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Amid U.N. ban and submarine ramp-up, a renewed push for nuclear disarmament

With the first-ever treaty to ban nuclear weapons now in effect, and a ramp-up in nuclear submarine production locally, peace activists see this moment as a turning point in the larger debate about nuclear disarmament.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted in July 2017 but took effect Friday, prohibits countries from producing, testing, acquiring, possessing or stockpiling nuclear weapons.

The presence of the 30 local peace activists along Howard Street on Friday afternoon as Electric Boat employees were leaving the company’s facility in New London was purposeful and largely symbolic.

The U.S. and the world's other nuclear powers have not signed the 96-page treaty, which activists hope will give new momentum to the decadeslong fight to eliminate nuclear stockpiles around the globe. At least 50 countries, including Ireland, Thailand and New Zealand, are party to the treaty.

“I hope we can restart these conversations about where our resources go and what makes us safe and secure as a community and as a nation,” said Frida Berrigan, a former Green Party mayoral candidate in New London who helped organize the event, one of many that took place across the country marking the treaty’s enactment.

Berrigan and Joanne Sheehan, an organizer with War Resisters League, who co-founded the Community Coalition for Economic Conversion, recently penned an op-ed in The Day on the treaty’s significance locally.

“Today, all over the world, communities and nations celebrate the entry into force of the Treaty on The Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons," Berrigan and Sheehan said. “But communities like our own, closely identified with and economically-dependent on the production of nuclear submarines, are more ambivalent on the issue.”

EB, which employs about 17,000 people who primarily work in Connecticut and Rhode Island, is the prime contractor for a $128 billion program to build a new class of nuclear-armed submarines.

Ronna Stuller, chair of the New London Green Party, also said the region’s economic dependence on submarine production provided a challenge to the anti-nuclear movement locally. “Although in the short term it provides jobs, it makes the economy fragile in the long run,” she said.

Stuller said she was a frequent visitor at the Soldiers and Sailors monument between 2001 and 2012 protesting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and felt new energy by Friday's event.

“It’s fun to be out here again," she said.

There was chatter among the crowd Friday of restarting the Peace and Justice Network of Southeastern Connecticut, established after Sept. 11, 2001, in response to the war on terror.

Sheehan said educational programs in the region are geared toward getting more students interested in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, programs, with the ultimate goal of getting them employed at EB or other defense manufacturers.

Conversations over the years to try to diversify EB's workload beyond submarine production have fallen way short, she said.

Many in attendance Friday criticized Congress for appropriating hundreds of billions of dollars for the Pentagon, to the benefit of defense contractors like EB, when that money would be better spent on education, housing and the environment.

Sheehan said she intends to send the signs carried by those in attendance Friday to the office of U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who has advocated for the submarine buildup in Congress.

"That's my next task," she said. "We want to send him a message that we're serious about this."

j.bergman@theday.com

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