Today is the day the United Nation’s Treaty on Nuclear Weapons goes into effect. It’s the long planned but seemingly impossible day millions — if not billions — of people have waited for since Hiroshima Day, August 6, 1945.
Today, the U.N. treaty declares that the manufacture, possession, use or threat to use nuclear weapons is illegal under international law, 75 years after their development and first use. Actions, events, vigils and celebrations will be held around the nation and the globe to mark this historic moment.
Even though I’ve spent most of my life working for the abolition of nuclear weapons, I never thought I’d live to see this day. The most striking test of faith came in none other than Oslo, Norway, where my friend, actor Martin Sheen, and I were invited to be the keynote speakers at the launch of something called “The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons,” or ICAN, which went on to the win the Nobel Peace Prize.
I have been arrested dozens of times for nonviolent civil disobedience actions against nuclear weapons, including at the White House, the Pentagon, several Trident submarine bases, the SAC command base near Omaha, Nebraska, the Nevada Test Site and Livermore Labs. Since 2003, I have led the annual Hiroshima Day peace vigil outside the national nuclear weapons labs in Los Alamos, New Mexico. I had been planning with friends a major anti-nuclear vigil, rally and conference near Los Alamos, New Mexico to mark the 75thanniversary of Hiroshima, but instead, we held a powerful virtual online conference seen by thousands that featured Dr. Ira Helfand, co-founder of the Nobel Prize-winning Physicians for Social Responsibility and one of the leaders of ICAN.
On Dec. 7, 1993, with Philip Berrigan and two friends, I walked on to the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina, right through the middle of national war games, up to one of the nuclear-capable F15 fighter bombers and hammered on it, to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy that some day people would “beat swords into plowshares and study war no more.” For that act, I faced 20 years in prison, was convicted on several felony counts, spent nine months in a tiny cell, several years under house arrest and continued to be heavily monitored by the government. My friends, Dan and Phil Berrigan, who launched the Plowshares movement dreamed of this day. Other friends sit in prisons across the nation today for their recent actions.
But this was something else. This was a first for me. We had been brought to Oslo by the Norwegian government. We stood before some 900 people that Saturday night, March 1, 2013, at the civic forum, which preceded the global gathering of representatives from over 132 nations. (Of course, the United States refused to attend.) The formal meeting would start Monday morning. As far as we could tell, there had never been such a conference before in history.
Martin began his talk by thanking ICAN for their work to build a global abolition movement, and encouraged everyone to keep at it. He read aloud their general call for nuclear-armed states to completely eliminate nuclear weapons—and a treaty banning any state from developing them.
For the next 48 hours we spoke non-stop, in workshops, to the press, to small groups and large groups. We were given a private tour of the Nobel Peace Prize museum, attended a reception with the Norwegian Parliament and met many members and politicians whom we urged to carry on their initiative for the abolition of nuclear weapons, including Norway’s foreign minister, the Vice President of Parliament, and the Mayor of Oslo.
It was there at that reception that we met Dr. Ira Helfand, who told us that—for the first time in four decades—he felt hopeful about nuclear disarmament. There has never been such an important gathering in history, he said with a smile.
At one point during the ICAN conference, a teenage student asked to speak privately with me. He confided that he was one of the survivors of the massacre a year and a half before, when an insane shooter killed 78 children during their summer camp on an island in a large lake not far from Oslo. My new friend told me how he dodged the bullets and swam far out into the lake and barely survived. He wanted to talk with me about nonviolence and forgiveness. I encouraged him on his journey of healing toward a deeper peace, but was profoundly moved by his connection between the summer camp massacre and the global massacre that can be unleashed through nuclear weapons. He saw now what most people refuse to see. And he was determined to do his part to prevent a global massacre of children.
All of these experiences were so touching and inspiring, but there was something even more powerful afoot. From the moment we landed in Oslo, as we met various dignitaries and longtime anti-nuclear leaders from around the globe, we heard the same statement over and over again: We are going to abolish nuclear weapons.
After a while, Martin and I looked at one another and thought to ourselves: something’s not right with these people. Sure, we do what we can, of course, but we’re not going to live to see the abolition of nuclear weapons. Our new friends were drinking the Kool-Aid.
But we didn’t know who we were dealing with, nor did we yet understand the faith and hope that undergirds lasting global change movements. These were the same people who organized the global campaign to outlaw landmines in 1997. These were the same people who organized the global campaign to ban cluster bombs in 2008. Now, they were telling us calmly, they were setting their sights on nuclear weapons. They intended to use the same tried and true strategy to slowly plot their end. This was going to work. No doubt about it.
All we have to do is get 50 nations to sign a U.N. treaty banning nuclear weapons, they said; then we can slowly chip away at every other nation in the world, until all that are left of the nine nuclear weapons nations who will eventually be shamed into dismantling their weapons and signing the United Nations’ Treaty. It was a no-brainer.
