Vote to Survive: Pivoting to focus on the 2020 elections!

Tim and Vicki with US Rep Jim McGovern, ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn and the Nobel Peace Prize
Tim and Vicki with US Rep Jim McGovern, ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn and the Nobel Peace Prize

by Timmon Wallis and Vicki Elson

Dear friends,

We are writing to fill you in on our current thinking and plans going forward for our two organizations: NuclearBan.US (501c4 political work) and the Treaty Awareness Campaign (501c3 educational work).

Just over two years ago, we had the amazing opportunity to be at the United Nations in New York to witness history, as 122 countries adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. We immediately started thinking about how we could support the new treaty here in the US, where it was receiving almost no attention from the peace movement, let alone from the mainstream media. 

With the support of friends in the Northampton/Amherst area, we started developing a campaign to get individuals, faith communities, schools, businesses, cities and states to ‘align’ themselves with the new Treaty, much as they were already doing in relation to the Paris Climate Accords. On November 6th, 2017, NuclearBan.US was officially launched in the living room of Frances Crowe, our legendary local peace activist who died two months ago at age 100. 

Over the past two years, we have put enormous effort into this campaign (not to mention a lot of our own money). We have also had a lot of generous support, from donors, staff, volunteers, friends and colleagues – for which we are very grateful! We have had some promising achievements and there are more in the pipeline (see below for summary of our achievements so far). 

But there is no denying that the campaign has not taken off in the way that we had hoped. We have had to deal with a lot of challenges and frustrations that we did not expect, but we have also learned a lot in the process, and we are now ready to start afresh with renewed energy and enthusiasm! 

We remain firmly committed to the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons from the face of the earth before it’s too late. This is not just a campaign for us, it is a deep spiritual calling to do what we feel we must do for the sake of our children and grandchildren, and yours.

Meanwhile, the climate crisis is another existential threat to this planet, and we will not survive unless we solve both these problems. We are convinced that solving one (banning nuclear weapons) will help solve the other (releasing all the money, brainpower and international goodwill needed to address the climate crisis). 

If you have read Warheads to Windmills, you will know that we are also convinced that the obscene level of wealth and income inequality we have now reached, nationally and globally, is a third existential threat to our survival. We will not be able to solve the other two crises so long as huge and growing numbers of people continue to see their personal situations just getting worse. And even without the other two emergencies bearing down on us, we are sitting on a powder keg waiting to explode. Inequality by itself could destroy modern civilization as we know it.

We can, and we must, address all three of these existential threats as a matter of absolute urgency. Personal lifestyle changes are not enough. Market forces are not enough. Efforts at the state and local levels are not enough. We need massive intervention from the federal government, and we need huge amounts of money from the federal budget. We need a new President who is absolutely committed to this, and a Congress that will enact the necessary legislation. And that means the 2020 election will be like no other election in history. It will be an election that could well decide our fate as a planet.

If that’s the case, then it seems to us that we need to be doing everything we can to ensure this election goes the right way. And that may mean dropping other things that can no longer take precedence under these very special circumstances. 

We are therefore proposing to “suspend” a lot of our ongoing work with NuclearBan.US and the Treaty Awareness Campaign for the next 12 months in order to focus exclusively on the elections, which of course have already started. In many ways, what happens during the Democratic primaries is even more important than what goes on during the general election, since the Democratic nominees will determine what kind of governmental response to the three emergencies we can expect starting in January 2021. 

So far, Bernie Sanders has the most comprehensive plan for addressing climate change and inequality, through his $16.3 trillion Green New Deal. He has also stated that he would “bring together the leaders of the major industrialized nations with the goal of using the trillions of dollars our nations spend on misguided wars and weapons of mass destruction to instead work together internationally to combat our climate crisis and take on the fossil fuel industry.” That is the closest any candidate has come to saying they would work to eliminate nuclear weapons and use the resources to address the climate crisis. 

We need to be working on Bernie Sanders to start talking explicitly about the need to get rid of nuclear weapons. We need to be working on Elizabeth Warren to make sure her climate plan actually meets the IPCC target of a 45% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, as well as achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. We need to be challenging her to address more explicitly how her plans will significantly reduce the levels of inequality in this country and not just continue to line the pockets of the wealthiest. And we need her to stop claiming we need nuclear weapons for “deterrence.” 

Other candidates need to be challenged on all these issues as well, including candidates for Congress, since the President alone cannot make all the necessary changes. But above all we need to be trying to convince our closest friends and colleagues that this is the most important election of a lifetime, and that we should all be campaigning and voting as if our lives depend on it – because they do! 

