Nuclear Weapons Free Zone

by Michael W. Stowell

September 17, 2001

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Humboldt County, California retains many unique qualities. It was the last place in the continental United States to be 'settled' by non-indigenous people, mainly because its bay was almost imperceptible from the Pacific Ocean and the massive redwood rainforest that surrounded it was all but impenetrable. Arcata is undoubtedly the most unique city in Humboldt and its municipal Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ) Commission is one example of why this city is so exceptional.

The Arcata NWFZ Commission was established by the City Council through Ordinance #1182 in 1989. At the time, local people were quite concerned about the possibility of radioactive contamination emanating from the Pacific Gas and Electric Company's nuclear powerplant at King Salmon, just a dozen miles south of Arcata. In fact, the plant was built on an active seismic fault and has since been shut down. Those concerns stimulated our political representatives and we joined a global movement that expressed itself by establishing Nuclear Free Zones and later, Nuclear Weapons Free Zones. It is the City of Arcata's belief that all radioactive material has a high potential for use as a weapon.

The Commission was assigned specific duties. The City of Arcata recognized that proliferation of nuclear weapons is primarily driven by those who profit from the research, development and deployment of nuclear weapons and from the threat those weapons pose to other nations and peoples. Therefore, the City has resolved to not purchase goods or services from companies involved in contracting for research, development and/or any other part in the nuclear weapons cycle. We maintain a list of those contractors, it is published on our website at: http://www.arcatacityhall/nukefree

The Commission is also responsible for educating citizens about nuclear weapons related issues. We have a broad scope: the expense of nuclear weapons; their destabilizing effect in regional conflicts; the long-lasting problems of related nuclear waste; factors that contribute to nuclear weapons proliferation, such as the planned Ballistic Missile Defense; treaties related to weapons testing and proliferation; and the very belief system that turns to violent measures when disagreements arise. We advocate peaceful alternatives to war.

Each year the Arcata City Council proclaims a specific day in August, during the week of August 6th and 9th, as "Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Commemoration Day." The Commission sponsors and organizes a commemorative and traditional 'peace-lantern ceremony' at dusk at our favorite trout pond on that day. The reason we commemorate the tragedies of 1945 is because the City of Arcata recognizes that governments or peoples who refuse to acknowledge mistakes made in the past are doomed to repeat them. Like Ralph Nader, Noam Chomski, William Blum, Ray Raphael, Howard Zinn and so many other leaders in the human and social rights movement, we realize that an important part of our educational function lies in clarifying how and why tragic mistakes have been made.

The Commission is also charged with establishing and maintaining communications with other NWFZs and organizations that have like-minded purpose. We have made vital contacts through Abolition 2000, an organization of more than 2000 governmental and non-governmental entities from around the world. We have well-established friendships in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and have been invited to participate in a global conference there this autumn. So far as anyone knows, Arcata has the only municipal NWFZ Commission in the world.

Currently, we are completing a project that will provide textbook covers for local students. Last spring we sponsored an art contest, the theme of which was peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons. The contest winners were awarded cash prizes and their creations are featured on this year's textbook covers and have also been placed on our website and on the community bulletin board for community access television. We hope to make this an annual project.

Our Commission has hosted several guest speakers in Arcata, most recently: Bruce Gagnon of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space; Carah Ong of Abolition 2000; former Lawrence Livermore scientists Dr. Andreas Toupadakis and Dr. Isaac Trotts; Dr. Leuren Moret of Scientists for Indigenous Peoples; and Dr. Stephen Zunes of the University of San Francisco, the Institute for Policy Studies and the Interhemispheric Resource Center.

We videotape our events and acquire other videotaped presentations for classroom teaching and telecasting. We have purchased magazine subscriptions, the Center For Defense Information's "Monitor" and "The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists," for our public library system. We distribute our world-famous 'Birds Not Bombs' bumper and bicycle stickers and our NWFZ brochure.

This year we will be working with The 7th Generation Fund hosting a local event in conjunction with "The Indigenous Peoples' Nuclear Summit" which will be held somewhere in the Southwest sometime in 2002. We are organizing a local event on October 13th, the International Day of Protest Against National Missile Defense. We will bring more speakers to town and are developing our own presentation for delivery to school classrooms and other groups. We continue to monitor developments related to the proposed Nuclear Waste Transportation Routes and will be keeping the public informed about that issue.

All in all, serving on this commission is one of the most rewarding and unique experiences in this activist's life.


       Michael W. Stowell is chairperson of both the City of Arcata, Humboldt County, CA, Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Commission and the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Arcata Library. He is the producer/editor/videographer of numerous public access television programs; he is a naturalist, a gardener, a bicyclist and a Swans columnist.

[Ed. Note: The City of Arcata, incorporated in 1858, is located in Humboldt County, on California's Redwood Coast, at the juncture of California Highway 101 and 299 West. The city is approximately 289 miles north of San Francisco, 150 miles west of Redding and 760 miles north of Los Angeles. The 1990 census reported Arcata's population as 15,197 and the county population as 119,118.]


         Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work on the Web without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Michael W. Stowell 2001. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

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Michael Stowell's Commentaries on Swans

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Published September 17, 2001
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