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ICAN’s Tim Wright Speaks with Young People in Hiroshima

ICAN Treaty Coordinator Tim Wright visited Hiroshima 20-23 July 2018 at the invitation of the Chugoku Shimbun newspaper, Hiroshima City University, and Nagasaki University’s RECNA as the keynote speaker at their symposium “Opening the Door to Peace: The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and Beyond.” In addition to the symposium, Tim spoke at an event organized by HANWA and ANT-Hiroshima for members of the Hiroshima NGO community, as well as at a casual event for youths titled “What’s ICAN?” And there was another, completely unpublicized event during which Tim gave a handful of Hiroshima’s young people an inside look at ICAN’s campaign. With a focus on the latter, I’d like to expand on some of the lessons Tim shared.

Tim offered no less than 15 examples of actions and campaign methods that ICAN and its partners have implemented over the years. Actions included educating the public on the streets about nuclear weapons, making fun videos, civil disobedience, musical performances, branding, generating one’s own media, and positive messaging through demonstrations thanking supportive governments. In addition to actions that build public attention and support, campaigners employ a number of methods for lobbying politicians, including briefings, asking them to sign ICAN’s Parliamentarian Pledge, meeting with diplomats, and always making sure to speak with people from multiple political parties.

What happens at a campaigners’ meeting? The largest meetings, which can have 500 participants or more, are usually used to motivate rather than plan. Smaller meetings, which can still include representatives from up to 50 nations, are used to generate concrete, practical tasks for campaigners to carry out in their various countries. Discussions, rather than presentations, dominate these meetings, and campaigners will often break into small groups (divided thematically or by region) to generate ideas. The importance of making meetings fun cannot be undervalued, and this can be accomplished through collaborating with artists, holding social events, or involving a celebrity guest.

One participant asked how members of ICAN work through differences of opinion. Tim advised that everyone should have a chance to voice their opinion and that, if possible, decisions should be made through consensus. Avoid voting unless there is literally no other way to move a discussion forward. It’s natural that in any given group, many people are confident that their way is the right way. Differences of opinion are easier to work through, however, when the group has clear goals and a clear division of responsibilities. When the goals and tasks themselves are unclear, personality disputes magnify. 

Another participant asked about the role of intersectionality in ICAN’s campaign. Although ICAN has focused goals — create a nuclear ban treaty, then make it work — Tim said the campaign consciously tries to create a diverse movement. Along with making sure campaigners don’t all come from Western countries, ICAN also highlights the connections been nuclear weapons and other systems of power and oppression, such as patriarchy or colonialism. Bringing in speakers or partners who also work on other issues expands campaigners’ understanding of the complexities of the nuclear abolition movement. (And by the way, don’t forget to check out IQAN.)

According to Tim, the US, UK, and France are actively lobbying countries not to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. France, for example, is pressuring its former colonies not to sign, but Tim wonders whether this might have the opposite effect. He encourages the former French colonies in Africa to sign the treaty as a group to stand in opposition to their one-time colonizer. Nations are sovereign entities and therefore cannot be told what to do by other countries. Tim (almost cheekily) noted that signing the treaty is the best way for a country to put an end to pressure from the nuclear powers.

Tim’s most powerful message was one of empowerment. He began his talk by emphasizing that much of ICAN’s campaign was organized by young people, and he concluded by saying “You don’t need to ask for permission — just do.” Everyone in Hiroshima, including but not limited to hibakusha, is in a powerful position to advocate for nuclear disarmament. And there is no reason to limit the focus of one’s advocacy to one’s own government.

In order to galvanize support for banning nuclear weapons, it is not enough to teach their horrifying reality — it is equally as important to instill a belief in each individual’s power to create change. Trying to abolish nuclear weapons by using all one’s energy to convert firm believers in deterrence isn’t necessarily strategic. Rather, there are a huge number of passive supporters of disarmament who remain quiet because they think that it’s impossible to achieve a nuclear-free world, that their voice, even if raised, would only fall on deaf ears, or that there is an impenetrable divide between themselves and their government. A strategic movement can change all that.

Every step of the process to create the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was said to be impossible. The creation of a UN working group that eventually recommended treaty negotiations, the negotiation process itself, the adoption of the treaty, and now its entry into force. “Don’t believe what people say is impossible,” responds Tim.

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ANT-Hiroshima’s Hibakusha Study Course

One of ANT-Hiroshima’s newest projects is the Hibakusha Study Course, a 12-session class that took place from April 2017 to March 2018. Former Hiroshima Hibakusha Relief Foundation Director and Hiroshima University Professor Emeritus Dr. Nanao Kamada, a specialist in the biological effects of radiation, collaborated with ANT-Hiroshima to teach the course.

The Hibakusha Study Course aims to give its participants extensive knowledge of the effects of radiation on people, with a focus on hibakusha experiences both in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and globally. The second half of the course also delved into local and global disarmament activities. The ability to draw upon such knowledge — to combine facts with personal stories — can be relevant to anyone, but it is particularly essential for those working for nuclear abolition. The course connects scientific and historical facts with the ongoing dangers of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, bridging past and present. Much of its content is the result of years of research by dedicated individuals in ongoing cooperation with hibakusha.

A participant shares her thoughts.

