New York Moves Closer to Nuclear Divestment
The New York City Council held a mind-blowing and historic open hearing yesterday, on legislation that would require the City of New York to divest its pensions funds from any trafficking in the production of nuclear weapons, and call on the U.S. government to sign and ratify the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), adopted by 122 nations in 2017. It would also set up a special Commission to review NYC’s role in building the bomb and the City’s stellar string of actions in resisting it, including declaring itself a nuclear-weapon-free zone, turning out a million people in 1982 in Central Park, cleaning up radiated sites polluted by nuclear experiments, and hosting the UN negotiations for the new treaty which won the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN, a Nobel Peace Prize. They don’t call the making of the atomic bomb the Manhattan Project for nothing!
The most inspiring part of the hearing was the open and democratic process, where everyone who could, did actually testify. More than 60 people took the opportunity to share their expertise and experience on every aspect of the nuclear bomb, including moving pleas from the first people of New York, the Lenape nation, to preserve and respect Mother Earth. The written testimony will soon be posted on the Council website.
The good fellowship in the Council hearing room, between civil society and government members, should inspire us to follow up after the vote, which has a supermajority now sponsoring it and is likely to have easy passage. We might ask the Council, once it has voted, as part of its pledge to call on the US government to sign and ratify the ban treaty, to begin by contacting NY’s Senators and Congressional delegation. Perhaps the Council could convene them at a meeting and urge them to sign ICAN’s parliamentary pledge and brainstorm on how Congress can forward the action.
One way forward would be to convince the NY Congressional delegation to begin a call for legislation calling on a halt and moratorium on any new nuclear weapons development and refurbishing contemplated in the one trillion dollar deal Obama proposed and Trump continued for two new bomb factories, nuclear weapons, and new delivery systems by air, ship, and space. And during such a freeze on any new development, to move to immediate negotiations with Russia and urge both countries to start down the path to compliance with the newly enacted TPNW which provides steps on how nuclear weapons states may join.
To ease us forward on this path, perhaps we should be seeking to make contacts with citizens in Moscow and St Petersburg, as our two nations possess 13,000 of the current global arsenals of 14,000 lethal nuclear bombs. We could ask our City Council to become a sister city with those mutually-targeted major Russian cities, all the while our countries’ 2500 nuclear- tipped missiles are aimed to destroy each other, while destroying all life on earth in the process, should even a small part of their catastrophic power ever be unleashed! The forces seemed to be aligning with the people yesterday, and it’s time to keep the momentum going.
ALICE SLATER’S TESTIMONY:
Dear Members of the New York City Council
My name is Alice Slater and I’m on the Board of World Beyond War and a UN Representative of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. I am so grateful to this Council for stepping up to the plate and taking historic action to finally ban the bomb! I was born in the Bronx and went to Queens College, when tuition was only five dollars a semester, in the 1950s during the terrible Red Scare of the McCarthy era. At the height of the Cold War we had 70,000 nuclear bombs on the planet. There are now 14,000 with about 13,000 bombs held by the US and Russia. The other seven nuclear-armed countries—have 1,000 bombs between them. So it’s really up to us and Russia to move first to negotiate for their abolition as outlined in the new Treaty. At this time, none of the nuclear weapons states and our US partners in NATO, Japan, Australia and South Korea are supporting it.
It may surprise you to know, that Russia has generally been the eager proposer of treaties for verified nuclear and missile disarmament, and, sadly, it is our country, in the grip of the military-industrial complex, that Eisenhower warned against, that provokes the nuclear arms race with Russia, from the time Truman rejected Stalin’s request to put the bomb under UN control, to Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Obama rejecting Gorbachev and Putin proposals, documented in my submitted testimony, to Trump walking out of the INF Treaty.
Walt Kelly, cartoonist of the Pogo comic strip during the 1950s Red Scare, has Pogo saying, “We met the enemy and he is us!”
We now have a breakthrough opportunity for global grassroots actions in Cities and States to reverse course from plummeting our Earth into catastrophic nuclear disaster. At this moment, there are 2500 nuclear tipped missiles in the US and Russia targeting all of our major cities. As for New York City, as the song goes, “If we can make it here, we’ll make it anywhere!” and it’s wonderful and inspiring that a majority of this City Council is willing to add it’s voice for a nuclear free world! Thank you so much!!