In addition to the campaigns of the different candidates, there are organizations like Our Revolution, Democratic Socialists of America and Progressive Democrats of America who are pushing the candidates to strengthen their positions on these issues. There are organizations like Sunrise, Extinction Rebellion, Climate Strike and raising awareness about the climate crisis and why we must act now at the federal level. There are organizations like National Priorities Project and Data for Progress who are analyzing and comparing the Green New Deal proposals of the different candidates. And there are organizations like the Movement Voter Project and FairVote working to get the vote out and to make sure it is a fair election.

Where we see a gap, and can add our own contribution to all of this, is:

(a) educational

  • Helping people, especially students and young people, see this election as crucial to addressing the climate crisis before it’s too late
  • Helping people compare the candidates in terms of how their plans will meet the minimum requirements for meeting the IPCC carbon emission targets
  • Helping people compare the candidates in terms of how their plans will reduce inequality and restore hope for the millions who are being left behind
  • Continuing to educate people about the Nuclear Ban Treaty as a doable, life-affirming solution that can also pay for a Green New Deal

(b) political

  • Trying to influence the candidates to also support the Nuclear Ban Treaty alongside addressing climate and inequality with a Green New Deal 
  • Trying to influence the candidates to clarify how their plans for a Green New Deal will specifically address IPCC targets and reduce inequality
  • Trying to influence voters to support the candidates who will do the most to address all three emergencies
  • Campaigning to get the vote out for those candidates, especially in the states and districts that can make the most difference to the election outcome

Are you in? Can you help? Do you have feedback or suggestions? Please let us know…


Tim and Vicki


Treaty Awareness Campaign


Where we’ve come so far…

International Level: Part of our work as ICAN partners is visiting UN missions to encourage them to join the Treaty. So far, 79 countries have signed the Treaty, and 33 countries have ratified it.   

Federal Level: So far, 9 current Congresspeople, including both co-chairs and vice-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, have signed the ICAN Pledge to support the Treaty. We brought ICAN’s executive director, Beatrice Fihn, to speak at the CPC. Together with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, we encouraged Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton to introduce H.R. 2419, the Nuclear Weapons Abolition and Economic and Energy Conversion Act, which would move federal funding from nuclear weapons to green technologies and other urgent needs. We’ve met twice with Tulsi Gabbard, the only Presidential candidate talking consistently about nuclear weapons, and with staff of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. We have asked all of the Presidential candidates to pledge to sign the Treaty if elected. So far, only Mike Gravel agreed, and then he dropped out of the race.

State Level: We are inspired by the states and cities who have remained loyal to the Paris Climate Agreement even as the federal government has not. We have legislation pending in Massachusetts, calling for formation of a Citizens’ Commission to explore disconnecting the Commonwealth from the nuclear weapons industry, in alignment with the Treaty. Our team gave passionate, well-articulated testimony to the Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee. There is similar legislation ready to be introduced in the California state legislature in January.

City and Town Level: We have certified the cities of Northampton, MA, Takoma Park, MD, and Berkeley, CA as “Treaty Aligned,” which means that they have no investments in or contracts with the nuclear weapons industry. We introduced Treaty Alignment resolutions in seven western Massachusetts towns, all of which passed, most unanimously. Other cities are in various stages of alignment, including New York City and Oakland, CA. 

Divestment and Boycotting: Our legislative process is corrupted by corporate donations to political campaigns. Therefore, we believe that to reach politicians, we need to put pressure on their donors. We are supporting individuals, organizations, businesses, schools, colleges, universities, faith communities, banks, financial advisors, and medical facilities to become Treaty Aligned: disconnecting from the 28 companies that make nuclear weapons until they shift to products that support life, not mass slaughter of civilians. So far, one Quaker Meeting has gone through the whole process of treaty alignment, as has one high school in Wisconsin and several local businesses. We gave a presentation to the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility at Yale and met with the President of Greenfield Savings Bank, but progress on these and other fronts is slow.  

Writing: Warheads to Windmills: How to Pay for a Green New Deal, has been distributed to Presidential candidates, legislators, environmental organizations, the press, students and citizens.  We also have a lively blog.  Recent articles include: “New US Poll Shows Strong Support for Elimination of all Nuclear Weapons,” “Wind Just Surpassed Nuclear in Terms of Capacity,” “Trump Broke US Law in Destroying INF Treaty.”

Speaking: We’ve offered dozens of workshops and presentations in 10 states.  Recently, at an event at UMass Amherst, we were able to share live video updates from the UN as several more countries signed and ratified the Nuclear Ban Treaty.