By Paulette PetersonThe Loretto Community has a long history of building peace and working toward the elimination of nuclear weapons and energy. It is striking to recall the peacemaking activities Loretto has engaged in throughout the years, including marching in countless demonstrations (the Freeze, Rocky Flats, Los Alamos, Trifecta, SOA) and authoring letters, articles, poems and books about the importance of disarmament and the spiritual and moral imperative to resist violence in all its forms. To that end, Loretto members have joined in anti-nuke (pro-peace) protest walks across the country, fostered interfaith collaboration and economic conversion, and coordinated countless retreats, workshops and prayers vigils to promote a non-violent world.
This year, the Peace Committee — Mary Jean Friel, Mary Ellen McElroy, Eileen Harrington, Mary Ann McGivern and I — continued this time-honored work by joining other peace workers at the Peace and Planet Conference in New York City April 24-26.
The entire Peace Committee arrived in NYC by Thursday night, spending the evening catching up and planning our time in the city. We knew we were about to wade into a weekend of heavy subject matter, so Friday we had some fun and took a boat ride around Manhattan. We enjoyed terrific views of Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and the iconic skyline. Later, our committee met in anticipation of the conference, which started Friday evening.
Why the Peace and Planet Conference?
Every five years, the U.N. member states meet to evaluate the progress that has been made on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This treaty contains a binding commitment to work toward and achieve nuclear disarmament. The five nuclear weapon countries that have signed the NPT are China, France, the United Kingdom, the United States and Russia.
Non-nuclear weapon states that signed the NPT agreed never to acquire nuclear weapons.
Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that cover the United Nations, such as Loretto at the UN and disarmament entities such as Reaching Critical Will, help keep track of the implementation of the treaty and lobby for it to be honored. Unfortunately, they report there has been little progress the past five years toward disarmament. Because NGOs have been aware of limited progress, there has been a collective effort to engage the citizens of the world to become involved in calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. There have been a number of conferences on the humanitarian costs of nuclear war and energy. The hope is to build awareness and engage civil society to create an alternate path to disarmament and public pressure if the NPT continues to show little progress.
The international conference took place Friday night and Saturday at Cooper Union’s Great Hall. The theme constellated the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. As the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki approaches in August of this year (the United Nations was founded two months later in October 1945), the conference highlighted Hibakusha, the people who suffered the consequences of the nuclear blast.
In the sessions and workshops, we heard from Hibakusha, scholars, mayors, activists, faith communities and lawyers who asked us to think about how we can understand and explain to others the relationship between poverty, race, health care, schools, climate change and nuclear disarmament. Committee members went to different workshops, and we shared our experiences at dinner.
As might be expected, the most visceral and powerful were the voices of Hibakusha (atomic bomb sufferers) and the test site victims, as they cried out for an exodus from the nuclear age.
Peace & Planet March
On Sunday, the Peace Committee headed for Union Square to join a march to the United Nations. It was
colorful — replete with red and orange flags and garments worn by the Japanese. More than 1,000 Japanese came to New York to submit a petition to U.N. High Representative for Nuclear Disarmament Angela Kane. With the help of Mayors for Peace and the Peace and Planet organizations, they submitted 7 million signatures with a clear message:
• Call upon the parties of the NPT to ban and eliminate all nuclear weapons.
• Call upon India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea to join this process immediately.
At the United Nations we attended side events sponsored by NGOs from around the world. We had the opportunity to hear about the “nuts and bolts” of nuclear weapons factories, storage, delivery systems, plutonium pits, the legal case for reparation for the Marshall Islands test site and the potential damage to the climate and our food supply if even a limited nuclear war occurred.
We also heard about political parties asking for nuclear bans and nuclear free zones.
Charts outlining the costs of nuclear weapons were displayed, and we learned of the billions of dollars that go into housing and protecting the weapons and refurbishing their cases. There is hope that these funds can be redirected to our greatest unaddressed human needs — health care, schools, housing and alternative energy.
At week’s end, the participating NGOs addressed the delegates at the United Nations. More than 25 NGOs from around the world spoke to the delegates. Their talks varied in tone, information and details, but in the end there was only one message:
Abolish Nuclear Weapons
No More Hiroshimas!
No More Nagasakis!
No More Hibakusha!
No More War!