Testimony to the New York City Council Hearing on Resolution 0976 – 2019 and INT 1621 – 2019,
January 28, 2019.
Dear Esteemed New York City Council,
As the oldest secular antiwar organization in the United States, the War Resisters League has organized for decades against nuclear weapons as tools of endless war.
In the early 1950s, as the Cold War was picking up steam, members of WRL and the Catholic Worker refused to participate in mandated “civil defense drills” in New York City, when the public would be whipped into frenzy to take mock shelter in basements and subway stations as practice for surviving an atomic bomb. They were arrested and jailed for taking a stand against fear-mongering, but the city eventually ceased holding the drills. In 1976, WRL organized the Continental Walk for Disarmament and Social Justice, and continued to call for unilateral U.S. nuclear disarmament at a time when that demand was being dismissed by other antiwar organizers as too pie-in-the-sky. Our commitment to this vision set the stage for 1982, when WRL initiated a “Blockade the Bombmakers” series of mass actions in NYC at the U.N. Missions of the five nuclear powers at the time. It was day one of the United Nations’ Special Session on Disarmament, and nearly 1,700 people were arrested in the blockades, which followed a march of an estimated 1 million.
We understand that nuclear weapons were designed to wipe out human life, and to destroy the world many times over. Today, instead of five nuclear powers, there are nine. Though all of us continue to live under the existential threat of global annihilation by accidental or deliberate nuclear strike, Black, Indigenous, and non-white communities on Turtle Island and globally are affected daily by nuclear weapons – displaced from their lands and poisoned by decades of nuclear testing, mining, and dumping of toxic, radioactive waste.
It is crucial that our institutions remove their financial and social support for a war- making industry that has caused uncountable harms. Therefore, we support this resolution to instruct the pension funds of public employees in NYC to divest from the companies who profit from the production and maintenance of nuclear weapons, and commend city council for standing up to the grave threat of nuclear warfare.
However, in our 96 years of organizing against war, we know that the only way to truly eliminate the threats posed by nuclear weapons is to end all wars. The only way to end all wars is to address their root causes, which include racism, sexism, and all forms of exploitation. These systems threaten humanity’s common desire to live well and without fear, and we see them at play in the daily lives of all New Yorkers. We see the root causes of war thriving in a city that chooses to spend billions on building new jails and on cracking down on fare evasion instead of on NYCHA, harm reduction programs, and
poverty benefits. The systems that wage war across the world – and the systems that police, harass, surveil, and detain people in our city – are the same.
This resolution affirms that (1) nuclear weapons do not keep us safe, (2) that the suffering of those harmed by their use, development and testing is unacceptable, and (3) that to be in solidarity with these communities means refusing to comply with and financially benefit from an industry that threatens their lives. Supporting divestment from nuclear weapons for the well-being and future of humanity necessarily means supporting an end to jails and jail expansion. It is morally contradictory to support this resolution and to also fund and advocate for projects that criminalize people for being Black, brown, queer and trans, and poor. It is essential to fight for people’s lives in every arena.
As a city council, it is your responsibility to vote consistently for the safety and dignity of New Yorkers and those with whom we share this earth. We celebrate that a veto-proof majority supports this powerful and needed resolution, and we urge you to take a stand against violence in all its forms.
War Resisters League Field Organizer