Last Friday, four students left Santa Barbara and traveled the 420 miles to Mercury, Nev. I did not know exactly where I was going or what I was going to, but I did know that I had to go. What I ended up at was the Action for Nuclear Abolition Peace Camp on Western Shoshone Nation lands.
I had thought that I was going to a protest against nuclear testing and dumping on the Shoshone land, but what the activists at the camp are involved in is more than just a protest; it is a nonviolent direct action. They are protesting the re-introduction of nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site 65 miles north of Las Vegas as well as the takeover of the Shoshone land for the test site.
Twice a year for the last 14 years, on both Mother’s Day weekend and the week prior to and including Indigenous Peoples Day, organizations and individual activists from all over the country have converged on the Nevada Test Site. They join with the members of the Shoshone Tribe to protest and “cross the line” into the site as a symbolic way of showing that they consider that land Shoshone land. This year, the organization that I am involved in, UC Nuclear Free, and members from the Environmental Affairs Board decided to join the fight.
On Saturday night, we joined with the other activists and walked down the highway from the peace camp to the entrance to the Nevada Test Site, cheering and chanting. When we arrived at the line separating the site from the Shoshone land, people spoke out against the dangers of nuclear testing and the movement of nuclear waste. As people continued to speak, others, with permits to be on the Western Shoshone land in their hands, began to walk across the line into the site and into the waiting hands of the police. I stood by and watched as the police began to drag people away, and I realized that this was not about getting arrested or about crossing a line; it was about saving lives.
Over the last year the U.S. government has passed some alarming bills that will endanger the lives of not only the Shoshone people, but us all. In July the Senate approved the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump and committed to the shipment of over 50,000 “mobile Chernobyls” to the mountain on the Nevada Test Site. In January, the Pentagon released its “Nuclear Posture Review,” calling for increased spending on nuclear weapons, continued subcritical experiments and a possible resumption of full-scale nuclear weapons testing at the Nevada Test Site. In August, a defense official stated that full-scale nuclear tests will happen in the near future.
We cannot keep quiet about this any longer. To protect the Native Americans who live in the area where the tests will happen, and to protect ourselves from the nuclear waste that is slated to travel through Santa Barbara on trains and barges, we need to speak out. I encourage all of you to attend the next protest at the Nevada Test Site on Mother’s Day weekend of this year and to get involved in the fight against nuclear development.
For more information on the Nevada Test Site and the fight against it, go to www.shundahai.org.
Jacqueline Binger is a senior law and society major.