Wednesday, May 9, 2007


41. XLI. Forty-one strikers and fasters state-wide. I'm amazed. I'm ecstatic. We are beautiful and we are powerful. At the teach-in today kicking off the hunger strike for UCSC, I saw faces I hadn't seen in meetings for months or longer, others I'd seen at protests but never at meetings, and still a few more that I'd never seen before in my life. People are coming out of the woodwork (for a few, even literally... this is Santa Cruz) to support or join this action. People know that this is big, that this is going to accomplish something, and they're excited. It's making me learn not to doubt myself as an organizer and not to expect everything to fall on myself -- all an organizer needs to do is provide people with the information they need to care and the opportunity to get involved and allow for awesome things to happen. People have the information, and they care -- they're pissed off. And they have the opportunity, and goddamnit, they're involved.

Forty-one. Quarante-un. . . . . _ . _ _ .

UC Weapons Labs: Myths & Realities

“With the greatest weapons come the greatest lies,” the author and social psychology professor Joel Kovel has written. Myths and falsehoods have grown up around every aspect of the nuclear weapons enterprise. Through its role as nuclear weapons lab manager, the UC has only added to this web of mystification; in fact, the UC’s role as weapons lab manager is itself the subject of a great deal of confusion.

Myth: “The UC is a more open and democratic manager than a private corporation would be.”

Those who tout this perspective usually seem to consider the UC to be, on the whole, a benevolent institution -- one committed to intellectual freedom, open scientific inquiry, and democracy.

With respect to the weapons labs, nothing could be further from the truth. The UC Regents are a profoundly anti-democratic body. This is true in general, and it is true of their approach to nuclear weapons lab management in particular. During the past 63 years, the Regents have stonewalled every single effort on the part of students, faculty, staff, and community members to contribute even the slightest margin of input into the weapons labs’ policies and programs, without exception.

One of countless examples is as follows. In 1970, Berkeley Physics Professor Charles Schwartz began a campaign to obtain the right to present a single lecture at the Livermore Lab. Schwartz' intention was to present an alternative viewpoint to lab employees, who were entirely shuttered away from any dissenting perspectives, as well as give lie to the labs' claim of being sites for open scientific inquiry. For years, the Regents denied Schwartz the opportunity. In 1980, he took his case to court and won. The Regents managed to stonewall him for several more years. Finally, in 1985, Schwartz was permitted to present his lecture – and almost nobody came, due to a lack of advertising by the labs.

The Oakland-based attorney and long-time nuclear disarmament activist Andy Lichterman has written regarding his attempts to research and gather information regarding the activities at the weapons labs, “If anything, I have been treated on a personal level with more respect by the uniformed military and civilian military service and Department of Defense employees than by the University of California and the Department of Energy. Both nuclear weaponeers and elite U.S. universities bring a certain arrogance to their way of being in the world that is second to none.”

In the late-‘80s, the Bechtel Corporation was the subject of a book called “Friends in High Places: Inside the World’s Most Secretive Corporation.” It speaks volumes that the UC Regents have established a snug partnership to manage a pair of nuclear weapons laboratories – that is, institutions that are as secretive and obsequious as it gets -- with a multi-national corporation that has been thusly described.

Myth: “If the UC Doesn’t Manage the Weapons Labs, Wouldn’t Some Other University Just Do It?”

This is, in many ways, a corollary to the argument above. On a certain level, it makes sense. After all, what good would it do for the UC to lose its nuclear labs management contract, only for it to be picked up by, say, the University of Texas?

A whole lot of good, depending on the circumstances.

It is instructive to note that the Regents do not actually manage LANL and LLNL in any meaningful sense. As a UC faculty committee observed in 1970, the UC’s role at the weapons labs is akin to that of a “benevolent absentee landlord.” The Regents rubber-stamp everything the labs do, providing no actual oversight of their programs and policies -- precisely as the Department of Energy (DOE) requires of them.

From the perspective of the DOE, then, what is the benefit of UC weapons lab management? As the largest public research university system in the world, the UC provides the ultimate fig leaf of academic respectability to nuclear weapons science. Over 30 years ago, the late grassroots organization the UC Nuclear Weapons Labs Conversion Project noted: “The UC does not manage the nuclear weapons labs, but rather the public relations about the weapons labs.” By casting the UC’s intellectual and political capital on the side of the nuclear weapons industry, the Regents help to legitimize everything these labs do.

By contrast, if the Regents withdrew their management of LANL and LLNL, they would effectively do the opposite: They would provide the weapons labs with the worst publicity possible. The political consequences of their doing so would be vast. A major crisis would ensue for the nuclear weapons complex. Congress would awaken to the necessity of overseeing the labs’ work in a more meaningful way. Morale among lab workers would plunge. The public discourse about nuclear weapons would shift. Those who favor disarmament would have achieved a major victory that they could mobilize in their effort to eliminate nuclear weapons once and for all.

