When I first tell someone that I work with women state legislators to further the goal of nuclear disarmament, people are understandably puzzled. But studies have shown it’s actually crucial that women in particular speak up and take action. Fortunately for the world, some women already have.
New research from ReThink Media shows that, when informed of the disastrous consequences of nuclear war, women are more likely than men to engage with the information and take action to prevent impending doom. The study showed that gendered socialization may affect how people process information about the risks and consequences of nuclear war. During focus groups, women appeared to "lean in" to the information and wanted to share it with others. In the face of our well-founded fears about nuclear war, women want to do something — whether it's sharing what they know with others, calling their representatives, or joining the movement.
In 2018, women state legislators introduced 10 resolutions calling on their congressional delegations to enact checks on the president’s sole authority to launch a nuclear first strike. These resolutions were introduced in eight states throughout the country: California, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Vermont.
The women who introduced these resolutions have diverse expertise; Rep. Marti Anderson in Iowa is a social worker, and Delegate Pamela Queen of Maryland is a college professor. Even though state legislators have to balance a thousand issues that impact the day-to-day lives of their community and their jobs outside the legislature, these women made the time to listen to constituents’ concerns about their fear of nuclear war — and to act on it.
The author (right) with Massachusetts State Senator Barbara L'Italien (middle) and Cassandra Varanka (left).
Before I began working at Women's Action for New Directions (WAND), I was the president of my college’s pro-choice advocacy group in D.C., and I worked at multiple reproductive rights organizations. But Trump’s “fire and fury” rhetoric forced the country, and me, to confront the potential for nuclear war. The immediacy of this issue eclipsed my other career ambitions. I realized that if I didn’t step up in this moment, all the issues I had ever cared about could be obliterated.
When I first started in this field, I worried about my lack of experience. I’m not a professional scientist. I don’t have a Ph.D. in nuclear security. I have no military or diplomatic experience. However, the women state legislators and other incredible activists in the nuclear disarmament community taught me that I didn’t need specialized training to organize and support legislation for common sense policies to prevent nuclear war. And neither do you.
At a time when what’s on the news forces us to constantly re-evaluate our country’s moral compass, it’s understandable that we avoid thinking about the possibility of nuclear conflict. After all, nuclear bombs have only been dropped twice in war and that was over 75 years ago. However, today’s nuclear conflict would look a lot different than it did in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Modern nuclear bombs are bigger, deadlier, and more ubiquitous.
If one country deployed its arsenal of nuclear bombs, other countries would automatically respond with their own nuclear warheads — what policy wonks call “mutually assured destruction.” Deaths could be in the billions as the world enters a nuclear winter. For the survivors of the hellfire, cancer rates would be off the charts (especially for women), agriculture would be devastated, and the climate would be drastically altered.
The most terrifying thing I’ve learned this past year is that the president has the sole authority to launch a nuclear weapon. One person. The majority of people in the United States agree that this should change. That’s why I continue to work with state legislators to introduce these resolutions. If you’re a part of this majority you should support legislation and candidates who will significantly reduce this threat.
I can’t accept the possibility that all the progress that the human race has achieved could be undone by one person in less than 15 minutes. Even as the world looks more grim every news cycle, I find hope in the record number of women running for office who are ready, willing, and able to take on this issue. Women who may, quite literally, save the world.
(This piece was originally published in Bustle.)