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A No Nukes March, Mayors for Peace and the NPT

by Jo Freeman

Roughly 20,000 people marched, chanted, and drummed their way from the United Nations to New York City's Central Park on Sunday, May 1 to protest nuclear weapons.  The march was timed to coincide with the start of a month long UN conference to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which is done every every five years.

The march began at noon under a grey and cloudy sky but when the final marchers reached the end of the two-mile route about two hours later the sky was blue and the sun was bright.  Less than 5,000 people stayed to listen to speeches and browse the booths during the afternoon rally.

The NYPD had prepared for the 40,000 people the march organizers claimed, lining the route with metal barriers and bringing in officers from the five boroughs of the city.  The cordoned off area for the pre-march gathering was still half empty when the march started. Unofficially, the NYPD said there were fewer than 10,000 protestors.  There were no incidents or arrests.

May 1 is a traditional day of celebration, largely outside the US. US organizations often plan their protests for May 1.  Five different groups in New York City scheduled various meetings, conference, marches and demonstrations for that day, all of which siphoned off people from the UfPJ
march.

Sponsored by United for Peace and Justice, which was formed in 2003 to protest the US invasion of Iraq, Sunday's march was a sea of colorful signs, flags and banners.  Only a few bore slogans that objected to that war or demanded that the troops return home.  Most focused on the evils of nuclear weapons. About a fourth of the marchers, and even more of the media, were Japanese or Americans of Japanese descent.

The festive atmosphere was a stark contrast to the serious messages.  Two men wearing G.W. Bush masks and rubber gloves with talons on them pantomimed their opinion of the President.  One was attached by puppet strings to a Cheney imitator.  Japanese women passed out origami birds to anyone who would take one.  A profusion of flyers on all sorts of causes were passed out and numerous petitions were passed around for signatures.

Prominent among the marchers was a group calling itself Mayors for Peace, which was formed after a 1982 UN Special Session on Disarmament in response to a call by the then Mayor of Hiroshima, one of the two Japanese cities turned into rubble when the US dropped two atomic bombs to end World War II. Its mission is to create a world free of nuclear weapons by the year 2020.

Currently there are 942 cities in 111 countries and regions among its members, including 63 US cities.  The current President is the Mayor of Hiroshima.

At the rally the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and about three dozen survivors of the atomic bomb blasts were available to tell their stories to whomever wished to hear them. Although they lived to tell their stories, most have remained ill their entire lives.  A younger group of Japanese women held up photos showing some of the effects of the nuclear bombs.

Although these bombs were dropped in August of 1945, only in 1961 did the UN pass a resolution for an international agreement that would ban the acquisition and transfer of nuclear weapons.  The language was finally agreed upon in 1968 and the NPT became operative in 1970.  At that time there were five countries which openly acknowledged that they had nuclear weapons.  The current 187 signatories include North Korea, but not Israel, Pakistan and India, all of which have nuclear weapons capability.  In 2003 North Korea said it would withdraw from the NPT, but has not yet officially done so.

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