NORTHAMPTON – On the one-year anniversary of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons becoming international law, a group gathered in downtown Northampton and on the Greenfield Common in the bitter cold to celebrate the treaty and to raise awareness that the United States has not signed on.
Susan Lantz of Nuclear Free Future was among more than a dozen bundled-up people who huddled together, waving signs and banners outside the courthouse on Main Street in Northampton. The Easthampton resident said she wanted to join the efforts of the standout as a way to raise awareness of the circumstances related to nuclear weapons.
“I’m personally here today because it is just time that the American people paid attention to the threat of nuclear weapons. We now have something that has teeth in it that can help rid ourselves of these horrible, immoral, treacherous weapons,” said Stantz, referencing the treaty.
“Fifty nations have signed on … how can we face the world?” asked Greenfield resident Patricia Greene from the common in that city. “We’re here to say not all of us agree.”
Greene and several other residents called out the United States’ “pugnacious” stance toward many other countries and said the focus should be on peace.
“I feel that the main thing our country needs to do is look at peaceful relations,” Greene said. “We’re so divided internally, maybe heal that over too.”
The anniversary of the treaty comes days before a state Public Safety and Homeland Security hearing Jan. 26 on Bill H.3688, which was filed by Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, and would establish an 11-member commission to investigate and report on what measures may be necessary and appropriate to protect Massachusetts residents from the threat posed by nuclear weapons and to contribute toward the total elimination of these weapons from all countries.
According to the United Nations’ website, 59 states have ratified the treaty, which recognizes the threat of nuclear weapons and requires their elimination. Among the countries that have yet to even sign the treaty include many world powers, such as the United States, China, Japan and the majority of the European Union and England.
Pat Hynes, who sits on the Traprock Center for Peace & Justice’s board of directors, said the commission, if it was created, would find many people in Massachusetts with similar sentiments to the group standing on the frozen Greenfield Common.
“They would certainly find a very-high majority opposing nuclear weapons,” Hynes said. “I hope the committee and State House have the courage to pass the bill.”
Hynes recalled a quote from World War II Army Gen. Omar Bradley that the world contains “nuclear giants and ethical infants.” She added it’s been disappointing that nuclear weapons continue to be produced, even after the horrors of bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the existential threat of the Cold War.
“I’d say it’s tragic, especially with all the other crises happening,” Hynes said, highlighting climate change and the pandemic as current threats. “We don’t need to add to them.”
Among the rallygoers in Northampton were Timmon “Tim” Milne Wallis and Vicki Elson of Northampton, co-founders of NuclearBan.US, a partner of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its part in the historic UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Wallis said he felt it was important to join the standout on the “ban-iversary” and celebrate those efforts. He also wanted to inform the public of the bill sponsored by Sabadosa.
“Everyone should notify Lindsay that they would like to see the bill pass,” Wallis said. “It is a great step forward.”
For Elson, standing on the sidewalk in the chilling Northampton air meant an opportunity to promote something that has helped alleviate a constant fear for much of her life.
“I have lived my whole life in fear that there would be no tomorrow, because of nuclear weapons,” Elson said.
Elson learned about the treaty while in Europe on her fourth date with her now-husband, Wallis. She was there in person at the UN when 122 countries agreed on the language of the treaty and recalled how moved she was being in attendance with people who survived Nagasaki and Hiroshima when they were children.
“That day really changed my life because I realized ‘oh, my God,’ there’s something we can do about this thing that I’ve been worried about my whole life,” she said. “I’ve been really happy about it ever since trying to do whatever I can to promote this treaty.”
Paki Wieland, a Greenfield resident and longtime anti-war activist, said the protest is about letting people know how “trigger-ready” many of the world’s countries are and that the world, particularly the U.S., should focus on peaceful diplomacy.
“It seems we have sane people in charge right now, but mistakes happen,” Wieland said. “We need to reflect on how we demilitarize.”
Members of the group on the Greenfield Common said demilitarization would also allow for more funding to be put into other social or environmental programs.
“The government wants to modernize (these weapons),” said Greenfield resident Suzanne Carlson. “When human needs are so in our faces; housing, health care, food, education, you name it.”
Hynes said it’d be nice if money allocated for researching and developing nuclear weapons was instead “reinvested in good causes like green industries.”
Greenfield resident Paul Jablon said it is “horrendous” the United States has not signed on to the treaty and shows the “insanity of government.” He noted he had participated in anti-nuclear weapons protests in the 1980s and he can’t believe this is something the world is still dealing with.
“It’s so insane,” he said. “By now, I thought I’d be talking to my children about this as history.”