Thank you Daniel Ellsberg for Naming My Religion

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by Karen Topakian

On a warm August 6th morning, Daniel Ellsberg stood next to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and publicly declared his religion as nonviolent resistance to nuclear weapons.

I too announced my commitment to this religion.

After his declaration, I participated in one of my religion’s annual rituals – commemorating the August 1945 nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by joining a die-in at the gates to the Lab. (The Lab tests and designs nuclear weapons.)

My commitment to this August ritual started in 1982, when I protested at the entrance to the Pentagon and at the National Air and Space Museum next to the exact replica of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” the bombs dropped on Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. Thereafter in Rhode Island, I protested at Electric Boat, which manufactures Trident nuclear-armed submarines.

For more than 10 years, I have faithfully made a pilgrimage to this Lab to mark the moment that occurred long before I was born but has dominated the world ever since.

I claim these days as holy days to recall the horror the US unleashed on Japan and the world.

Holy days to reflect on the cascading events that have led to environmental destruction and loss of life.

Holy days to invigorate us to re-double our efforts to end this chapter in human history.

I hope in my lifetime my religion will no longer need practicing because we will have abolished all nuclear weapons. Until then, my religious practice will continue.

Nagasaki Day

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by Karen Topakian

Today, on the 72nd Anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, I walked to the gates at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory with a heavy heart.

Heavy because as Americans we find ourselves farther away from nuclear abolition then we have been in decades. Because on Tuesday, our president unleashed a harsh, aggressive, bullying statement putting the planet at risk – he threatened to rain nuclear war on North Korea.

Other presidents have threatened other nations with nuclear war, but none have done so with such fervor and with such a slim connection to reality and to the devastating effects nuclear war would have on all life forms.

My heart grew heavier as I approached the gates. For decades, I have come to the Lab either on either August 6th, Hiroshima Day or on the 9th, Nagasaki Day, to oppose the Lab’s testing and designs of nuclear weapons. On every other occasion, I’ve risked arrest by lying down in the road, blocking the gate. Stopping business as usual for these architects of death and destruction.

Today I couldn’t risk arrest because as part of a sentencing agreement I had promised a judge in Washington, DC that I would not get arrested for 6 months for any reason anywhere in the country. As part of my practice of, and commitment to, nonviolence, I needed to keep my promise.

On other days, when I’ve lain down on the hard road under the blazing sun, to create a die-in, a simulation of what life would be like if a nuclear weapon landed in our community, our state, our country, I’ve thought about those who have come before me. Those who risked arrest by committing acts of nonviolent civil disobedience to abolish slavery, oppose war, demand women’s right to vote and defend the rights of LGBTQ people and people of color. Today was different.

Today, I with others was responsible for my fellow activists. I had agreed to serve as a legal observer – to watch the police as they arrested people, count those taken into custody and ensure the police released everyone.

My heart grew lighter as I watched 47 brave men and women put their lives and their freedom on the line for what they believed and into the hands of law enforcement. I watched 47 brave women and men make August 9, 2017, a day when people said No to the Lab and Yes to a world without nuclear weapons.

These acts, these moments, these people lifted my heart and gave me hope.

 

How I spent Aug 9, Nagasaki Day

by Karen Topakian

While lying on the warm black pavement this morning. In front of a gate at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. Where nuclear weapons are designed. On the 66th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, Japan. I thought to myself “What if this were real?”

What if the air raid siren that one of our group had sounded was real? What if this weren’t a die-in? Not a mock death but a real one.

What if the unthinkable had happened?  What if the US were being attacked by a nuclear weapon?

What would I do? If the attack were real, I would be dead. Vaporized.

As I thought about the unthinkable, members of our group outlined our bodies in chalk. Signifying that I, we, had been there.

A few feet away, three Taiko drummers pounded a beat that mimicked the pumping of the human heart.

An officer from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department interrupted my thoughts. He informed us four times that we would all be arrested if we didn’t move. We were blocking the road. Everyone listened. No one moved.

One by one the police arrested us all. Twenty in number. A nun, a Catholic priest, an attorney and activists from Western States Legal Foundation, Tri-Valley CARES and the Livermore Conversion Project. All charged with blocking the road.

Today wasn’t the first time I been arrested for opposing nuclear weapons. I’ve been bearing witness for close to 30 years.

Every year I wish it would be the last.  Every year I wish that the nuclear nations of the world would stop designing, building, testing and deploying nuclear weapons. And threatening others with their use.

But these governments won’t ever stop on their own. Not unless and until we make them. We, the citizens of the world, who oppose and abhor the spending of our resources and brainpower on weapons of mass destruction, must demand it.

That’s why I support Greenpeace and it’s 40-year history of opposing nuclear weapons.