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Levers of change.

At the end of September, I spent a lovely weekend in Denver, Colorado. I went there to speak at a conference on disarmament called "Nuclear Abolition 2000." I accepted the invitation on one condition: that the organizers take me birdwatching for a couple of hours. You see, I rarely travel west of the Mississippi, and I wanted to sneak a peek or two at some birds I don't usually get to look at.

Mag and Ken Seaman met me at Denver's peculiar new airport and drove me all the way through town to a beautiful pond. Mag told me that avocets nest on the pond in the summer, and that she'd once seen a western tanager there. Alas, neither species bothered to show. But white-fronted geese greeted us noisily, black-crowned night herons (which we have in Madison, too) tried unsuccessfully to hide, and even a magpie made me happy, since I hadn't seen one for years.

When I spoke at the conference, I tried to make the point that reverence for nature is an integral part of peace activism. We are not the only inhabitants of this planet, and we need to stop acting like we are.

Fresh in my mind was a conversation I'd recently had with Stephen Jay Gould, the paleontologist, who came through Madison to promote his latest book, Full House. Gould points out that ours should not be called the Nuclear Age or even the Age of Man so much as the Age of Bacteria, since bacteria still predominate, surviving much longer than homo sapiens and indeed providing the building blocks for all life on this planet. If bacteria had a brain, Gould joked, they'd be laughing at us conceited humans. Of all our conceits, nuclear weapons are the most lavish. Who are we to make a device that can destroy all life on this planet?

I spoke in Denver just three days after Bill Clinton had signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and I outlined the hypocrisy of U.S. nuclear policy (see "Comment"). I noted the willingness of the U.S. government to continue testing these weapons-and to continue using them, especially in the Third World. And I argued that we need to work not only for disarmament, but for an end to the U.S. empire, for those weapons are in service of that empire.

I'm afraid I thoroughly depressed the group of eighty or ninety hard-core activists who attended. One man told me the next morning that he couldn't go to sleep for an hour, thanks to me.

Hope arrived the next day in the person of Karina Wood, who works for Peace Action, the successor to SANE/Freeze. Karina rightly pointed out that despite the flaws in the Test Ban treaty, it was nevertheless a major accomplishment, something peace activists have been seeking for four decades now.

And she argued for a more optimistic claim: that despite the quiescence of the peace movement, we've made a lot of advances since the Freeze petitions of the 1980s. We're no longer calling for a freeze on the existing numbers of nuclear weapons; now we're calling for nuclear abolition. "This is an unparalleled time for getting to zero," she said.

The Colorado group is just a small part of "Abolition 2000," an international campaign founded last year that already has more than 300 citizen groups behind it. It's the most promising sign I've seen in almost a decade that the peace movement is waking up. If you want to find out more information about it, contact: Karina Wood at Peace Action Education Fund 1819 H. St., NW, Suite 425, Washington, D.C., 20006-3603.

Finally, this dreary election season is coming to a close, with Bill Clinton shirking even the "liberal" label. In this issue, we give you one last sampling of progressive opinion on the subject, with Alexander Cockburn outlining the case against Clinton, and June Jordan offering reasons to vote for him. We also reserved a page of letters for readers who air out the usual arguments with unusual force.

I long ago made up my mind on this score, but it's up to you whether to hold your nose.

Jim Lehrer, the Presidential debate moderator and PBS anchor, said many months ago that the election is the only story this year. But I can't help feeling that this election has been just a huge sideshow. The socialist writer Barbara Garson once compared the quadrennial farce to a contest for student president. No matter which candidate prevails, the winner doesn't get to run the school.

I'm increasingly coming around to Garson's view, and to the view that Howard Zinn expresses at the end of Cockburn's article: The important thing is not what you do every four years on election day, but what you do in the intervening 1,460 days.

It seems to me that the peace activists out in Denver were doing some of the really serious political work, much more serious than pulling a lever in a polling booth.
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Title Annotation:political activism more important than just voting
Author:Rothschild, Mathew
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Nov 1, 1996
Words:838
Previous Article:Up From Conservatism.
Next Article:Bombs away.
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