On Monday, August 14, WAND's own Kathy Crandall Robinson made remarks at a press conference with Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), lead Senate sponsor of legislation that would prevent any U.S. president from launching a nuclear first strike without authorization from Congress. Read her prepared remarks from the press conference here.
Remarks of Kathy Crandall Robinson at Senator Ed Markey's (D-MA) "No First Use" Press Conference
I want to start with a brief “herstory” that sets a context for this particular moment of nuclear threats and the role of previous generations of women.
In 1961 a small cadre of women led by a self-proclaimed housewife, Dagmar Wilson, were scared and outraged about the nuclear threat: The Berlin Wall went up, U.S.-Soviet nuclear tensions were high, and atmospheric nuclear weapons tests were raining down fallout. With sophisticated organizing tactics like phone trees with rotary dial phones, Dagmar’s group, Women Strike for Peace, organized upwards of 50,000 people to turn out for a one-day strike. This was the largest national women’s peace protest of the 20th century. They called for, “an end to the nuclear arms race not the human race.” And they went on beyond that one-day strike, protesting, demonstrating, and lobbying, and these women played a significant role in achieving a ban on atmospheric nuclear testing in 1963.
In the 1980’s Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament, WAND, formed right near here in a kitchen in Cambridge. This was just as the Reagan administration was rattling sabers and increasing military spending. There was palpable fear about nuclear dangers spiraling out of control.
Dr. Helen Caldicott, an Australian physician spoke to growing audiences about the real dangers and impacts of nuclear weapons. In her wake, WAND sprung to life with chapters across the country contributing to the vibrant Nuclear Freeze Movement of the 1980’s.
Sayre Sheldon, a founder of WAND (she was in that Cambridge kitchen) and Edie Allen who joined WAND and helped organize in the 1980’s are here today. Sayre and Edie are still pushing forward towards the new directions of peace and security with WAND – Women’s Action for New Directions.
WAND has been busy in the last decades. We have focused on growing our Women Legislators’ Lobby (WiLL) network of 700+ women state legislators who have particularly drawn attention to the excessive dollars poured into the nuclear enterprise and broader Pentagon and war spending – money that is not spent on pressing state and community needs.
Yet, to be honest, for many WAND/WiLL supporters like other women, the nuclear threat hasn’t provoked the fear, outrage and galvanizing imperative to action experienced by Women Strike for Peace in the 60’s and then WAND in the 80’s. With the Trump Presidency this has started to change. WAND has seen new interest and engagement on these issues.
Then there was last week.
Just as we marked the anniversaries of atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki - 72 years since the last use of nuclear weapons, the President threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world had never seen.” Then on the very anniversary of Nagasaki he boasted in a tweet: “My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before....” Then there were retorts from North Korea, particularly threatening Guam. From Guam came public service tips about how to survive in case of a nuclear attack – “find shelter, don’t look at the fireball”, and this helpful tip: "Do not use conditioner in your hair because it will bind radioactive material to your hair." Beyond the shear ridiculousness and sense of being transported back in time, I suddenly felt a whole new kind of fear and outrage. So did others.
And in this moment, the questions that Senator Markey and Congressman Lieu’s legislation raise suddenly are of much interest:
Really, is one person able to push us over the nuclear brink? Perhaps even for no better reason than a particularly annoying tweet?
It is outrageous that any President has this sole authority even when Congress has the constitutional role of declaring war. It is terrifying when thinking of this President who, to put it charitably, lacks boundaries of appropriate behavior.
So now is the time to galvanize action and this legislation is a great starting point. And, while I know many women will lead the way – including our WiLL state legislators – there is not a gender requirement here. Together we must support the human race over the arms race – with a hat tip to Dagmar Wilson, Helen Caldicott and many others who have led the way.
Edie Allen, Sayre Sheldon, Kathy Crandall Robinson