FREE SPEECH ZONE | Two Minnesotans Arrested For Declaring Independence


37 anti-nuclear activists were arrested this morning at the entrance to the Y-12 Nuclear Weapons Plant outside Oak Ridge, TN as part of a group under the statement “Declaration of Independence from Nuclear Weapons at Y-12”. Twenty-three people were arrested for blocking the highway entrance to the plant with a banner inscribed with “Independence From Nuclear Terrorism” while 14 others went under the barbed wire fence and nonviolently entered the property. The former group faces state “obstruction of highway” charges, a misdemeanor; the latter group faces federal trespass charges. This more serious charge can result in up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.

The group arrested included Steve Clemens from Minneapolis and Pepperwolf from Red Wing. Both are members of the local AlliantACTION group which protests radioactive weapons made by Minnesota’s largest war profiteer, Alliant Techsystems in Eden Prairie at a weekly vigil. They attended a weekend conference held in eastern Tennessee along with three others from the Twin Cities area. The conference, “Resistance for a Nuclear Free Future was scheduled to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Nukewatch, The Nuclear Resister, and the Plowshares 8, the first act of nuclear disarmament by activists at the GE weapons facility in King of Prussia, PA.

Four of the original Plowshares 8 members were present as was the widow of a fifth. They were joined by close to two dozen other Plowshares activists, one of who has served over 18 years in prison for his nonviolent resistance to the bomb. Over two hundred attended the event held at Maryville College, about 25 miles from Oak Ridge, the site of the enrichment of the uranium for the first atomic bomb dropped by the US on Hiroshima, Japan in August 1945.

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But the Y-12 Plant, renamed the “Y-12 National Security Complex” after the September 11th attacks, is not just an historical landmark – it remains as a central cog in the nuclear weapons machinery today. OREPA, the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, is one of several groups organized in opposition to our present nuclear policy. They informed the conference about the misnamed “Life Extension Program” under which the Y-12 plant is refurbishing all US nuclear weapons so that they can continue to threaten others for another 100-120 years. Under the guise of “modernization”, they are part of a plan to build a whole new generation of nuclear weapons with greater accuracy – now to hit unknown targets with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the excuse used in the past to justify the trillions spent since the 1940s.

The arrested activists carried with them “A Declaration of Independence from Nuclear Weapons at Y-12”. Stating “… Current Law requires an end to all planning, preparation, production, threat, or use of nuclear weapons and adherence to the fundamental rules and principles of Humanitarian Law”, the declaration described the illegal nuclear weapons designed at the Y-12 plant and claimed that “… we exercise our duty to protect children and future generations.”

Ironically, the new START Treaty President Obama is pursuing is being coupled with a promise to spend billion of tax dollars to build newer nuclear weapons to replace some of those being dismantled by the Treaty in order to secure Republican votes in the Senate for it. In fact, Obama’s 2011 budget calls for an increase of 14% for the NNSA nuclear weapons program, the largest increase for any federal agency while at the same time calling for zero increase in education and the environment. As one conference speaker said, “follow the money. Bob Dylan once said, ‘Money doesn’t talk – it swears!'”

Despite the seriousness of the conference topic, there was much laughter and celebration. Guy and Candie Carawan, folk singing troubadours from the bygone labor and civil rights struggles traveled from nearby Highlander Center to lead the conference in songs; several anti-nuclear activists from Australia led a contingent of clowns which greatly enlivened the resistance arrests. Puppetistas and skits both informed and entertained. It was a celebration of continued nonviolent resistance to both nuclear power generation as well as nuclear weapons over the past three decades.

Many of those gathered had been “jailed for justice”, many meeting one another behind jail bars over the years. There were many joyful reunions from people scattered all over the country. Two of the veteran leaders of the movement told jokes or funny stories from their numerous protest actions. A priest in his 70s wept as he listened to a sister arrestee talk about what their action together decades ago did to change her life and inspire her life-long commitment to peace with justice.

Although many Americans associate the “ban the bomb” movement with either the 1950s or the 1980s, a young peoples contingent calling themselves “Think Outside the Bomb” is stepping forth to join the veterans of the anti-nuclear movement. And as politicians look desperately for alternatives to the environmental and climate threats posed by fossil fuels (think of the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico and the recent coal mine disaster, not to mention mountain-top removal or threats to wilderness areas), many are jumping on a bandwagon under the illusive promise of nuclear power as a “clean energy”. Nevermind the fact that Wall Street refuses to finance new nuclear facilities, there is no feasible solution to either nuclear waste storage nor any viable plan BP deep water oil rig.

This conference and the act of resistance by the activists are timely reminders that we must be careful of our decisions and directions, choosing peaceful, sustainable technologies for future generations and ourselves.