Student and faculty protestors gathered in Storke Plaza yesterday to rally for peace and an end to UC involvement in the production of nuclear weapons and testing.
Approximately 50 people attended the “Rise Up UCSB for Peace” rally, which began at noon and featured speeches from students and faculty who oppose the war in Iraq, the Bush administration and the nuclear weapons manufacturing that occurs at the UC-managed Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico. Speakers at the rally – organized by the same students who hosted an on-campus presentation titled “The University’s Role in War and Peace” on Monday night – also talked about the negative impacts of nuclear bomb testing in Nevada.
The University has managed LANL since the U.S. government created it in 1943 to design an atomic bomb. Lab scientists fulfilled this goal, making and detonating the world’s first nuclear weapon in 1945. Since then, LANL has gone on to such projects as hydrogen fuel cell research, but continues to oversee nuclear weapon development in the U.S.
In 2003, the U.S. Dept. of Energy decided for the first time to put oversight of LANL up for bid, citing mismanagement by UC. Currently, UC and partner Bechtel National are competing against the University of Texas and its partner Lockheed Martin Corporation for the contract, which will be awarded on Dec. 1.
Rally organizer Darwin BondGraham, a graduate student, told the crowd that LANL has had materials to create plutonium pits – the core of a nuclear weapon – since 1989, when it received materials from a facility in Colorado. Authorities shut down the facility in 1989 because it was dumping plutonium into the environment, he said.
“[LANL] is turning into a production site,” BondGraham said. “The workers at Los Alamos don’t want to do that. The idea of turning into a bomb factory isn’t good for their morale.”
Tony Guzman, from Nevada’s Citizen Alert, also spoke at the rally and said over 1,000 nuclear bombs have been tested in the Nevada deserts, polluting the water and air, and harming the Earth.
LANL Director of Public Affairs Jim Fallin said the lab began production of plutonium pits a few months ago. While it provides components to build nuclear weapons, the lab itself does not take part in final construction and completion.
“Los Alamos National Laboratory was able to reconstitute our nation’s ability to reproduce pits several months ago at the direction of the Dept. of Energy,” Fallin said.
KCSB Programmer Marcelino Sepulveda, who spoke to the crowd about the war in Iraq, said he thinks students should unite in opposition to the current status of U.S. military involvement in Iraq.
Sepulveda said he thinks it is imperative for those who oppose the Bush administration to let the president know how they feel. He said students should attempt to drive President Bush out of power by protesting at his next State of the Union address.
“It is always the students who lead the revolutions, and it needs to be the students who resist and organize against the Bush regime,” Sepulveda said. “We need to say, ‘Enough is enough. Bush step down.'”
UCSB sociology professor Dick Flacks said that while students were the main sources of dissent for previous wars in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, current student opposition to war seems low.
“With the Iraq war, student voice is not that visual,” Flacks said. “They are part of a more general opposition to the policy of the war. The war is a tragedy for the Iraqi people and a tragedy for our nation and it needs to end.”