By Tim Wallis
(One of many panels testifying before the New York City Council (left to right): Rev. T.K. Nakagaki, Heiwa Foundation; Michael Gorbachev, relative of Mikhail; Anthony Donovan, author/ documentarian; Sally Jones, Peace Action NY; Rosemarie Pace, Pax Christi NY; Mitchie Takeuchi, Hibakusha Stories. PHOTO: Brendan Fay)
January 29, 2020: New York City moved one step closer to divesting from nuclear weapons this week, after a joint committee hearing in City Hall. As the hearing began, the only opposition was from the Mayor’s Office on a technicality, and the committee was still one vote short of a veto-proof majority. But it looks like the tireless efforts of a small group of campaigners from New York City, calling themselves NYCAN, are about to finally bear fruit, after nearly two years of intense lobbying of the City Council.
After hearing testimonies from about 60 people, the Mayor’s Office moved quickly to announce they would “find a way” to resolve the technicality, and Council Member Fernando Cabrera announced his support for divestment. With Cabrera’s support, these two resolutions now have a veto-proof majority of support on the New York City Council, and with withdrawal of opposition from the Mayor’s office they are almost certain to go through sometime in the coming weeks.
The first of the two bills, introduced by Council Member Daniel Dromm, is INT 1621, which calls for the establishment of an Advisory Committee to investigate and report on New York City’s status as a “nuclear weapons-free zone,” a status New York City has had since 1983. The second, RES 976, calls on the City Comptroller to divest the pension funds of public employees in New York City “to avoid any financial exposure to companies involved in the production and maintenance of nuclear weapons.” It also calls on the federal government to support and join the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Council Member Dromm said he was “energized” by the testimony coming from wide range of organizations and from people ranging in age from 19 to 90, from descendants of the original Lenape Nation inhabitants of Manhattan to Nobel Peace Prize-winning members of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
Other speakers ranged from proud New Yorkers to survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, from a soldier involved in numerous nuclear bomb tests in Nevada to a relative of Mikhail Gorbachev, from elderly activists who repeatedly spend years in jail for protesting nuclear weapons to bankers and investment experts explaining why divestment from nuclear weapons is actually beneficial to their portfolios.
Manhattan, epicenter of the invention of nuclear weapons, is still suffering from radioactive contamination from those days. A Teamster recalled working in a warehouse where the High Line is now, where barrels were radiating heat and melting the asphalt on the floor. There were multiple mentions of the Doomsday Clock, started in 1947 by guilt-wracked Manhattan Project scientists, which is now “set” closer to “midnight” that at any time in history.
Manhattan has been home to human life for 3,000 years. But expert testimony made clear that one nuclear weapon could erase all the people, animals, art and architecture, and that the radioactivity would last for way more than 3,000 years into the future. New York City, of course, is a prime target for nuclear attack.
Written testimony was also submitted by people from all over the world, including from the Office of the Dalai Lama, and from US Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton of D.C., whose bill H.R. 2419 would de-fund US nuclear weapons and shift the taxpayer dollars to green technologies, jobs, and alleviation of poverty.
Although New York City pensions have less than $500 million invested in the nuclear weapons industry, one-tenth its level of investments in fossil fuels, divestment by New York would be hugely significant to the global movement to abolish nuclear weapons and put financial pressure on the companies responsible.
New York City oversees five pension funds, which between them represent the fourth largest public pension program in the country, with over $200 billion worth of investments. In 2018, the City Comptroller announced that the city had begun a five-year process of divesting the pension funds of more than $5 billion from the fossil fuel industry. Nuclear weapons divestment is a more recent phenomenon, boosted by the adoption in 2017 of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
So far, two of the largest pension funds in the world, the Norwegian Sovereign Fund and ABP of the Netherlands, have committed to divesting from the nuclear weapons industry. Other financial institutions in Europe and Japan, including Deutchebank and Resona Holdings have joined more than 36 others who have decided to divest from nuclear weapons. In the US, cities like Berkeley, CA, Takoma Park, MD and Northampton, MA, have divested, along with Amalgamated Bank of New York and Green Century Fund in Boston.