The only way for any of that to happen is for UC students and other supporters of weapons lab severance to bring an overwhelming amount of pressure to bear on The Regents to force them to sever the ties. The alternative is for the UC to continue managing nuclear weapons labs for the next seven to 20 years (the length of their contracts at LANL and LLNL).

Myth: It’s Possible to Influence The Regents On This Issue By a Directly Lobbying Strategy

The Regents are structurally unaccountable to students. If in some way this point is not already clear to you, we encourage you to read the “Who Rules The University?” fact sheet that will also be made available throughout the “No Nukes In Our Name!” hunger strike.

Over the years, hundreds of faculty members, a brave handful of UC administrators, numerous California State Assemblymen and State Senators, and even one Governor of the State of California (Jerry Brown) have attempted to lobby the Regents to sever ties with the labs, or to attempt to convert the weapons labs’ research to more socially-beneficial ends. Ultimately, the Regents have been swayed by none of these tactics. It should as come as no surprise, then, that when students who wield not even a fraction of the same power and status as high-ranking public officials have adopted similar strategies, the Regents have entirely ignored them, or else responded to them with total disdain.

Students do wield a great deal of power when they act collectively, in a coordinated way, and with the will to disrupt university business as usual. Historical examples at UC campuses abound. The Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the South African Apartheid Divestment movement are but two of them. As those movements illustrate, when students make the institution they are a part of increasingly unmanageable for the powers-that-be, they are able to realize even some of their most ambitious goals.

Myth: “LANL and LLNL Aren’t Nuclear Weapons Labs; They’re Science Labs”

This rationale is especially favored among UC students who have interned at the weapons labs, where they are indoctrinated – and we use that word here with rigorous precision -- with the belief that the labs’ work is, for the most part, not nuclear weapons-related, but instead committed to socially beneficial ends. One might think the fact that roughly 80 percent of the funding at each laboratory in any given year is devoted to nuclear weapons research, engineering, maintenance, testing, and production would instantly settle the matter. Strangely, for some people, it does not.

The weapons labs do all they can to foster a socially-conscious image of themselves. A 2000 LANL recruitment brochure reads, "The LANL vision is to be a national laboratory where science serves society, preserves the earth, improves the quality of life through innovations in science and technology and the management of our business and operations at a world-class level.” For its part, LLNL’s literature describes the lab as “a premier applied science laboratory” and hypes its “major research programs in energy and environment, bioscience and biotechnology, and basic science and advanced technology.”

An analogy is in order here. In 2000, the second largest oil corporation in the world, British Petroluem, rechristened itself Beyond Petroleum. All BP gas stations were painted green – “greenwashed,” as it were. A massive ad campaign followed, carefully tailored to convince the general gas-buying public that the company was now devoting a massive amount of its resources to non-polluting “green” products.

While BP did invest $200 million in renewable energy technologies between 2000 and 2005, it actually spent an equivalent amount of money on its ad campaign to brag about those investments. Clearly, the purpose of the campaign was not to make the planet “greener,” but to make BP’s corporate brand image greener, and in doing so appeal to the broad segment of its target market that makes purchasing decisions based on ecological principles. Even more clearly, the company never really went “beyond petroleum” at all: It currently invests less than one percent as much money in renewable energy as in fossil fuels.

BP is, in short, engaged in a cynical marketing ploy. And so it is with the nuclear weapons laboratories.

In their 2006 budgets, LANL and LLNL devoted 3.1 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively, to research classified as “Science.” Hence, while there might be some science going on besides nuclear weapons and other military work, it is an extreme minority that could easily be shifted to UC campuses and other labs if the nukes labs were to be shut down, or if the UC were to exit as manager.

Today It Begins...

Today, close to 30 University of California students and alumni begin a fast to demand that the UC Regents fully and immediately withdraw their management of the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons compounds. Each participant has pledged to forgo solid food at least until the Regents meet on May 17th at UC San Francisco. Many of us have committed to hunger striking until the Regents meet our demand.

We are undertaking the hunger strike only after months of deep reflection. We fully realize that, at the moment, it seems unlikely that the Regents will meet our demand. We also realize that, as the author-activist Rebecca Solnit has written, “Activism is not a journey to the corner store; it is a plunge into the dark.” We have no way of knowing what the outcome of the hunger strike will be; only that, based on our collective experiences, knowledge, and strategic thought, it is the best option available to us at present.

In the coming days, I and other hunger strikers will post a wealth of information here on ways for anyone to support the hunger strike. If you have personal media contacts, we encourage you to inform them about the hunger strike. Regardless of where you live, you can support us by making phone calls, writing letters, or e-mailing the Regents. We also ask that you consider, if at all possible, attending the UC Regents meeting on May 17th at UC San Francisco, where we hope to pressure them into voting in favor of weapons lab severance.

We ask that you support the hunger strike in whatever way you can. If I and the other hunger strikers are putting ourselves at risk, it is only because we believe so strongly in the plunge we are all about to undertake, and in the benefits for our world that may result.