Tomorrow, I will visit a place

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by Karen Topakian

I visit every year to commit an act I commit almost every year to mark an event that many have forgotten.

The U.S. bombing of Hiroshima, Japan on Aug 6, 1945.

I will go to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory because the Lab is the place where the US government continues to test and design nuclear weapons.

Tomorrow, I will listen to Daniel Ellsberg and others speak at a rally. I will march to the Lab gates. Lie on the ground when my colleagues sound the alarm at the time the US dropped an atomic uranium bomb, 8:15 a.m.

While I lie there, I will think about the terror that this one bomb unleashed on the world. The wars fought over which countries may have one. The wars threatened against the countries that want to have one or may have one. The lives lost on all sides from the radiation poisoning, from the testing, the uranium mining…. The dollars spent  protecting, designing and testing nuclear weapons.

I will cry at some point as I contemplate the enormity of the problem. The ability for nuclear weapons to destroy all life forms.

And I will laugh at myself wondering how lying on hot pavement in Livermore, CA could change anything about this global nightmare.

But I will stay down on the pavement until the police come to take me away because in this moment, at this time, lying down to block the gate is what I must do to ensure I never forget. Humanity never forgets. And we abolish these weapons forever.

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

by Karen Topakian

 

If I had a choice, I wouldn’t go to Livermore, California in August. It’s crazy hot.  And it’s scary dry.

But I don’t go to Livermore for the weather.

I go because nuclear weapons are created, developed and tested at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.  I go in August to commemorate the dropping of the first atomic bomb in Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945.

I go to risk arrest because I cannot stay home and let the anniversary of this event go unmarked. Go unnoticed.

Though Robert Oppenheimer and his gang developed and tested the atomic bombs dropped in Japan in New Mexico, Livermore Lab continues the legacy.

Plus Livermore flourishes in my backyard. My ‘hood. Staying away feels like I’m permitting them to conduct business as usual in my backyard.

And so I go to Livermore. To step in. To say no. To use my body against the further creation, production and testing of nuclear weapons.

The Lab and I have a long history. I’ve made this journey on this day and others, for more than 25 years, Sometimes wearing my Greenpeace campaigner hat, sometimes wearing my Western States Legal Foundation board member hat or my Agape Foundation executive director hat. This time, wearing my concerned citizen hat. Always with other nonviolent activists and people of faith, young and old, organized by Western States Legal Foundation, Tri-Valley CARES and other local anti-nuke organizations.

Under the baking mid-morning sun, I risk arrest lying on a hot black tar road at the entrance to the Lab’s West Gate. My body and my fellow protestors’ occupy the pavement.

The sun bears down on my back. On my arms. On my legs. I can feel sweat forming on my face. I don’t wipe the beads away. The smell of hot road fills my nostrils. Flies land on my hands. I don’t swat them away. I don’t move. I’m lying there, feigning death. In a mock die-in. To replicate the lives of those who fell on the streets of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on two August mornings when the US chose to unleash the unthinkable.

Fellow protestors outline our bodies in chalk on the pavement. Mimicking the effect of the Japanese people whose bodies, seared by the impact of the bomb, only left a shadow outline on the street.

A white piece of paper, proudly pinned to my chest, bears the name of Hiromu Morishita, a hibakusha, a survivor of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima. Mr. Morishita, president of the Senior High School Teachers’ Society and the Hiroshima Peace Education Institute in Japan, was one mile from the atomic bomb explosion, which severely scarred the left side of his face and blew off his ear.

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I think about all the lives lost on that day. And about the lives of those lost most recently in the Middle East and in Eastern Europe. I don’t distinguish between innocent lives and the lives of the not so innocent. I’m saddened by my inability to stop those deaths or to stop these weapons.

Committed to nonviolence, I haven’t seen a war I’ve liked or supported. They all end in bloodshed, trauma and destruction. They weigh heavy on our souls. Making us small and inhumane.

Eventually an Alameda County Sheriff approaches me, tells me if I leave I won’t be arrested. If I stay I will be. I don’t move. I can’t. And still remain true to myself.

I rise from the ground when the officer tells me I’m under arrest. Escorted by an officer in camouflaged riot gear, I walk past the phalanx of heavily uniformed police. The officer asks for my ID, then handcuffs my hands behind me. One hand holds my California drivers license.

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A female officer pats me down, looking for weapons, sharp objects. The only item in my pocket, a pin of Greenpeace’s ship, the Rainbow Warrior III. To remind me of one more reason why I am standing on the other side of the law.

Another officer helps me into a waiting van, already occupied by my fellow protestors. We introduce ourselves. Some I have known for decades. Others I meet for the first time. All friendly. All here for the same reason. The last person to join us, a nun in her 80s who attends religiously. We total 30.

The van drives a short distance; officers escort us out of the van into a warehouse, set up to handle the booking. Two women record the information on my license on two separate forms. I sign them both. I ink my thumbs for fingerprints. I receive a copy of my citation for blocking a roadway.

Since we are the last arrestees, the guards quickly escort us out the gate.

No officer asks us why we spent our morning remembering this day of horror for more than 200,000 Japanese people. But we all know why.

This wasn’t my first trip nor will it be my last to the scene of this crime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kiss, floss and shoot

by Karen Topakian

It’s commencement time. The time of year when noted figures, public figures, luminaries offer guidance and motivation to the graduating class. Everyone from Glenn Beck to Patti Smith to President Obama and his wife Michelle delivered their message.

According to the NY Times, Patti Smith spoke at Pratt’s commencement about the importance of dental care. John McCain spoke at Ohio Wesleyan University about failing and Meryl Streep talked at Barnard College about kissing. Kissing up. Kissing ass. Kissing romantically.

But Glenn Beck’s speech at Liberty University stands out for me. He said Shoot to kill. Excellent advice for students everywhere. And particularly for those graduating from a university where they don’t teach evolution. Or allow hand holding after dark.

If I were giving a commencement speech. I wouldn’t talk about oral hygiene or kissing or target practice. I’d give them the same advice my mother gave me during my teenage years: let your conscience be your guide. Can’t tell you how many times that stopped me dead in my tracks from doing something stupid or dangerous or both.

Or I’d expand on something Peg often includes in her speeches. Think of one thing you want to see changed in your life. For example, an end to the death penalty. Legalized same-sex marriage. Nuclear abolition. Stand up and say it loud and clear. Then commit yourself to making it come true.