Berkeley Students Fasting to Protest UC-Managed Nuclear Weapons Lab

May 19th, 2007 - by admin

Jedidjah de Vries / Tri-Valley CAREs’ & David Krieger / Nuclear Age Peace Foundation – 2007-05-19 01:10:08

UC Regents Called to Account
For Running Nuclear Weapons Lab

NOTE:On Thursday, May 17, I went to the UC regents meeting along with 40 hunger strikers and many many supporters. Here’s what I wrote up for the blog at

The regents’ meeting began at 8 with an announcement. Because so many people had signed up to speak during the public comments period the regents elected to extend the time alloted from 20 minutes to a full half hour. Despite the extra 10 minutes not even close to everyone had the opportunity to have their voice heard.

A number of the hunger strikers — for whom this was the ninth day without food — spoke out, as well as many supporters, including myself, Jackie Cabasso of the Western States Legal Foundation, Professor Charles Schwartz of UC Berkeley and representatives from Physicians for Social Responsibility, including Dr. Robert Gould.

The comments were amazing to listen to. They exhibited the students’ depth of understanding of the issue with their detailed critic of RRW. They attacked the regents for continuing to choose to involve the university in the immoral nuclear weapons’ business. They conveyed the broad community support for severance. And, most importantly, they spoke of the passion and commitment of the students.

One hunger striker reminded the regents that “We are not starving for fun”. Another described his aching body and then explained that the ache in his heart every time he thought about the University’s role in the creation of nuclear weapons was far greater. As he spoke the students’ spontaneously all held up peace signs.

After the public comments period everyone left the hall and gathered outside on the grass in a giant circle. One by one, going around the circle, everyone spoke. Unlike inside, there was time for everyone. Students expressed their joy of being part of this group that was fighting to steer the university towards a new, conscientious, path. They reminded each other that they — the students — were the real university; and, that they held the power to bring about a better future.

Next came the nitty-gritty, the planning. Everyone bunched up close together and, through consensus, decided how to proceed should the regents ignore the demands of their constituents and choose to continue with their regular business: the nuclear weapons’ business.

The group filtered back into the meeting around eleven. At first we were told that there weren’t enough seats but eventually everyone was allowed inside. We listened to the tail end of a presentation by the faculty senate, which explained that the only way to maintain the quality and character of the university was increased state funding. Many in the audience were dismayed that the regents seemed unaccepting of this news.

Finally, the Committee on Oversight of the Department of Energy Laboratories convened. It was quickly clear that the regents did not intend to even acknowledge the moral quagmire they drag the university into, let alone resolving it by severing ties with the weapons labs.

A group of hunger strikers stood up and demanded the regents respond to their demands. Regent Norman Pattiz assured the group that the regents had heard their message and that “[The regents] need to go forward with the business of the university.” Up on the screen was the first slide of a presentation entitled “Report on the National Nuclear Security Administration Vision for the Nuclear Weapons Complex of 2030” i.e. the plan to revamp the nuclear weapons complex in order to restart production and create new nuclear weapons, the first of which (RRW-1) is already being designed at the Livermore lab.

The hunger strikers made it clear that so long as the regents chose “to go forward with the business of the university” when that business was creating new nuclear weapons and refused to even discuss the matter, the hunger strikers and their supporters were going to continue to demand accountability and moral responsibility from their university.

The regents brushed off the protest by saying it was not through proper channels. They seemed to think they were not responsible for nuclear weapons in any way. Someone shouted out to the regents “what would you do?” Pattiz told the hunger strikers “I hope you will go and have some lunch.”

A chant of “Give Peace a Chance” was taken up by the crowd. Intermittently people would shout out things such as: “You don ‘t need to be a subsidiary to Bechtel.” “Listen to your students.” “The University’s business is the nuke business,” “Don’t build new nukes.”

Most of the chanters were still sitting peacefully in their seats, hoping the regents would at least discuss their role in nuclear complex and consider the demand for severance. Instead the regents eventually left and called in the police to clear the room. After the police announcement all, but thirteen, of the hunger strikers and their supporters left the room. The thirteen that remained locked arms and waited to be arrested.

Outside the room the energy continued with chants of “Whose university? Our university!” and “UC Nuclear Free!” as well as informal teach-ins and in depth discussions of the issue. Liaisons kept in close touch with the police and a representative of the regents to keep track of the arrestees.

The regents eventually resumed their meeting, but now without any public to witness it. The students moved outside the building, making themselves, and especially the hunger strikers, available to the media. A car was quickly dispatched to pick up the arrestees who were being cited and released and a nearby jail.

The hunger strikers and their supporters took some time to talk amongst themselves on the lawn behind the building. The mood was jubilant because they knew they had just exercised their power as students. But, it was also serious because the threat of nuclear weapons remains, the university continues to be part of that threat and there is still much organizing and work to be done.

As everyone dispersed to return to their communities and campuses one hunger striker remarked, “I was really ready to go into the meeting, and I ‘ll be ready for the next one in July.”

