldon – Founder WAND 
  • Sayre said she has been working to abolish nuclear weapons for 50 years.  When she began this work women were seldom on serious think tanks.
  • One of the people who galvanized opposition to nuclear weapons is Helen Caldicott. “Sleep Walking Toward Armageddon” stated the grim reality we still face every minute of every day. Sayre spoke of the importance of talking about this danger in everyday situations.  To friends, people in coffee shops, on the bus, etc.  The general public has to be made aware and motivated to take action.  People shouldn’t tolerate nuclear weapons. 
  • The Treaty to Abolish Nuclear Weapons is a positive step.  Sayre will continue to work towards this goal as long as she lives.  Thank goodness!!!

Promoting Nuclear Disarmament in the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Progressive Organizations

  • Speaker Tara Currie of various groups including Move The Money NYC described the long but ultimately successful effort to get the NY City Council to divest their investments from weapons companies. The activists thought they had it all sewn up but then the leader of the city council didn’t put the resolution to a vote. So they waited  util a new set of councillors was elected and then the resolution was brought to a vote and passed. So getting such decisions to be taken by city council depends on the leader and you have to persuade them more than the rest of the council. WE need to educate “ordinary”  people about  the weapons industry taking money from civilian needs. WE have to show how foreign  policy affects local policies.
  • Bruce Stedman and Eva Mosely signed their names in the chat.
  • Speaker Senator Eldridge of Marlborough  (Metro West of MA) talked about his efforts against Raytheon who have an office in his district. He looked at the damage caused by the US Military. There had been an assumption that  a military presence created more jobs in an area,  but what happened with the Devins Air Force base proved otherwise. Devins AFB was closed in 1996 and $200M was spent to build new buildings on the base lands  and they now house biotech companies, education institutions and the infrastructure has improved and there are MORE jobs than when it was an AFB. Nowadays he compares the amount of money our US government is spending to support Ukraine to what that amount of money cold do for health care and education etc..
  • Speaker Jackie Cabasso, Executive Director of Mayor for Peace in the US made a presentation about Mayors for Peace  and the new tool kit she as has assembled  , same presentation as the one she gave in an earlier breakout  session . She is aiming to get 50 new Mayors for Peac in the US this year.
  • Speaker Rosalie Anders talked about cities taking climate leadership and that many people did not have food security. They preferred food security the kind of security “provided” by nuclear weapons.
  • Speaker Jonathan King spoke about trying to get his city be part of the nuclear freeze  way back when and that the opposition had come from the workers in the great naval yards.  Public housing used to be funded by federal money but hardly anymore. State legislators don’t know anything about the federal government and the federal budget, so MA will have a hearing in the state house to educate them.
  • Senator Eldridge (or maybe it was Jonathan King) said there is limited time in the house and senate and politicians can discuss bills and resolution and politicians prefer to pass laws rather than resolutions. We need to be forging ties with other social justice groups to get them on board that military spending   is much too much. We peace activists should turn up at their rallies.
  • Reiterated that the leadership in the house or senate determine what gets on the agenda.  Legislative bodies are very much top down and we have to learn how to deal with that.
  • WE should join other issues and then point out where their tax dollars are going – to the military, so they should focus on that as part of the solution to their issue.

