Members of various activist organizations and local residents against nuclear weapons gathered in Ashley Pond in Los Alamos on Sunday. The rally, which was mainly organized by Pax Christi and lasted all afternoon, celebrated the 67th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima during World War II.
Dozens of framed pictures of victims and information about the bombing’s aftereffects were scattered around the area to pay homage to the victims. Organizers also established a live stream of the 8:15 am annual bell ringing in Hiroshima,Japan, the precise time the bomb was dropped in 1945.
Father John Dear, an Christian anti-nuke activist nominated by Desmond Tutu for the Nobel Peace Prize, called the atomic bomb “the biggest sin” and Los Alamos as its birthplace.
“We gather here to repent that greatest sin,” he told the crowd.
After the Hiroshima bell was broadcasted in the event, people donned sack clothes while walking slowly in a silent procession that ran along Trinity Street and stopped just in front of Los Alamos Medical Center. This, according to Dear, was reminiscent of the Bible story of Jonah as the he marched through Nineveh as a repentant act.
But besides commemorating this nuclear tragedy, the crowd sent a deeper message to the city.
“We call upon the people of the labs to quit their jobs immediately and join us in our action, and become people of global, unified and universal love,” says Dear, whose track record of 75 arrests punctuates his time as an activist.
On the other hand, Ellie Voutselas, a member of Pax Christi, says at the event, now in its ninth year, says that the Los Alamos National Laboratory should reassess its methods regarding nuclear development, and asked them to switch from their current “destructive” processes into a “life-affirming science.”
“We’re trying to convey the idea of not shutting the labs down, but hoping they change their vision,” Voutselas says. “We would like to focus on job creations through the cleanup.”
“We’re hoping for nuclear disarmament, and globally—not just here. But you got to start somewhere,” she adds.
The government has allotted a total of $6.5 billion for Chemistry Metallurgy Research Replacement facilities, in which parts of nuclear bombs are designed and manufactured, over the past year, Voutselas says. She says that there are three or four CMRR facilities in the country as of now, and another one is planned to be built in Los Alamos as part of LANL.
Scientists have already produced a design of the building but will not start construction because of conflicts with landscape and water usage, Voutselas added.
“I think people should educate themselves and decide if they want to spend the amounts of money that they’re spending on nuclear weapons,” she says.
Alaric Balibrera, an anti-nuke Los Alamos activist, agrees that the funding for the CMRR is excessive. He says that when it aims to ensure the safety of people from terrorist attacks, it actually does the opposite.
“What’s required to make nuclear weapons is so poisonous that it threatens the people it is trying to protect and actually does them physical harm,” he says. “I’m not in favor of hurting people so I’m not in favor of producing weapons.”
Instead of being spent on a nuclear facility, he says that funds should be used on services, such as universal healthcare, that help people, and especially children.
“We have healthcare in this country, just not for people, but for nuclear weapons,” he says.
As of press time, Balibrera has been on a hunger strike for 22 days. He started on July 16, the anniversary of the first atomic detonation at New Mexico’s Trinity site in 1944. He has been fasting as a protest to nuclear weapons.
“The nuclear issue is so large and so complex that it really touches every aspect of life,” he says.
Balibrera does not have plans to stop his strike yet.
Like Voutselas, Balibrera does not believe in shutting down LANL. Instead he urges the laboratory, which supplies a number of jobs to the city, to start switching to more sustainable processes.
“Where Los Alamos leads, other laboratories follow,” he says. “I love the sciences and I love Los Alamos, and I’d like to use the science that they have in the service of humanity.”
Furthermore, Voutselas believes that the condition of nuclear weapon development has not improved from previous years.
“We still have it,” she says with a faint smile. “As long as we have it, it’s going to be a threat.”
According to Voutselas, nine countries, including Israel, India and the United States, currently has nuclear facilities.
Balibrera blames “the overwhelming need for power and control” of world governments for the unfavorable international nuclear state. Politicians, he says, act like “a pack of high school mafia” arguing about who should take over the world.
“It’s not true anymore that strength can keep us secure. Look at 9/11,” he says. “The only thing that can secure us is cooperation and understanding.”
Consequently, Voutselas encourages people to start “nonviolent disobedience,” and urge their legislators to support their cause. And although she does not judge people working at labs, she still hopes that people voice their opinions strongly.
“We can have a point of view and we can offer it, but I think it’s in the hands of the American people,” she says.
Balibrera, on the other hand, called on the legislators to discuss matters, especially ones about the planned CMRR facility, with local activists intimately. “This will be a good first step for ridding the city of nuclear weaponry,” he says.
“Things are not looking good,” he tells the government. “Why don’t we talk about this?”
The event ended with people lighting up 3,000 floating lanterns and setting them in the pond, which is symbolic of the 300,000 corpses that floated on Hiroshima’s rivers right after the bombing. The lanterns illuminated the park throughout the night.