August 6th and 9th mark the 67th anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Close to 200,000 people were killed in mere moments in these attacks by the United States, in some of the most gruesome and horrific ways possible. Each year, people around the world reflect on this solemn occasion, and peace activists rededicate themselves to abolishing nuclear weapons worldwide.
We owe it to the Hibakusha (a-bomb survivors) to analyze how well we are doing in this quest. While substantial reductions in sheer numbers of nuclear weapons have been made, particularly in the giant arsenals of the U.S. and Russia, we are not moving nearly fast enough toward a nuclear weapons-free world. This is largely due to a combination of public indifference, lack of political courage and will in elected officials and the vested interests and power of the Dr. Strangeloves in the nuclear weapons establishment. An honest assessment of the global nuclear disarmament movement calls for new strategies to “Ban the Bomb.”
Our movement needs new energy, new activists, and new strategies to revitalize the vital work for nuclear abolition. It is time to learn from other vibrant and creative new movements targeting the corporate powers that undermine the will and interests of the people. Our colleagues at the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) have produced a powerful tool to help us do exactly that. Don’t Bank on the Bomb is a comprehensive study of the largest nuclear weapons corporations worldwide and the companies with whom they do business. The report outlines ideas for boycott and divestment campaigns targeting the corporations that make or help fund nuclear weapons.
Most of the large nuclear weapons producers – Babcock and Wilcox, Bechtel, Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, to name a few – are hard to boycott, as they don’t make much in the way of consumer products one can choose not to buy. (One nuclear weapons company that may be a surprise is Rolls-Royce, but the cost of their cars means they are under a de facto boycott by all but the top 1%!).
However, a veritable Who’s Who (or perhaps a rogues’ gallery) of U.S. and international corporations invest in or help finance the corporations making nuclear weapons – JP Morgan Chase, Key Bank, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, MetLife, Allstate, Mass Mutual, Travelers Insurance, TIAA-CREF (a large mutual fund that is supposedly “socially screened”) and Nuveen Investments are among the hundreds of firms involved in the Bomb-making business. They are all ripe for targeting in boycott and/or divestment campaigns to pressure them to stop banking on the Bomb.
Pull out your wallet – look at your ATM and credit or debit cards – you are most likely doing business with companies who finance nuclear weapons. The companies holding your mortgage, providing your life insurance and holding your mutual funds or other investments may well help finance nuclear weapons. So you have the opportunity to have a direct and immediate impact on the production of nuclear weapons: you can stop doing business with the corporations that profit from making nuclear weapons.
This also presents an opportunity for peace and disarmament supporters to link with activists boycotting or divesting from corporations for other good reasons, over their banking, environmental, labor, trade or policy practices (the Move our Money campaign, which encourages consumers to take their deposits out of big banks and put them instead in community banks and credit unions, being a great example).
Boycott and divestment campaigns have been successful tools for social change around the world and are a needed companion (and for some, a necessary alternative) to the painstakingly slow (and some would argue unresponsive and undemocratic) legislative process, especially on military and foreign policy. This kind of campaign gives us an opportunity to build our movement with an achievable strategy and short-term winnable goals, which will energize old and new activists alike while it moves us a step closer to a nuclear-weapons-free world.
Public opinion polls consistently show strong public support for ending the war in Afghanistan, serious cuts in military spending, and the global abolition of nuclear weapons, to name just a few peace movement priorities, yet progress on those issues is glacial, with one key reason being the economic and political clout of the war machine.
Divestment organizing is a different ball of wax from consumer boycotts, as it seeks to put pressure from institutional investors on corporations in order to change their behavior. The largest churches or mutual funds divesting from companies over their support for the nuclear weapons industry would send a powerful message, and we hope to help catalyze campaigns in this vein.
Whether engaging in boycott or divestment campaigns, or both, people taking action, together, that reflects their values and aspirations for a more peaceful and just society, is empowering, and it’s what is needed to change the world. A-bomb survivors determined that the horror they experienced 67 years ago never happen again is one of the most inspiring examples of activism we know.
As our Hibakusha friends teach us:
No More Hiroshimas! No More Nagasakis! No more Hibakusha! No More War!
May we add: No More Nuclear Weapons Profiteering!