The Ripple: Evanston first city in Midwest to support denuclearization efforts

Maya Reter and Clare Proctor

BILL REVELLE: As a college student, I was on an oceanographic expedition where we saw a nuclear test from about 1,500 nautical miles away. The sky just really lit up. This is enough to make one very concerned about nuclear weapons. People don’t realize how big they are, that it’s not just a bomb, it’s a very big bomb.

CLARE PROCTOR: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Clare Proctor.

MAYA RETER: And I’m Maya Reter. Welcome to The Ripple, a biweekly podcast covering the effects of state and national politics on the Evanston and Northwestern community. On this week’s episode, we discuss denuclearization, a typically national and even global issue that has become more local this year.

We just heard from Bill Revelle, a psychology professor at Northwestern. Bill and his wife, Evanston’s 7th Ward Alderman Eleanor Revelle, have both been involved in anti-nuclear weapon efforts for years.

BILL REVELLE: I grew up in the university community at UC San Diego before it was called UC San Diego. My father had been involved with the nuclear tests at Bikini. And so I remember seeing pictures of those nuclear tests. It’s the iconic photograph of a cloud of water coming up out of Bikini Atoll with a ship embedded in the column of water.

People just do not know how powerful these weapons are. We have a president who doesn’t understand how dangerous these things are modernizing our forces instead of getting rid of them.

MAYA RETER: On January 13, Evanston City Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution supporting nationwide denuclearization. The resolution stated that the city would send a letter to federal legislators to reinforce Evanston’s support of denuclearization at the national level. That would mean reducing the threat of nuclear war by requiring countries to negotiate the disarming of their nuclear warheads. The resolution came as a part of the Back from the Brink movement, a national grassroots effort to change nuclear policy. In approving this year’s resolution, Evanston became the first city in the Midwest to support Back from the Brink.

ELEANOR REVELLE: Evanston does like to be at the forefront of a lot of things, and certainly, the residents who were promoting the resolution were making sure people knew that Evanston was taking a leadership role here. They’re using that to try to influence other municipalities around the Midwest to sign on to the resolution as well.

MAYA RETER: That was Alderman Eleanor Revelle. Despite Evanston City Council’s unanimous vote in favor of the resolution, some aldermen had hesitations about supporting it.

ELEANOR REVELLE: The big barrier was the question of, why should we spend any of our time and staff resources in even talking about something that’s not going to be something that a city ordinance can affect? Even though it was minimal in terms of the staff resources, there was pushback initially: why should we do that since it’s not something that’s really affecting us directly, locally?

MAYA RETER: However, because Evanston Mayor Steve Hagerty is involved in groups supporting denuclearization, and Evanston has been a nuclear-free zone since 1985, the council ultimately rallied toward their denuclearization stance.

ELEANOR REVELLE: Mayors for Peace is promoting efforts to encourage all countries to sign on to the UN treaty, the treaty of the prohibition of nuclear weapons. Also, our mayor is a member of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and they endorse the action calls from the Mayors for Peace. Because of our membership in those two organizations, it felt very reasonable that Evanston would sign on to this resolution.

CLARE PROCTOR: As a result of this resolution, the Evanston City Council will send a letter to its federal legislators arguing in support of denuclearization legislation.

ELEANOR REVELLE: They recognize the dangers of nuclear weapons. It always bolsters the strength of their support to hear from the grassroots and then to move ahead and maybe introduce legislation or something that will further these goals. It’s clear that oftentimes, it takes hearing from regular citizens for legislators to realize that they need to actually pass some laws to make some changes.

CLARE PROCTOR: During the January 13 Evanston City Council meeting where the resolution was passed, a number of local groups and residents spoke on its behalf. It was first introduced by faith-based organizations, including Northwestern’s Sheil Catholic Center. Here’s Father Kevin Feeney, the director chaplain of the Sheil center, who has attended multiple city council meetings to speak in favor of Evanston’s involvement in denuclearization.

KEVIN FEENEY: Part of Catholic social teaching is the sacredness of life and the dignity of the human person, and nuclear armaments fly in the face of that. We strongly believe that Christ’s kingdom is one of peace and justice, and so working for peace is at the heart of the gospel. It’s hard to imagine having weapons that could cause such destruction. It’s hard to imagine using weapons that would compromise the environment so dramatically.

CLARE PROCTOR: As denuclearization is a wide-reaching issue, it can be difficult at first for people to grasp what can be done on a personal level to make an impact.

KEVIN FEENEY: From a faith perspective, I think prayer is a big deal, but I think also (being) involved more with the democratic process, that’s just crucial. We’ve seen underwhelming responses to voting in our country. People aren’t turning out in enough numbers, so anything that can mobilize them to support life and death issues would be a real contribution.

