Oct. 16 marked 60 years since the Cuban missile crisis, the closest our world has ever been to nuclear war, and here we are again according to the experts. The United States is arming the war in Ukraine, which is so dangerously escalating that both Russian and U.S. leaders are actually talking about using nuclear weapons. These weapons are now on hair-trigger alert in both countries.
First use, followed by retaliations, will destroy all life in the targeted areas immediately, and then a nuclear winter will stop plant growth and end animal and human life on the planet.
On Oct. 14, dozens of longtime Fresno peace activists gathered in the hot noonday sun to picket in front of the Federal Building, as part of a national month of action to Defuse Nuclear War. In 40 cities across the country, informational picket lines formed at the local offices of House representatives and U.S. senators to demand that they take immediate action to de-escalate tensions between nuclear powers, facilitate a ceasefire and negotiations to end the war in Ukraine, and rejoin the nuclear weapons ban treaties.
The Fresno picket line was organized by Peace Fresno, WILPF (Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom) Fresno and the Fresno Center for Nonviolence (FCNV), and was followed by a meeting with Senator Dianne Feinstein’s staff. The colorful “No Nuclear War” and “Negotiations Now” signs and banners received many positive reactions from pedestrians and drivers honking as they passed by.
“It’s tremendously important for people to understand what nuclear war means, that we cannot live through a nuclear war,” said Agustín Lira, peace activist since the Cuban missile crisis, Teatro Campesino co-founder and National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow.
Patricia Wells, who co-wrote The Covid-19 Play with Lira about a farmworker family in 2020, says, “I hope being here will help the younger people understand, and I’m here to represent the people who can’t be here because they are working.”
“I think people just aren’t understanding how close we are to nuclear war,” intoned Peggy Davis.
Jennifer Crow agreed, pointing out that “the normalization of talking about nuclear strikes should scare everyone.”
“We want to pressure our government to facilitate negotiations, because this is just too dangerous,” said Gerry Bill, co-founder of the Dakota EcoGarden and an FCNV board member.
“Our country needs to lead by example,” said WILPF member Kayla Mitchell.
“War is not the answer,” added Bernadette Planting, “it’s time for revolutionary love in this world.”
Just before the scheduled meeting with Senator Feinstein’s staff, Camille Russell of Peace Fresno addressed the picketers, declaring that “we’re here today to remind people of what atomic war means, to ask our government to begin negotiations leading to the end of war in Ukraine and to call for an end of U.S. policies and actions since the 1970s that make nuclear war still possible.”
The delegation also included Peace Fresno president Ken Hudson and member Davis; Teresa Castillo, branch chair of WILPF–Fresno; and Jean Hayes, legislative chair of WILPF–Fresno, who presented 178 constituent signatures on the nationwide petition launched by WILPF to U.S. President Biden and the U.S. Senate to support the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty.
Hudson reported that the delegation is awaiting confirmation of a meeting with Senator Alex Padilla’s local office. He said that Senator Feinstein’s staff person was genuinely receptive to the information the delegation presented about the nuclear danger and will convey the message to Senator Feinstein. The staffer added that the Senator’s office in Fresno seldom receives calls about international issues.
As Nancy Waidtlow, founder of the Dakota EcoGarden, said, “It doesn’t get better and won’t until more people demand change.”