by Felice Cohen-Joppa (originally published in The Nuclear Resister on March 10, 2018)
Members of the Pacific Life Community converged at the Las Vegas Catholic Worker house from March 2 – 4 for their annual gathering to protest nuclear weapons. Twenty-four of them were arrested on Sunday, March 4 during a nonviolent action at the Nevada nuclear test site.
They kicked off the weekend with an hour-long vigil on Friday afternoon, holding signs and banners in front of the nearby offices of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). [The NNSA manages eight nuclear weapons-related sites: the Y-12 nuclear complex, Pantex Plant, Nevada National Security Site (formerly known as the Nevada Test Site), Los Alamos National Lab, Livermore National Lab, Sandia National Lab, Savannah River Site and Kansas City Plant.]
After the vigil, Friday and Saturday’s schedule was filled with regional updates, activist story-telling, nonviolence exploration, action planning, an open mic and a Service of Remembrance for Fr. Jerry Zawada, OFM. There were excellent presentations from Sr. Ardeth Platte and Sr. Carol Gilbert on the nuclear weapons ban treaty, and from Leona Morgan, Peter Clark, Eileen Shaughnessy, Denise Brown and Susan Schuurman of the Nuclear Issues Study Group, who came from New Mexico to talk about “Dismantling the Nuclear Beast”.
On Sunday morning, the group drove about 60 miles northwest of Las Vegas. They gathered for a liturgy in the desert outside of the boundary fence of the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS). Afterwards, they carried signs and banners the short distance to the road leading into the test site, where they joined hands in a circle to learn the Elm Dance, a dance that is performed “to celebrate commitment to life and solidarity with activists the world over”.
The activists then proceeded to the boundary line, where Sr. Ardeth Platte told the test site/NNSA employees and Nye County sheriffs on the other side of the line that the group was there to let them know about the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that was signed by 122 countries at the U.N. on July 7, 2017. The treaty, which will come into force 90 days after it’s ratified by 50 countries, prohibits the development, testing, production, manufacture, possession, stockpiling, sharing, use and threat to use nuclear weapons. At Sr. Ardeth’s invitation, one of the NNSA employees accepted a copy of the treaty. With copies of the treaty in hand, two dozen people then crossed onto NNSS property. They were escorted to the nearby pen, where they were briefly held before being processed and released.
Those arrested were:
Sr. Carol Gilbert
Fr. Steve Kelly
Sr. Lil Mattingly
Mary Jane Parrine
Sr. Ardeth Platte
One hundred atmospheric nuclear tests took place at the 1,300+ square mile site between 1951 and 1962, followed by more than 800 underground nuclear tests through 1992, when the U.S. put a hold on full scale nuclear weapons testing. Since then, sub-critical tests have been conducted there in underground tunnels. More than 15,000 activists have been arrested at the Nevada test site over the past six decades in protest of nuclear weapons testing.
The nuclear test site occupies Western Shoshone land, in violation of the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley. The Western Shoshone National Council has declared their nation a Nuclear Free Zone.
The Pacific Life Community weekend ended in Las Vegas with a concert by Eileen and the In-betweens (and a couple of songs by guest artist Vera Anderson, who had been arrested earlier that day), followed by dinner at the Las Vegas Catholic Worker. The Pacific Life Community will next meet in the San Francisco/Bay area on March 15 – 18, 2019.
The Pacific Life Community is a network of spiritually motivated activists from U.S. Pacific coast and other western states who engage in anti-nuclear direct action. They protest at different nuclear weapons-related sites each year on or around March 1, which is Nuclear-Free and Independent Pacific Day and the anniversary of the Bravo nuclear bomb detonation by the U.S. at the Bikini Atoll in 1954.