Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Preparing for my talk on nuclear bomb films, mothers, and activism

I am going to NEMLA (Northeast Modern Language Association) at the end of this week to speak on an environmental literature and film panel. My topic is on the nuclear mothers, activism and film.  The time allotted to me to speak is fifteen minutes!   It seems absurd.  I can only begin a very simple discussion--how insane at this moment in time.

I am the only person at the conference talking about nuclear issues.

For the past two years, I've been in living in my own personal bubble of strange nuclear studies, trying to pull together science, feminism, ecology, mothering, film and literature.  Watching movies in my dark living room through the afternoon and night.  Taking notes.  Reading books on nuclear history (not being a nuclear scientist by any stretch of the imagination, I have a lot of catch up work to do!).  Reading up on nuclear activist history.  Reading feminist histories of about the dangers and impact of nuclear destruction by Rebecca Solnit, Carole Gallagher, Susan Griffin, Helen Caldicott,  and Terry Tempest Williams.  Many of my friends want to hear nothing of my work, research or fears.  Many think nothing of the dangers of nuclear bombs, and they love to argue with me that nuclear power is "clean."  No one, except one of my wonderful graduate students, Nicole Buscemi-Garret, will watch the films from my collection with me.  I'm sure Nicole watched only out of obligation!

Helen Caldicott describes this dismissal of the dangers we are under as an act of suicide.  40 hydrogen bombs are aimed at New York City; we have 60 aimed at Russia.  Some crazy number of bombs are aimed at Washington, DC.  A nuclear war started whether by human error, or intention, and life as we know it would be over, for good.  Nuclear Winter.  The nuclear plants in this country are old, leaking, and dangerous---many the same model as those of Japan's and we, too could have a natural disaster, or error, and Fukishima could happen here. Our government wants to keep these plants open; they want to loan 54 billion to the nuclear industry to build a bunch more; and, they plan to dig up and poison our precious earth to acquire more uranium.  Vermont Yankee is an opportunity.  If Vermont can manage to shut their leaking nuclear plant down, this may provide a model for other states to follow suit.  Speaking of terrorism: if terrorists should hit one of our nuclear plants, the results would be devastating.  Are we prepared for this?  Caldicott says no.

Environmental friends, colleagues, so-called "experts"--oceanographers, climate change people (mostly men)  tell me that nuclear isn't the "major" or "most important" environmental issue:  it is global warming we should fear and focus on.  Most of these folks say we need nuclear to stave off climate change.  Some scoff at me when I mention my great admiration for Helen Caldicott.  Some tell me she is a nut.  They probably think I'm a nut, too.

Saving the planet seems worth being scoffed at.  Saving the human race from cancer and other horrific diseases and genetic mutations is worth fighting for.  I hope that our young people will wake up.  My students are more active than ever, and with the Fukishima disaster, suddenly more folks are paying attention to the dangers at hand.  Before the Japanese crisis of March 11, nuclear issues were absent from public discussion, and all but absent from the major environmental and activist conversation and actions.  Of course groups like No Nukes NIRS, the Baby Tooth Project, and Caldicott's groups post their information and call for petitions, but they are separate and entities, set apart from the other major environmental groups such as Sierra Club, EDF, EWG, and even Greenpeace. Now, the dangers of nuclear power and bombs are back on the table and in the press.  So, my friends, this is an important potential moment for radical change and awakening.  Ears are perked a bit.   Not surprisingly, the main voices that are speaking most pointedly against nuclear are such eco-feminist writers and thinkers as Susan Griffin, Carole Gallagher, Carolyn Raffensberger,  Alyson Rose Levy, Vandana Shiva,  Ira Helfand (and the Physicians for Social Responsibility), and of course Helen Caldicott.  Quite strikingly, these are mostly female voices. The gender divide prevails on issues of war and bombs, and nuclear power.  Why is this topic and problem so hard for people to contemplate and work to solve?

Friday, I'll talk.  I don't know how much I can say in fifteen minutes, but I'll do my best.

Afterward, I will go back to my book and work on a nuclear activist vision with my female sisters.  My parents were activists and their memory inspires me.  My white Jewish mother and her sister-mother friends in Miami in the 1950s pushed their strollers into town hall and drank with their kids from the "negro" water fountain; mom and and dad and their friends housed freedom riders and supported boats to cuba during the cuban missile crisis. My mother refused to eat in a restaurant in North Carolina because my African American nanny could not join us; and mom took the train to Washington D.C. and fought to end above ground nuclear bomb testing, along with so many women from Women Strike for Peace.  They were heard, because they were mothers. She worked at the Peace Center in Berkeley and taught methods of nonviolent protest to Mario Savio and the Berkeley students; my mom and dad took rocks from the Cubans who called them "communists" when protesting against nuclear power in South Florida, and so much more.  My parents and their friends took political action.  That was what made their lives worth living.

I have to find a way to put my own passion into more action.   I worry, though: As a busy mother and professor, how and where will I find enough hours in the day to teach, write, grade, parent, and take care of the business of life, as well as take on an activist project of such large proportions?  If I take on too much, how will this impact my mothering of my child?   I am already stretched so thin.  These are the same questions all working and/or environmental mothers must ask.

Here are a series of clips I recommend watching with a recent interview with Helen Caldicott; she fills in the blanks of what is at stake at the moment worldwide.  Her hope is in our youth.   Mine, too.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lcp9J5B7l3w&NR=1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0RR6e-uySU&feature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71O4ZpHV4ck&feature=related

A great explanation of what has happened (and is happening) at the Fukishima nuclear plants from If You Love This Planet:
http://ifyoulovethisplanet.org/audio/IYLTP%20-%20Ep%20125.mp3

4 comments:

Olivia Mattis said...

Heidi, you're inspiring. Don't get discouraged. You have an important voice that needs to be heard.

Cybunny said...

Terrific post. I really love the way you bring contexts in: crazy underestimation of the nuclear threat, your parents' activism, your own sense of the crazy road you're on.

.Ecofeminist and Mothering Ruminations said...

Thanks, Olivia. Your support is important!
And, thanks, Rabbit. I appreciate your response--especially considering your own deep interest in the topic.

Gail said...

Hi. I totally agree with you on what you said about people not wanting to know, not wanting to believe that nuclear power is dangerous, etc. Gary Null used to say that people have a very hard time having a "paradigm shift". Radiation Truth's Facebook page has mostly female fans even thought the look and content is not particularly geared to women. I feel like the female/male inbalance on this issue needs to be studied. Please check out my site, RadiationTruth.org, and if you like it please "recommend" my Facebook page and share it. When a person "recommends or likes" my Facebook page they get notified whenever I put a new News Item on the site. From the Facebook post they can click on the link to go right to that post. I feel there is room for 1000s of websites, blogs, and social media site to spread the word, and fight the deeply entrenched nuclear industry.