Youth Empowerment Director at the Nuclear
Age Peace Foundation in Santa Barbara, CA.
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From May 27-28, they camped by the dozens. Nearly 200 people
gathered outside of the Nevada Test Site, located in the
occupied Western Shoshone Nation, for a weekend of workshops,
ceremonies, rituals, a peace camp, and a rally and march
to the Test Site main gate.
The “Stop the Strake!” gathering, called
for by Western Shoshone spiritual leader Corbin Harney,
was originally conceived as a demonstration against the
US federal government’s planned 700-ton nuclear
weapon simulation bombing of Shoshone land, using Ammonium
Nitrate and Fuel Oil. It turned into a victory celebration
on the morning of the 27th, when the National Nuclear
Security Administration (NNSA) announced that the test
was “indefinitely postponed.”
Remarkably, the gathering was cobbled together by the
organizations involved - Shundahai Network, the Western
Shoshone Defense Project, Citizen Alert, Nevada Desert
Experience, and others -- within perhaps less than a month.
I personally only decided to make the trek out to Nevada,
from my hometown of Santa Barbara, on Thursday, May 25.
I arriving at the Amtrak station the following day just
minutes before the departure of the train on which my
trip depended. A sense of rushed anxiety, which no doubt
characterized the event for many of those involved, was
very much alive inside of me for most of the trip.
Upon getting to the Peace Camp outside of the Test Site,
located about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, the anxiety
turned into a mixture of excitement, determination, and
joy -- in short, a sense of community. Shortly after arriving,
I was given a pink "Lovarchy" (love and anarchy,
or the Rule of Love) t-shirt by Marcus Paige, a member
of the Board of Directors of Nevada Desert Experience
(NDE), whose "affinity group" I joined, not
in part because it also included my good friend Chelsea
Collonge and several other NDE members.
The gathering was an interesting mix of veteran Test
Site opponents and first-timers -- I was in the latter
category. Not surprisingly, even the vast majority of
the first-timers, myself included, are already committed
activists. I only met a small handful of people the entire
weekend who aren't already strongly involved in nuclear
disarmament or a related cause. The people hailed from
all parts of the western United States, including Nevada,
Utah, Arizona, California, Oregon, and New Mexico.
There hasn't been any kind of mass protest movement at
the Test Site since the late-'80s, though NDE, Shundahai,
and the Western Shoshone Defense Project maintain consistent
opposition on a smaller scale. Citizen Alert has been
strongly involved in the effort to prevent the Yucca Mountain
nuclear waste depository from being sited on the Western
Shoshone's land. Corbin Harney in particular devoted many
of his remarks at the gathering to reviewing the impressive
history of activism at the Test Site, including recalling
his 1987 global speaking tour to bring awareness to the
Western Shoshone struggle.
There were a series of workshops throughout the weekend,
including presentations by most of the indigenous activists
present, including Corbin Harney, Tom Goldtooth of the
Indigenous Environmental Network, John Wells of the Western
Shoshone National Council, Blue Thunder of the Eastern
Shoshone Nation, and multiple others. There was a non-violence
training on Saturday night, which got excellent reviews
from virtually everyone who participated, along with a
presentation on the Vandenberg Air Force Base by MacGregor
Eddy and one on current US nuclear weapons programs by
Andy Lichterman of Western States Legal Foundation.
Despite persistent government denials that “Divine
Strake” (or "Hellish Strake," as many
of us call it) would have had anything to do with nuclear
weapons, one of the Department of Defense’s own
planning documents acknowledges that the test was designed
to simulate the conditions of a tactical nuclear weapons
bunker-buster, as part of a program to “develop
a planning tool that will improve the warfighter’s
confidence in selecting the smallest proper nuclear yield
necessary to destroy underground facilities while minimizing
In the media coverage, there were few mentions of this
connection, or of the fact that the Test Site has been
the site of over 900 nuclear tests since 1952, 100 of
them above-ground. I imagine that many of the people who
followed the media coverage came away not knowing that
the NTS was strictly created to be a nuclear weapons testing
facility, is a nuclear weapons testing facility, and that
everything that’s done there is in some way relates
to creating and refining nuclear weaponry.
Nevertheless, the local media of Nevada and Utah did
some good reporting during the lead-up to the event and
regarding the event itself. Peggy Johnson of Citizen Alert
remarked in the Las Vegas Sun on Monday, May 29 that "It
isn't often that we the people win against the behemoth
called the United States government, but it happened."
It would be nice if such empowering messages were broadcast
in the media more widely.
Following a powerful and spirited rally on Sunday afternoon,
the march to the Test Site gate was led by Western Shoshone
and other indigenous activists, culminated with mass civil
disobedience and the arrest of over 50 people on charges
of Trespassing. The protestors were detained and released
after little more than an hour. While at the Test Site
gate, Western Shoshone National Council member John Wells
and Indigenous Environmental Network founder Tom Goldtooth
served notice to Test Site guards from the Nye County
Sheriff Department that they are in violation of the 1863
Treaty of Ruby Valley, obligating them under both Western
Shoshone and United States law to evacuate the premises.
I had the privilege of driving home part of the way with
Father Louie Vitale, a legendary Test Site demonstrator
who was fresh off a six-month jail sentence for protesting
at the School of Americas, and he remarked that he had
never seen the indigenous leaders so animated or assertive
during a Test site gathering.
The demonstrators conveyed a near-universal sense that
the government is likely to attempt to revive the "Divine
Strake" plan soon after public opposition dies down.
So while the protest marked a major victory against the
US nuclear weapons complex, most of us left feeling determined
to remain vigilant and keep the pressure on. Moreover,
the struggle for Western Shoshone liberation and closure
to the Test Site, as part of the simultaneous struggle
for nuclear abolition, goes on.