“Well, good luck with that,” we said.
And here we are. Today, the treaty goes into effect. Today is the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.
For my friends and me, this is a day we never quite believed we would see.
“Right now, the treaty does not legally apply to the United States,” said Ken Mayers of Veterans for Peace New Mexico, “because we have not signed or ratified it. But that does not mean we will not be feeling the moral force of the treaty. All nuclear weapons, including the thousands in the U.S. stockpile, have been declared unlawful by the international community.”
Mayers and others will keep vigil today near the labs in Los Alamos, New Mexico, calling for an end to weapons development. Similar vigils will be held across the United States today with banners hung outside nuclear weapons production sites declaring “Nuclear Weapons Are Illegal!”
“The treaty is a turning point,” said Joni Arends, of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety. “On the one hand, it is the end of a long process to outlaw nuclear weapons. On the other hand, it is just the beginning of a new movement to confront nuclear weapons states and demand they lift the dark shadow of nuclear annihilation that has loomed over the world for the last 75 years.”
“The U.S. was among the last major countries to abolish slavery but did so in the end,” said Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico. “To modify Dr. King’s famous quote: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards [the] justice’ of abolishing nuclear weapons. This ban treaty is the beginning of that end and should be celebrated as such.”
Every time we have journeyed up to Los Alamos over the years, we offered the same, simple message: Nuclear weapons have totally failed us. They don’t make us safer; they can’t protest us; they don’t provide jobs; they don’t make us more secure; they’re sinful, immoral and inhuman. They bankrupt us, economically and spiritually.
According to the Doomsday Clock, we are in greater danger now than ever. A limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan is very possible; an all-out nuclear war would end life as we know it. If we spent billions instead on teaching and building nonviolent civilian-based defense systems and nonviolent conflict resolution programs around the world, to be orchestrated by the United Nations, we could make war itself obsolete.
The work of ICAN and the United Nations to get 50 nations to outlaw nuclear weapons and build a process toward their elimination is one of the most exciting, hopeful—if widely ignored—movements in the world today.
Just before Christmas, Dr. Helfand called me. He continues to work morning to night in a Massachusetts clinic treating COVID patients, but he wanted to talk about the treaty. “How can we push Americans to demand that the United States sign the treaty and dismantle our arsenal,” he asked me? “How can we mobilize the movement to make President Biden and the U.S. Congress do the right thing?”
That’s the question. We talked about various efforts we could make, and agreed to do what we could. “The responsibility lies with us,” he said. “We were the first to use nuclear weapons; we must be the ones to end them once and for all.”
A few days later, he sent me an email with the gist of our message. In addition to climate change, the nearly 14,000 nuclear weapons in the world pose an existential threat to humanity. The threat of nuclear war has never been greater, with tensions rising between the United States, Russia and China. Even a limited nuclear war could kill hundreds of millions, and bring about a global famine that would put billions of people at risk. A larger war could kill the vast majority of humanity.
“This is not the future that must be,” Dr. Helfand wrote me. “Nuclear weapons are not a force of nature. They are little machines that we have built with our own hands, and we know how to take them apart. Nations around the world have come together in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It is time for us to move back from the brink and eliminate nuclear weapons before they eliminate us.”
And so, the day has come when that long dreamed of future has become a real possibility. Our task is to make the possible probable, and then actual. Time to get back to work. We need to call President Biden and Congress, write letters to the editor, mobilize the movement, tell the nation: Let’s abolish nuclear weapons now, once and forever, and use the billions of dollars we spend on these weapons to vaccinate everyone, rebuild our nation, protect the environment, abolish war and poverty, and welcome a new culture of peace and nonviolence.
As I learned in Oslo, anything is possible if you believe.
Republished from CommonDreams.org under Creative Commons
After Strong Backlash, NYPD Kicks Robotic Dog “Spot” to the Curb
The New York City Police Department decided this week to stop leasing a robotic dog from Boston Dynamics following a sustained outcry from residents and lawmakers, who denounced the use of the high-tech, four-legged device in low-income neighborhoods as a misallocation of public resources and violation of civil liberties.
When the NYPD acquired the K-9 machine last August, officials portrayed “Digidog”—the department’s name for the camera-equipped, 70-pound robot—as “a futuristic tool that could go places that were too dangerous to send officers,” the New York Times reported earlier this week.
Inspector Frank Digiacomo of the department’s Technical Assistance Response Unit said in a television interview in December: “This dog is going to save lives. It’s going to protect people. It’s going to protect officers.”
Instead—thanks to strong backlash from critics, including people who live in the Bronx apartment complex and the Manhattan public housing building where the robotic dog was deployed in recent weeks—the department is returning “Spot,” as Boston Dynamics calls the device, months earlier than expected.
