April 28, 2008
Late last year, progressive foreign policy lost one of its shining stars. Dr. Randall “Randy” Forsberg, leader of the nuclear freeze movement, passed away after a long battle with cancer. Forsberg was the founder of the Nuclear Freeze Campaign, a national effort to abolish nuclear weapons. She conceptualized the Freeze idea in 1979 while working as a researcher at MIT; the grassroots movement soon caught fire across the United States. The Freeze recruited hundreds of local leaders across the country, and its apex was a rally in Central Park in 1982 attended by an estimated 700,000 to one million protesters calling for a halt to the arms race. Forsberg, in the words of Arms Control Association executive director Daryl Kimball, “demonstrated how the power of ideas and civil society can change long-held conceptions of weapons and war, and how to achieve peace.”
Forsberg’s passing presents an opportunity to asses the current nuclear abolition movement. Is the post-Cold War millennial generation meeting the anti-nuke challenge? Journalist and nuclear weapons expert Jonathan Schell has noted that the nuclear abolition movement has never been able to recapture the energy that brought close to a million people to Central Park in 1982, despite the fact that the danger of nuclear weapons remains ever-present. “It is no simple matter to take stock of the nuclear predicament,” notes Schell says. “…Under the Bush Administration, the nuclear policies of the United States–and of the world–are in a state of greater confusion than at any time since the weapons were invented.”
At the same time, it would seem that young people have other political interests–the issue of nuclear weapons does not make it on to the public agenda of national student organizations such as Campus Progress and the United States Students Association, which focus on issues like global warming, the Iraq war, and college affordability. But this perceived silence from large, multi-issue student groups masks an increase in campaigns and activism (including the now-yearly Think Outside the Bomb conference) around nuclear weapons issues by students and young people. Youth awareness is largely driven by established policy organizations such as Peace Action and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and is having a serious impact on the debate about the current nuclear arsenal.