If you’ve been around a long time, as The Nation has (142 years of troublemaking and peacemaking), you know who your friends are. That’s why, this week, we celebrate our longtime ally, Peace Action.
For fifty years, since Peace Action’s founding, the two of us have shared a commitment to peace and democratic values and provided a home for the expression of dissent in perilous times. Nation editors and staffers marched along (proudly carrying the magazine’s banner) with Peace Action and other antinuclear activists in the huge nuclear Freeze campaign demonstration in Central Park 25 years ago. Peace and disarmament correspondent Jonathan Schell’s special 1998 issue – like Peace Action’s work – gave voice to the continuing need and struggle for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
And this coming week, I am proud to be one of five “Women Peace Makers” – along with Yoko Ono, Cindy Sheehan, Colonel Ann Wright and Vinie Burrows – who will be honored by Peace Action at its 50th anniversary celebration in Harlem. Longtime Nation friend Cora Weiss, president of the Hague Appeal for Peace, will also receive the William Sloane Coffin Jr. Peacemaker Award – named for a man who was not only a central figure in the history of Peace Action, but a tireless advocate for peace, love and justice.
Peace Action was originally founded as SANE, fifty years ago, with a full-page ad in the New York Times signed by 48 prominent Americans including Norman Cousins, Cleveland Amory, John Hersey, Lewis Mumford, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Paul Tillich. The copy was mostly written by Cousins, editor of the Saturday Morning Review, under a headline reading, “We Are Facing a Danger Unlike Any Danger That Has Ever Existed.” It called for the immediate suspension of nuclear testing by all nations and noted that there were already enough nuclear weapons to wipe out the entire human race. The signatories urged a commitment to “the human community” that went well beyond the limits of traditional nation-state interests.
In celebration of its 50th anniversary, Glen Harold Stassen and Lawrence S. Wittner have edited Peace Action: Past, Present, and Future – a collection of essays written by many of the courageous men and women who led the group and whom Schell described in a recent exchange in The Nation as “remain[ing] faithful and active in a cause in the lean years as well as the fat.” Homer Jack, one of the founders of SANE, recalls in Peace Action, “Almost overnight, the ad created SANE groups in 15 major cities and informal ones in 41 others.” Within about six months there were 130 chapters and 25,000 members holding church meetings, house meetings, rallies, letter-writing and lobbying Congress. But perhaps no one made SANE more visible in the early years than Dr. Benjamin Spock, the world-renowned baby doctor.