Addendum — For the record: The discussion item the regents were about to go into when students and supporters disrupted the meeting was entitled:


[Complex 2030 is the plan to revamp the nuclear weapons complex in order to restart production and create new nuclear weapons, the first of which (RRW-1) is already being designed at the Livermore Lab.]

The official description of the item runs as follows:

“Mr. Glenn Mara, Principal Associate Director for Weapons Programs, Los Alamos National Laboratory, will provide a summary of this key NNSA initiative in which both LANL and LLNL are integrally involved.”

Jedidjah de Vries is the Outreach Director for Tri-Valley CAREs. office: (925) 443-7148 cell : (805) 698-3577

Marylia Kelley, Executive Director, Tri-Valley CAREs 2582 Old First Street Livermore, CA 94551. Ph: (925) 443-7148 Fx: (925) 443-0177 Web: Email: or

Student Oversight Committee for US Nuclear Weapons Labs
<>big>David Krieger / Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

For more than five years the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, through its Youth Empowerment Initiative, has conducted a UC Nuclear Free Campaign. The purpose of the campaign is to educate and inform students at the University of California that their University has provided management and oversight to United States nuclear weapons laboratories since the beginning of the Nuclear Age, and that every weapon in the United States nuclear arsenal has been designed and developed under the auspices of the University of California.

The Foundation has worked to motivate the students to examine the relationship between their University and the most devastating weapons of mass destruction ever created. We have encouraged the students to speak out for severance of the University’s relationship with the nuclear weapons laboratories.

Over the years that we have engaged with the UC students, we have found that many students do not even know that their University provides management and oversight to the nuclear weapons laboratories.

Often, when students learn of the relationship, they are surprised that their University would use its prestige to provide legitimacy to the design and development of weapons capable of destroying cities, countries and civilization. Such a relationship seems incompatible with the University’s mission of education, teaching and public service.

Recently, a group of students at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) came up with the idea that there should be a Student Oversight Committee for the nuclear weapons laboratories. They wrote up a bill to create such a committee and presented it to the Legislative Council of the UCSB Associated Students.

On April 18, 2007, the bill was heard for the first time. A number of students spoke in favor of it. I was present at the meeting and had a chance to speak to the Council and add my support for the bill. Many of the students present had been to past meetings of the UC Regents, and could report first-hand that the Regents do not seem to take seriously student input in relation to the management and oversight of the nuclear weapons laboratories.

At the initial vote of the Legislative Council, there was a majority in favor of establishing the Student Oversight Committee, but not the two-thirds majority needed for it to pass. The students supporting the bill were disappointed but undaunted. They came back the next week in larger numbers and made their case even more powerfully.

Will Parrish, the Foundation’s Youth Empowerment Initiative Director, spoke to the Council about the history of devastation caused by the US nuclear weapons program. He emphasized the effects of the 67 US tests in the Marshall Islands. The radiation released there was equivalent to the detonation of one Hiroshima bomb daily for 12 years, and continues to cause untold suffering to the islanders.

At the April 25, 2007 meeting of the Legislative Council, the students supporting the bill brought Shigeko Sasamori, a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing, to address the Council. Ms. Sasamori told her story, and emphasized that she was speaking out so that her fate and that of her city would never be visited on other people and their cities in the future.

A fourth year student, Cricket Clarke, brought Japanese paper cranes, a symbol of peace, and shared the story of Sadako, a young girl in Hiroshima who had died from leukemia caused by radiation from the atomic bomb dropped on her city. In the end, the Council voted unanimously to create the Student Oversight Committee.

Now the students will seek to provide their own oversight of the nuclear weapons laboratories, and report to their fellow students on their findings. Under the authority of the UCSB Legislative Council, they will investigate what goes on in the laboratories and examine the ethical issues involved in the design, development, testing, manufacture, deployment and use of new nuclear weapons.

Thus, the students will amplify their voices regarding what their University supports. They will be able to make recommendations on the appropriateness of supporting the nuclear weapons laboratories.

If the Student Oversight Committee takes its responsibility seriously, which it certainly seems poised to do, it will be in a position to challenge the authority and complacency of the UC Regents on the oversight of these laboratories that are so central to the US nuclear weapons program.

The Student Oversight Committee will also be in a position to speak nationally on the issue of nuclear dangers. It can be a voice for youth in the much needed debate on the future of US nuclear policy. The current generation of college students is on a collision course with potential nuclear catastrophe.

Sane nuclear policies, led by the United States, could dramatically reduce the risks of future nuclear devastation. As the bill creating the Student Oversight Committee pointed out, “as a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the United States is required ‘to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament….’”

The creation of the Student Oversight Committee is a breakthrough moment. The students are making it known to University authorities and to national authorities that they want a voice in shaping their future. Surely, they are entitled to that.

Other UC campuses are taking steps to establish their own Student Oversight Committees. Student leadership in providing oversight to the nation’s nuclear weapons laboratories may help to awaken the nation to the dangers of current US nuclear policies and projects that threaten our common future.

David Krieger is the President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (, and a leader in the global effort to abolish nuclear weapons.