After living near Seattle for 18 years, I only found out a year ago that the largest concentration of nuclear weapons in the US is just 20 short miles from my home. Seattle is Ground Zero for a nuclear attack- how could my family and I not know?
Yet it makes sense, because policy decisions on nuclear weapons happen under the radar, without public debate. Today, the US has nearly 7,000 nuclear weapons, and we are rebuilding them to the tune of more than $1 trillion over the next 30 years. I’m determined to make my voice heard in opposing this, and help others do the same.
For many, “lobbying” is a dirty word. But I see a lobbyist simply as someone who tries to influence the position of an elected official. I use that title proudly, and I argue that we should all be citizen lobbyists on issues we care about.
This May, I went to DC with a small team from Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization, to lobby on nuclear weapons. We are not your typical lobbyists. We are all women, all 25 or younger, and we certainly weren’t throwing around big corporate money.
Our meetings focused on two simple messages:
* It is irresponsible for the US to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years rebuilding our nuclear weapons arsenal and making it more lethal. There are better things to spend $1 trillion on, and it’s provoking a new nuclear arms race.
* The President currently has sole authority to launch our nuclear weapons and start a nuclear war, but that immense decision should require Congressional approval.
We joined the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, which pulled together over 70 activists from around the country to conduct over 100 meetings in three days. The lobbyists there ranged from university students to veteran nuclear weapons activists of 40 years. There were paid staff, interns, and community volunteers.
This diversity proves that we can all be lobbyists. Politics can feel untouchable – decisions seem to happen behind closed doors, far from our homes and communities, and between experts and politicians only. But I’ve heard again and again, directly from Members of Congress, that the best way for constituents to influence policy is to reach out directly to their Members of Congress. We are essentially their bosses: we can elect them, or kick them out of office. That gives us more power than we often realize. Each of us has a right to be heard.
Our team had ten meetings all together, and having productive, collaborative discussions with the likes of Sen. Maria Cantwell’s office, and staff for Rep. Rick Larsen gave me hope: you don’t have to be backed by corporate interests, have a PhD, or belong to the same golf club as your Senator to make a big difference.
In a time when our politics may seem bizarre, out of control, and even scary, you can take the reins and be your own lobbyist. For nuclear weapons, here’s how:
* Call your Members of Congress and tell them to co-sponsor the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act (Senate bill 200, House bill 669), which requires a declaration of war from Congress before the President can launch a nuclear first strike.
* Tell them that you want them to spend less on nuclear weapons, more on the crucial social and domestic programs that support our communities.
* Schedule a meeting with your Members of Congress during the August recess, when they are usually back in their home districts. Share your personal stories, voice your concerns, and have a clear ask for them.