Editorial: Activists bring nuclear ban to local level

  • Vicki Elson and Timmon Wallis work at their home in Northampton. The two activists launched the Northampton-based organization NuclearBan.US. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 6/25/2018 9:35:06 PM

There’s a certain malaise that can develop when one is bombarded by so many horrible headlines. R.E.M.’s song “It’s the End of the World and We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” comes to mind. But two Northampton residents are finding ways to fight nuclear arms — and apathy.

Timmon Wallis and Vicki Elson were the subjects of a May cover story, “Lay down your arms,” in Hampshire Life Magazine. Written by Emma Kemp, the piece focused on Wallis’ involvement with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, ICAN won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for developing a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

Today, both Wallis and Elson work with ICAN, which initiated the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, also known as the Nuclear Ban Treaty, which was adopted by 122 countries on July 7, 2017. It prohibits the development, production, use and threat of nuclear weapons. As Kemp reported, “Once 50 countries have ratified the treaty, it will come into effect and be implemented into law in the respective countries. The United States is not one of the participating countries.”

But Wallis, 61, and Elson, 59, are hoping to change that. The two activists, who plan to marry this summer, launched the Northampton-based organization NuclearBan.US, to help people nationwide comply with the treaty.

Putting power into the hands of the people is an important part of their organizing. Their goal is to gain the support of individuals, faith organizations, schools, towns and cities to demand the attention of the U.S. government. The more people involved, the better: “We want this to be something that everybody can do,” Elson said.

So what exactly are they doing? NuclearBan.US is urging people to hold accountable the 26 companies that help produce nuclear weapons — some of which are based here in the U.S. — by boycotting and divesting from them.

If anyone can rally the pacifists, it’s Wallis, a Northampton High School graduate and longtime activist who literally has a doctorate in peace — well, in “Peace Studies,” from the University of Bradford in England. Over the span of his career that’s crisscrossed the globe, he’s been involved in several efforts to protect civilians from violence, traveling through eight different war zones, including Georgia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and south Sudan.

Earlier this month, the Quakers group Northampton Friends Meeting earned the distinction of being the first faith community in the country to declare their compliance with the Nuclear Ban Treaty. The group had been examining “the ways in which (the Meeting) is complicit in the nuclear weapons industry, including the funding of those activities through our investments, purchases, or other business transactions, and to plan for ways to eliminate or reduce that complicity in order to be compliant with the treaty.”

This past March, Takoma Park, Maryland, became the first American city to declare itself treaty-compliant, and around 200 other cities, including Berkeley, New York City, and Chicago, “have some sort of legislation in place that prohibits purchasing from companies known to make nuclear weapons,” Wallis said. “Once we get the message out, I think we’ll succeed, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”

The City Compliance Team is a local committee that has been working with Northampton to get the city to become treaty-compliant. “Northampton is part of the nation, and we’ve got to do something ourselves,” Wallis said. After that, “We’re after the state of Massachusetts.”

As Elson put it, “I tell people that we’re going to do a magic trick: We’re going to talk about nuclear weapons, and they’re going to feel happier afterwards than they do now. It’s because we can do something.”

We commend Wallis and Elson for their effort to make an international issue accessible to people on the local level.

More information about becoming treaty-compliant is available online at nuclearban.us and dontbankonthebomb.com/nuclear-weapon-producers.

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