According to the Times:
In response to a subpoena from City Councilman Ben Kallos and Council Speaker Corey Johnson requesting records related to the device, police officials said that a contract worth roughly $94,000 to lease the robotic dog from its maker, Boston Dynamics, had been terminated on April 22.
John Miller, the police department’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, confirmed on Wednesday that the contract had been canceled and that the dog had been returned to Boston Dynamics or would be soon.
Miller told the Times that the police had initially planned to continue testing the K-9 machine’s capabilities until August, when the lease had been scheduled to end.
“Robotic surveillance ground drones are being deployed for testing on low-income communities of color with under-resourced schools,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted in response. “Please ask yourself: when was the last time you saw next-generation, world class technology for education, healthcare, housing, etc. consistently prioritized for underserved communities like this?”
And earlier this month, as Common Dreams reported, footage of the robotic dog walking through a Manhattan public housing building went viral, sparking additional outrage and prompting a city council investigation.
“Why the hell do we need robot police dogs?” Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) asked at the time.
While there are “people living in poverty, struggling to put food on the table, keep a roof over their head, take care of their kids, afford child care—all this going on, and now we got damn robot police dogs walking down the street,” Bowman lamented.
Bill Neidhardt, a spokesperson for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who urged the police department to reconsider its use of the robot following objections from residents and lawmakers, said he was “glad the Digidog was put down.”
“It’s creepy, alienating, and sends the wrong message to New Yorkers,” Neidhardt said.
Republished from CommonDreams.org under Creative Commons
Cliffhanger: Mountain Biker Saved From “Imminent Death” After Falling Into Canyon
A Southern California mountain biker is likely counting his blessings after he was rescued from what authorities describe as “imminent death”” after falling from the side of a cliff in the Angeles National Forest.
The mountain biker, described as an older man, fell into the canyon at Mt. Wilson on Thursday morning and was dangling hundreds of feet above the ground before his fellow bikers, and eventually a special team from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, rescued him.
For some time the man dangled by a thin cord around his ankle that was tied to his bicycle while hanging on for dear life “like a cat,” Capt. Tom Giandomenico of the LASD special enforcement bureau told the Los Angeles Times.
“He knew he was in such a precarious situation. He was just scared to even rotate his head to look at us. He just didn’t want to move a muscle,” LASD Deputy Richard Thomsen told CBSLA.
Additionally, when the helicopter team arrived it wasn’t just a matter of simply hoisting the man to safety, as the air generated by the helicopter’s rotor would have sent the man plummeting to “imminent death,” Giandomenico added.
“Because he was head-down on the rock face there, that dropped probably a good 40 feet before it hit some soft dirt and a boulder,” Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Helbring said. “And beyond that was hundreds of feet down to the bottom of the canyon.”
Instead, one of the members of the special enforcement team composed of former SWAT officers devised a plan to rappel down to the man and move him to a ledge below, from which the two could be airlifted to safety.
However, due to a lack of boulders or trees, there was nothing to tie a rope to – and thus no way to rappel down to anything.
So instead, the special enforcement team used the man’s brother and another friend to be their anchor, a plan that ultimately succeeded.
Giandomenico called the rescue “one of the more significant, courageous maneuvers I’ve seen.”
“Heroic, in my opinion,” he added.
Rare Creature Photographed Alive In The Wild For The First Time Ever
Advances in the methods used by researchers to watch wildlife have allowed for the photographing of a rare creature whose image had never been captured in the wild before.
Researchers in the West African nation of Togo were able to spot the rare Walter’s duiker, a rare species of petite African antelope, for the first time in the wild thanks to camera traps equipped with motion sensors.
In addition to the Walter’s duiker, the camera traps were also able to discover rare species of aardvarks and a mongoose, reports Gizmodo.
At a time when the extinction of entire species is becoming more common worldwide, such devices should help conservationists not only preserve creatures sought by bushmeat hunters but also spot rare animals whose presence is elusive for human observers. In the past, biologists were forced to rely on the same hunters for information.
“Camera traps are a game changer when it comes to biodiversity survey fieldwork,” said University of Oxford wildlife biologist Neil D’Cruze.
“I’ve spent weeks roughing it in tropical forests seemingly devoid of any large mammal species,” D’Cruze continued. “Yet when you fire up the laptop and stick in the memory card from camera traps that have been sitting there patiently during the entire trip—and see species that were there with you the entire time —it’s like being given a glimpse into a parallel world.”
The Walter’s duiker was discovered in 2010 when specimens of bushmeat were compared to other duiker specimens. The new images of the creature are the first to have been seen.
Rare species like Walter’s duiker are often not listed as “endangered” by groups like the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to a lack of data.