Supporting Veterans

  • Jim Anderson focused on a ‘needed critique of veterans’ organizing,’ pointing out that 1967 was an  intersectional moment and 2023 is as well. By this he means that these are moments in which many  related justice movements have opportunities due to conditions on the ground. However, Jim  believes that in this moment too many veterans’ organizations are siloed and separate from other  movements with which they should hold some common ground. Too many veterans groups are hawkish, for example, or too connected to partisan parties which are hawkish. Veterans groups tend  to be older and more white than related mass movements, and need to do more reach-out and connecting with other movements and communities. MLK recognized that money going towards war is key part of broader problems in society, and veterans have a unique credibility, perspective, and responsibility to address that. Veterans groups can be challenged in a positive way from within, and  there are positive efforts being made all the time. One example is tying the cost of nuclear weapons  to the Poor Peoples’ Campaign – this both addresses MLK’s point about resources and also functions  as part of a broader reach-out into other communities. 
  • Gerry Condon focused largely on the Veterans For Peace Nuclear Posture Review. For background, he  pointed out that Veterans For Peace is now over 37 yrs. old, has 100+ chapters in the USA, and  several in other countries, with 140 chapters worldwide. He thought that with this existing  infrastructure, it is important to share and think about strategies for organizing that will make  veterans groups more effective, and read the Founding Statement of Veterans For Peace as an  example of a good starting point, with priorities such as dismantling the war economy and the arms  race, service to help and seek justice for victims of war and veterans of war, restrain our own  government from intervening elsewhere both overtly and covertly, using non-violent means within a  democratic organization for the larger good.
  • Gerry agreed that Veterans For Peace tends to be older  and whiter than many aligned movements and that this is a challenge. He says they remain active, for  example they have a Nuclear Abolition Working Group that meets biweekly. Based on previous  rhetoric from Biden, they were hopeful for the Biden Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR)  but were disappointed. So they created their own Nuclear Posture Review. Gerry then read from  several parts of the Veterans For Peace Nuclear Posture Review. This included 16 specific  recommendations for correcting the official US Nuclear Posture Review.

Contacting Young People Advocating for Peace

  • Peter Bergel started us off with a few questions to frame our discussion: What specific suggestions to you have for recruiting young people into the nuclear weapons abolition struggle? How do you see using social media most effectively in the nuclear weapons abolition movement? What do you think is the appropriate balance between utilizing the wisdom of older folks who have a long history in this work with the energy and new ideas of younger ones? How can older folks best avoid annoying or unintentionally alienating younger ones?
  • Social Media: 
  • TikTok, twitter live and Instagram:
  • Instagram is preferable as it can have a longer discussion. 
  • Twitter live can be set up between an older and younger person
  • TikTok – #nucleardisarmamentTikTok
  • Venessa Henson is the social media official for ICAN and has been very helpful.  Contact her. 
  • Students generally feel powerless: Invest more money and resources in student organizing, older organizations and organizers need to help in campaigns that students are involved in, find out what they are concerned with.
  • University/College divestment from corporations that invest in weapons, fossil fuel and have monetary input into programs/departments. Has generally been the most engaging for students.
  • Reach out to Model UN clubs in schools, colleges.  Bring in survivors and local youth from affected communities.  See more youth coming to programs having to do with Ukraine and Korea. More Asian-American students attending. 
  • Christopher Cruz is involved with Nuclear Free Schools.  High School Clubs.
  • Need for youth to see Youth leaders in this area  – as Greta Thunberg is for the Climate movement.
  • The war in Ukraine has made organizing on nuclear weapons easier.   The threat has been made more real for young people who have no experience of “Duck and Cover” and the bombing of Hiroshima – even with some disagreement re:Ukraine and NATO.

Interplay of Racism and Militarism at Home and Abroad

  • Rosemary Kean MAPA: She focused on issues relating to racism and militarism at home, high school ROTC recruiting (action goal to eliminate these programs), the 1033 program (free military equipment to police depts.) and the so far unsuccessful efforts to get Congress to do anything about it (action goal to eliminate 1033 program), police murders:  1176 in last 12 month (action  goal to eliminate police murders), proliferation gun violence & weapons (action Goal to eliminate all types of guns from hand guns to automatic weapons)
  • Liz Bejjalieh, Peace Action National: Discussed Palestinian-Israel issues & racial ethnic conflicts in the new extreme right-wing Israeli government.
  • Book recommendations: “Not a Nation of Immigrants” by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz and “The End of the Myth” by Greg Grandin

