Late in November, over the span of three days and five speaking engagements, Joe Cirincione broke sobering news to 500 members of the Seattle community: if Washington state were a sovereign nation it would be the third-largest nuclear-weapon state in the world. It was a tough pill to swallow for those who were unaware of the 1,300 nuclear warheads sitting at the Kitsap Bangor Naval Base, just 18 miles from downtown Seattle.
Joe didn’t stop there. Throughout our short trip I watched him explain to stunned audiences at the Rotary Club and a World Affairs Council breakfast that even in a conventional war Seattle would be one of the first strategic targets in the United States. Destroying the nuclear warheads stored at Kitsap Bangor would be a huge win for a waring nation. And decommissioning the influential tech community in Seattle would be a welcomed addition.
There is too much at risk for Washingtonians to turn away. For them this issue is particularly personal and we are working hard to mobilize both their prominent business leaders and established activist community to join our efforts.
Our recent trip to Seattle proved to be a great step forward in this regard. At an event we hosted at the Four Seasons hotel, representatives from local organizations such as Hanford Challenge, Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility sat next to Ploughshares Fund donors and interested citizens for a discussion about the future and safety of our nuclear weapons. With critically acclaimed author and producer Eric Schlosser as our keynote speaker, the audience was captivated by his recounting of a near nuclear missile explosion at an Army base in Damascus, Arkansas. One could not help but see the similarities between the base in Damascus, and Seattle’s own Kitsap Bangor.
Attendees also had the chance to wander through a mini-installation/sneak peek of the bomb, a groundbreaking multimedia installation that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last spring. Projected 360 degrees onto massive floor-to-ceiling screens, the bomb immersed the Tribeca audience in the strange, compelling, and unsettling reality of nuclear weapons. Though the experience in Seattle was limited to three screens and a two-minute preview, it was enough to leave a gripping impression on our audience.
As the evening came to a close I couldn’t help but smile as I watched a member of Ground Zero enthusiastically handing out bumper stickers to our guests. “Nuclear Disarmament Begins At Home,” the stickers read, which is truer in Seattle than almost anywhere else in our country. It was at that moment I realized our trip had been a success. With our offices stationed in San Francisco and Washington, DC, we know that Ploughshares Fund can only have so much of a direct impact in Washington state. To us, success in Seattle will manifest through a convening of influential leaders, local organizations and policy makers for a unified push to reduce the nuclear arsenal in their own backyard. This ambitious goal will likely take years, decades even, to achieve. But it is safe to say that with continued engagement and education we are well on our way.
Photo: Flickr / usnavy (cc). USS Nebraska (SSBN-739), Kitsap-Bangor, Washington