Weapons inspectors may be headed to Iraq, but they have already landed in the United States.
Approximately 200 protesters from all across California gathered in Livermore on Monday to protest the development of weapons at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The activists marched a mile to the front gates of the lab where they delivered a letter requesting to inspect the facility. That letter was read to the UC Regents at their meeting Wednesday in San Francisco.
Protesters carried signs and several came dressed as U.N. weapons inspectors, demanding to inspect ongoing research at the labs in response to last week’s U.N. resolution against Iraqi weapons programs.
“The action supported the idea of inspections in Iraq, but in the context of making weapons inspections and disarmament universal,” said Marylia Kelley, executive director of the Tri-Valley branch of Communities Against a Radioactive Environment. “We were promoting the concept that the U.S. labs should be open to inspection.”
Students, veterans and dozens of peace organizations helped coordinate and promote the event. Several students from UC Davis, Berkeley and Santa Cruz – and two from Santa Barbara – attended.
Senior Spanish major Kristen Eschner spoke at the event, outlining the protest’s purpose and direction.
“As a student at UC Santa Barbara, I am disturbed by the fact that the same people who will give me my diploma are developing … unimaginable new types of weapons that will more effectively kill innocent civilians and devastate the environment,” she said. “By pursuing the same policies we are asking of Iraq, we can show the world that we are true pursuers of democracy, freedom and justice.”
The Department of Energy allocates $3 billion a year to the University of California to maintain its laboratories – more than the University spends on all ten of its campuses combined. Kelley said LLNL claims it only maintains an existing 10,400 weapons, but she believes the lab is also researching and producing new types of weapons.
“Further inspection shows [LLNL] is developing new and modified weapons, including a new bunker-busting weapon,” she said. “We were there Monday asking to inspect the lab for evidence of these weapons of mass destruction.”
The protest also aimed to promote activism in a generation often regarded as apathetic to important issues, said Nuclear Age Peace Foundation Youth Outreach Coordinator Michael Coffey. More youths were present at Monday’s event than similar recent demonstrations, he said.
“We want to bring more energy to disarmament; our generation knows and cares about this,” he said. “The goal was to confront those who work in [LLNL] for their role in developing new generations of weapons, and we’re asking them to stop.”