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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Nonviolent Campaigning for Nuclear Disarmament

Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

On January 30, Joseph Gerson visited the Boisi Center to speak about his work at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). Since 1976 Gerson has organized initiatives to advance nuclear disarmament and abolition, working closely with Japanese hibakusha (victims of atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki) and others around the world affected by nuclear testing.

Gerson described the AFSC’s Quaker-based commitments to human dignity, nonviolent resistance, and international justice—and engagingly recounted how these values squared with his Jewish heritage, his engagement with Buddhism, and his work in the Civil Rights and Vietnam-era peace movements.

Gerson’s work with AFSC highlights the power of ordinary people to assert their rights and overcome political obstacles. In 1979, for example, Gerson and his colleagues became involved with the Nuclear Freeze Movement, which called on the United States and Soviet Union to adopt a mutual halt on nuclear weapon testing, production and deployment. Thanks to successful organizing and teamwork, 330 towns in New England had voted for the freeze by 1982, when a million people traveled to New York to join the largest peace march in U.S. history.

Nuclear weapons continue to pose a threat today, Gerson reminded the audience. Since the Nagasaki bombing, the United States has threatened to use nuclear weapons over thirty times. The AFSC is currently preparing for the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference and is lobbying the Obama administration, which plans to gradually modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

In the lively discussion following his talk, Gerson addressed questions about his religious influences, Northeast Asian peace movements, and the Middle East.