Tomorrow is Hiroshima Day, a time to remember the dreadful destructiveness of nuclear weapons. A time to remember that our country is the only country ever to have used these inhuman weapons — twice. And it is a time to rededicate ourselves to the complete abolition of nuclear weapons. There are today still nearly 15,000 nuclear warheads in the hands of nine countries.
I’ll be hosting a special edition of Other Voices TV about the current state of nuclear weapons and the continuing abolition movement. I’m looking forward to my conversation with Jackie Cabasso, a nuclear abolition activist for over 30 years, and Jon Rainwater, Executive Director of Peace Action. Here are the details. I hope you’ll join me for this forum.
But for this post, I wanted to briefly relate the story of one particular anti-nuclear weapons protest that I participated in because it was particularly memorable.
It was on Hiroshima Day, August 6, 1982, one day before my wife and I would celebrate our eleventh wedding anniversary. We decided to mark the occasion by getting arrested together at the annual Hiroshima Day protests at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories. It would be our first act of civil disobedience. (I had been arrested once before for political activity, but not willingly. Please see my earlier post, My First Thoughtcrime.)
On that Friday in 1982, over a thousand people gathered at the gates to the Livermore Labs, where the nation’s nuclear weapons are designed. Starting at about 6:00 am, groups of 20 – 30 people would sit in the driveway entrance to the labs in order to keep the engineers from getting to their death-dealing work. Barb and I were in the first group and we were duly arrested after sitting in for about 10 minutes. After us followed another wave and another wave of driveway sitters. I think around 300 people in all were arrested that day.
As is the custom, men and women were separated — we’d be going to different jails, after all.
When they first arrested us, we were handcuffed in standard metal police cuffs. After being escorted to the bus that would transport us to Santa Rita Jail, the metal cuffs were removed and swapped for the disposable plastic zip tie variety. The metal cuffs were then taken back to the front lines to be reused.
As I was sitting in the police bus, waiting until it filled with protesters before it would transport us to the Santa Rita Jail, I noticed my wife was just outside my window. Our eyes met and we smiled at each other. Barb was surrounded by about a half dozen Alameda County sheriffs, who were taking turns trying to get the little key that unlocked the handcuffs to work. It wouldn’t. Barb was stuck in her metal handcuffs.
As each new officer tried to work the key, the protesters on our bus started a chant of “Open! Open! Open!” Barb was laughing her head off. When one of the officers finally succeeded, a huge cheer went up from the bus. Barb laughed and waved and threw the peace sign as she was taken away to the women’s bus.
I didn’t see her for the next five days.
Quite often in civil disobedience cases, if you get arrested you can usually “cite and release”. You sign a citation — akin to a speeding ticket — promising to show up for the appointed court date. But for this action, it had been collectively decided that we would try to throw a wrench into the system by refusing to identify ourselves, a prerequisite for cite and release. None of us had even brought identification.
The system threw the wrench right back at us. Under the law, an arrestee must be arraigned within 72 hours of their arrest — but weekends don’t count. So we spent five days in the county lockup, until a judge was brought to the jail late on Tuesday afternoon to do the formal arraignments. The authorities used every minute of their allotted 72 hours.
We were released into the warm embrace of a large waiting crowd. Barb was already out and waiting for me. We hugged and kissed and headed home for an anniversary dinner.
Barb died in 2004, but of course she’s always in my memory, especially each year when our anniversary date rolls around. We celebrated a total of 32 anniversaries. I often think of August 1982 as the best celebration.
If you’d like to mark this anniversary in some way — Hiroshima or our wedding — a world without nuclear weapons would do very nicely, thank you.