It’s a difficult issue; it’s probably divisive even in Evanston, but I think the idea is to get people talking, get a kind of a ground swell locally.

CLARE PROCTOR: To continue the Evanston community’s conversation about denuclearization efforts, Tomihisa Taue, the mayor of Nagasaki, Japan, will be coming to Northwestern on May 4 to speak. The archbishop of Nagasaki, Joseph Mitsuaki Takami, is also planning on coming to speak at St. Nicholas Parish in Evanston in early October.

Weinberg Prof. Hirokazu Miyazaki helped coordinate the mayor’s visit in early May. The anthropology professor — who studies peace activism with a focus on Nagasaki — was appointed by the mayor to serve as the peace correspondent for Nagasaki. He’s been serving in this role since February of 2018.

HIROKAZU MIYAZAKI: My responsibility is to coordinate and organize opportunities for exchange and learning concerning Nagasaki’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons.

CLARE PROCTOR: The current political climate is shifting away from reaching any sort of global denuclearization agreement.

HIROKAZU MIYAZAKI: The threat of nuclear warfare is quite intensifying at the moment, particularly after the countries that possess nuclear weapons are moving away from multilateral, bilateral kind of frameworks for nuclear disarmament and the reduction of nuclear weapons. None of the countries that possess nuclear weapons are participating, not even considering signing or ratifying it.

CLARE PROCTOR: At the present moment, denuclearization won’t mean getting rid of all nuclear warheads tomorrow, but rather, a much more long-term negotiation.

HIROKAZU MIYAZAKI: There will be a long process with the ultimate goal of abolition of nuclear weapons. But at the moment, the U.S. and Russia are now back in an arms race, and the tension between the two countries is quite high. Other countries like North Korea are developing nuclear weapons. The urgency really revolves around the need to to stop this race and get all the parties concerned back at the table and resume conversation towards that ultimate goal.

MAYA RETER: For those in the scientific community, denuclearization has been increasingly flagged as a national issue that could have major catastrophic effects. In addition to teaching psychology at Northwestern, Bill Revelle is also a governing board member of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

BILL REVELLE: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded by a number of physicists at the University of Chicago. They’d been responsible for designing and building the first atomic weapon. They had this great regret about it and they wanted to alert fellow scientists and the world of the dangers of nuclear weapons. As a consequence, they started publishing this little newsletter, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which has grown over the years. It’s an international group of natural scientists, social scientists around the world.

MAYA RETER: One thing the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is known for is announcing its annual doomsday clock, how many minutes — or seconds — the world is to midnight, which represents the point of a global catastrophe. This year, the Bulletin moved the clock from two minutes to midnight, to 100 seconds to midnight.

This was the first time it’s gone to closer than two minutes. Partly, it’s nuclear weapons, which is the main concern but also climate change. The Bulletin is concerned about these existential threats. And that’s partly why I’m very involved with it is I’m actually very concerned about climate change. But I’m also very concerned about nuclear weapons.

MAYA RETER: As Evanston continues to take political stances as a city in favor of denuclearization, people can make a difference individually by voting and educating themselves, reading up on the latest nuclear updates, including those released by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

BILL REVELLE: Part of the mission of the Bulletin is to make people not frightened. Cautiously worried, but not give up. We think you can do something. We can stop climate change. We can stop the threat of nuclear weapons. It’s much simpler, actually, to stop nuclear weapons. It just takes 67 senators to agree on a treaty, and it takes a number of countries to agree. And we can do it.

MAYA RETER: According to the Bulletin, the first step is the recognition that nuclear weapons are a serious threat.

BILL REVELLE: A small nuclear device would take out most of Chicago. That’s a small one, not a big one. And why do we have them? There is no rational reason.

There were several times we got damn close to having a nuclear war by accident. And we don’t know this. obviously people do, but not enough people do. The whole purpose of the Evanston resolution and national resolution is to get citizens involved because the only way the government is going to stop having these weapons is if enough citizens say this is enough.

MAYA RETER: Citizen advocates made their voices heard in the city council meetings, including Evanston resident Margaret Nelson, who advocated for denuclearization through song.

MARGARET NELSON: (singing) If the north half of earth starts swapping bombs, swapping bombs, oh, swapping bombs, that nuclear dust will come home to mom. We’re living in just one world.

So I won’t apologize or ask anybody’s pardon, anybody’s pardon, anybody’s pardon. I don’t want plutonium polluting my garden. We’re living in just one world (cheers).

MAYA RETER: Thanks for listening. Catch us on the next episode of The Ripple. This episode was reported and produced by me, Maya Reter, and Clare Proctor. The audio editor is Kalen Luciano, the digital managing editor is Heena Srivastava and the editor in chief of The Daily Northwestern is Troy Closson.

Email: [email protected], [email protected]
Twitter: @MayaReter, @ceproctor23

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