Divestment and Direct Action focused on the Nuclear Weapons Industry 

Watch this group’s breakout meeting here

  • David Swanson: Divestment is a great tactic for promoting collaboration between groups. We work with numerous groups can use divestment to build alliances and bring new people in who have not been active before goal is to stigmatize war companies and remove some money from the death machine. Our biggest problems with these campaigns are the cultural climate in which we operate and the issue of jobs.
  • Shea Leibow: we focus on the top 100 war companies our goal is to remove invested assets in nuclear companies such as pension funds and other large funds. We try to disrupt the way the stock market tends to normalize investments in nuclear companies (as if this is a perfectly normal investment to make). We try to educate people that are part of pension funds etc. that these are their investments and they can do something when their funds are invested in unethical ways. Gives us a chance to partner with groups working on police, climate, etc. My entrance into the anti-war movement was getting involved in the Divest Chicago effort.
  • William Glassmire: In Corvallis, Oregon we got a resolution passed against investments in the top 100 military contractors. it took 3 years of organizing. our campaign was built on a long history of Corvallis anti-war activism, especially the Central America activism of the 1980’s. started in 2019 with discussion of how to divest Oregon from war companies. We decided to just focus on divesting our city from these companies. Decided to go forward with a resolution in 2020. Now needed more specific criteria: from what companies specifically would we divest? In the Summer of 2022 we put the resolution before the city council. On November 7, the city council voted unanimously for the resolution. But we failed to create an ongoing coalition after the success – but we learned a lot **
  • Paul Dordal, Veterans for Peace: We formed Stop Banking on the Bomb with numerous anti-war organizations as we decided we needed a campaign that could get more people involved. Our effort included 20 or 25 local organizations we went after the PNC bank. 100 people total involved created 4 teams with entrance points for people to join. We do public actions at PNC bank constantly. Our demand: PNC must divest from companies making nuclear weapons. We tried to get a resolution on the PNC annual meeting but could not. What makes it hard is that we have lots of nuclear research here in Pittsburg. We are considering declaring a nuclear free zone
  • General discussion: A big problem getting pension funds divested is that those running the pension funds generally support weapons companies even if their holdings in these companies are very small. should we go after banks and government bodies instead? Civilian nuclear power is designed to support nuclear weapons industries. Maybe find out information about members on decision-making bodies and show up at their homes
  • Hard to keep the momentum going as each stage in the process of divestment campaigns is a slog. People start to drop off as the campaign goes on and gets more technical. The process is long and arduous — hard to keep momentum going.
  • Maybe could have teams that work on different phases of the work so a small group doesn’t get stuck with having to do everything
  • People need to feel community support from the whole group
  • We want to experience joy together and have parties together where we celebrate every small win at every opportunity
  • At the Nov 7 2022 council meeting the council considered two versions of the divestment resolution, one proposed by Corvallis activists and one proposed by city staff.
  • Both versions agreed that future city investments would “remain free of Military Contractors, Munitions and Nuclear Weapons Manufactures, which are identified in the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Arms Industry Database”.
  • A major difference between the two versions is that the staff version eliminated all references to the word “militarism” and to the phenomenon of militarism.
  • The council passed a version which did include references to militarism.
  • Conclusion: The primary positive element of divestment campaigns is that they serve as a vehicle both for new people to get involved in something that is simple in concept and that allows many groups to work together on an important anti-war campaign.

Working with Nurses, Public Health Professionals and Healthcare Workers -Fund Healthcare not Warfare

