Protesting Nuclear Weapons Takes on New Meaning in Trump’s America

On the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan, Karen Topakian took action to say "no" to the violent, dangerous rhetoric of the Trump administration and "yes" to a world without nuclear weapons.

Lawrence Livermore Lab Nuclear Protest Nagasaki Day

Activists stage a "die-in" blocking the entrance to the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory's nuclear testing site. Photo by Karen Topakian.

Last Wednesday, on the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan, 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 just the day before, our president unleashed a harsh, aggressive, bullying statement putting the planet at risk. Because Donald Trump threatened the “fire and fury” of nuclear war against North Korea.

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

My heart grew heavier as I approached the gates. For decades, I have come to the Lab either on either August 6, Hiroshima Day, or August 9, Nagasaki Day, to oppose its testing and design 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 though. After my role in dropping a huge RESIST banner above the White House in January, I entered a sentencing agreement with a DC judge that means I cannot be arrested in any part of the country for six months. As part of my practice of and commitment to non-violence, I needed to keep my promise.

Lawrence Livermore Lab Nuclear Protest Nagasaki Day

In previous years 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. I’ve thought about those who risked arrest by committing acts of non-violent civil disobedience to abolish slavery, oppose war, demand women’s rights to vote, and defend the rights of LGBTQ people and people of color. Today was different.

Today, was one of those 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 in. 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, and these people lifted my heart and gave me hope.

Karen Topakian

Karen Topakian

Karen Topakian is the Greenpeace Inc. Board Chair.

She started her career at Greenpeace in San Francisco in 1987, when she joined the Nuclear Free Seas campaign. On January 25, 2017, she was one of seven Greenpeace activists who deployed a massive, hand-painted banner reading “RESIST” for the Trump administration and the world to see. 

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