  • APHA Peace Caucus has worked to build strong relationships between peace and nuclear abolition advocates and public health/ healthcare workers 
  • Martin Fleck = leader of PSR campaign for nuclear abolition
    • Demand access involves a just transition to sustainable society that has no need for nuclear weapons 
  • Annie Cheney = APHA Peace Caucus leader
    • Nuclear abolition organizer 
    • Working to bring more young professionals into the movement 
  • Katie Murphy
    • Intensive Care Unit nurse at Brigham and Womens and president of Mass Nurses Association 
    • Nurses need to be involved wherever and whenever possible to address issues of public health and human costs of various issues, including climate change, universal access to healthcare, pandemics, food insecurity, etc. 
    • Nurses would be needed in response to nuclear weapons, but are also important for a focus on prevention 
    • Nurses learn to see patients holistically as having innate value and being worthy of care regardless – this means being involved in political life of the nation and fighting for policies and politicians who embody these values 
  • Sandy Eaton
    • Past nurse 
    • Board member of Mass campaign for Massachusetts single payer healthcare and active with MAPA FHCNW
  • Aude’s work focuses on neuroscience and environmental exposures
    • Went to med school to work with people in San Francisco exposed to nuclear harm
    • Working to mobilize young health professions in this space and focused on SF 
    • Potential collaboration possible 
  • Cuba healthcare system – universal and wait times are not long (it’s possible, why not here?)
    • Alan – public opinion has showed a large majority (50-70% of people) supports single payer government run healthcare/ insurance 
    • But private health insurance has a massive lobbying force and money runs politics and legislation 
    • Closer than we’ve ever been to winning – public opinion is with us 
  • Actions at Moderna with healthcare organizations
    • With demand for sharing the vaccine in a non-profit fashion 
    • Still a need for this – Moderna recently announced increasing the price going forward 
    • There are issues that seem to unite social groups for peace, healthcare, and social justice at the same time and this has been one of them – coalitions of many groups have rallied at Moderna over the past two years and similar coalitions can move forward single payer, but we have to engage everyone 
  • Focus on preventive medicine
    • This involves to a broad extent abolishing nuclear weapons 
  • Eileen Kurkoski former nurse
    • Does vigils weekly in Newton 
    • Recommends a book called Peaceful Revolution 
  • Moral distress of seeing suffering of population because of horrible healthcare system and other social problems ? not enough nurses
    • People working 2-3 jobs cannot be expected to be up to date on defense budget and other things like that – need to give people the highlights so when we (including nurses) get the chance to speak with Sen Markey and others, we can speak on broader issues like militarism and further knit together a coalition 

Campus Education and Organizing- Invest in Minds not Missiles

  • Robert Redwine:  looking for concrete steps to realize the goals we all share.  Experimental nuclear physicist with close connections to people who work on nuclear weapons.  Knew people at MIT who worked on nuclear weapons because of the fear of Hitler, and who were very disappointed when the research went on.  Nuclear Weapons Education Project at MIT has the goal of providing information about the dangers of nuclear weapons.  “We haven’t made much progress” in the face of the Military-Industrial Complex.
  • Campus organizing project:  50 chapters at 50 universities across the state, collaborating with older Peace Action chapters.  Hard to get young people involved in campaign for nuclear abolition.  Historically students have been involved in divestment campaigns (South Africa, fossil fuels) but tend to feel that movement as it is now isn’t relevant to them.
  • Completing doctorate in public health; part of student think tank.  Natural nexus between peace studies and public health.  Graduate studies in epidemiology.  Promoting health involves preventing use of nuclear weapons; need to make connection more explicit.  “Peace is the most fundamental determinant of health and well-being.”  APHA one-stop shop:  topic this year for students to submit essays is in fact this sentence.  Structural violence against minorities in US is one example.  So where is connection to threat of nuclear weapons?  Opportunities for students to attend conferences on this topic.  Need to coordinate research grants involving different types of violence to enlist passionate students.  Climate change, conflict, displacement may be top three issues, but points of connection do exist between them and the dangers of nuclear weapons.  Wed., Jan. 25 will see online symposium on the theme “Peace is the most fundamental determinant of health and well-being.”  Responsibility of individual to take critical attitude toward information, especially disinformation and misinformation.  Social media as encouraging passivity.  Rules of rationality follow a certain logic, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into the policy process.  How do policies actually influence people?  Understanding the process and how it works is critical.  Are we communicating effectively?