The Hibakusha Study Course is the first project of its kind for ANT-Hiroshima. Staff, volunteers, and partners keenly felt the urgency of the aging hibakusha community and decided to make concrete preparations for the day when Hiroshima’s and Nagasaki’s hibakusha are no longer with us. To course participants and organizers, gaining a detailed factual understanding of nuclear issues is one way to make the realities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki their own story.

Three of the participants work or are currently being trained as official memory keepers of Hiroshima’s experience; they’re taking part in ANT-Hiroshima’s course in addition to the three years of training they receive from Hiroshima City. Other participants include a Buddhist priest, a teacher, a nurse, a university student, and others who have been involved in ANT-Hiroshima’s activities. ANT-Hiroshima capped eligible participants’ age at 60, as the course is aimed at people without firsthand experience of its subject matter.

Dr. Kamada explains genetic damage.

The group became fast friends who learned from each other over the year-long course. Along with a lecture from Dr. Kamada, each session included time for participants to ask questions, reflect on previous sessions, and share their opinions; members’ diverse backgrounds and experiences contributed to lively discussions with a range of viewpoints. And in their own ways, everyone put what they learned into action outside the course.

The first two sessions focused on the effects of radiation on people. Dr. Kamada introduced major research in the field, then guided participants through an activity in which they cut out 46 paper chromosomes and arranged them by size. Chromosomes’ abnormality can be examined to estimate the amount of radiation they have been exposed to, although in reality one needs to examine about 100 chromosomes before abnormality becomes apparent. The group also got hands-on experience using a scintillation detector, borrowed from the Hiroshima International Council for Health Care of the Radiation-exposed (HICARE). Particpants discussed differences between victims of atomic bombings and victims of radiation exposure through other means, such as nuclear accidents or nuclear testing.

The third and fourth sessions covered data collection methods and differences between visible effects of the atomic bombings and the initially invisible effects of exposure to radiation, respectively. During the latter session, discussion delved into how government policies toward visible and invisible effects vary.

Two participants use the scintillation detector.

The course’s fifth session, held in late August, included an extra assignment for participants to write a reflection about their thoughts on the anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that year. Along with sharing their reflections, participants analyzed the messages from representatives of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during that year’s memorial ceremonies.

The seventh session focused on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and 2017’s Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Participants studied the historical steps that led up to the creation of both treaties and Japan’s position therein, including its refusal to participate in talks for or sign the latter. In a similar vein, the eighth session focused on two organizations that won Nobel Peace Prizes for their work advocating for nuclear disarmament:  International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

Following sessions focused on nuclear power and nuclear accidents, as well as the psychological effects of experiencing an atomic bombing or being exposed to radiation. The second to last session covered how Japan is currently reprocessing its nuclear waste. Discussion focused on not only the feasibility of the government’s current plan (or perhaps lack thereof), but also how average citizens can make their voices heard on these issues.

The year-long course came to an end with a final session spent reflecting on how participants’ opinions and attitudes have been changed by what they learned.

Dr. Kamada lectures during the 28 October session.

ANT-Hiroshima is grateful to Dr. Kamada for offering his time and expertise throughout the course. He unfailingly read all of the participants’ written work and would follow up in subsequent sessions if he realized there were points the class hadn’t completely understood.

After reflecting on the 2017-18 course with Dr. Kamada, ANT-Hiroshima staff decided to hold a second cycle for 2018-19. This year’s course will streamline its contents to cover roughly the same amount of material in six sessions instead of 12. Applicants can request specific topics on the course application form. The participant age limit is now capped at 50, and ANT-Hiroshima is specifically hoping that young people, teachers, and individuals working in media apply.

The application deadline for the 2018-19 course is May 12 — so please contact ANT-Hiroshima if you are interested!

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“One Day in Hiroshima” Book Available Online

International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) recently made the book “One Day in Hiroshima: An Oral History” available online as a  free PDF. (The French version can be found here.) The book, written by former Hiroshima University Professor Nanao Kamada, M.D., M.Sc., and originally published in 2007, offers both a scientific and social introduction to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the foreword, Professor Kamada wrote, “I hope this book helps you to understand the actual situation of the survivors.”

“One Day in Hiroshima” is organized as a series of questions to an unnamed, elderly hibakusha living in a nursing home specifically for survivors. One side of each page contains her response to a question, while the other side includes more in-depth information, including charts, statistics, and photos, about the subject.

Along with explaining the permanent physical and psychological effects of the atomic bombings — especially radiation — on people, “One Day in Hiroshima” also describes measures by national and local government to give medical support to hibakusha, including those living abroad. Finally, the book touches on how Hiroshima memorialized the bombing through the Peace Park and Museum, various monuments, and peace education.

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Roundup: ICAN Receives the Nobel Peace Prize

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo at the Award Ceremony on 10 December. ANT-Hiroshima, a longtime supporter of ICAN, organized or participated in a number of activities over the weekend to celebrate ICAN being awarded the Prize. But more than a celebration, the events were a chance to reflect on the decades of work by hibakusha and others — work that, in partnership with ICAN’s campaign, culminated in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons — and to reaffirm our commitment to continuing to work for nuclear abolition.

Messages of support at the Hiroshima Joint Action event (photo by Takao Nakaoku)

The following are resources for those looking to learn more about ICAN and its campaign, as well as a short introduction to the activities of Hiroshima citizens held in conjunction with the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony.

About ICAN, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize

  • ICAN recently released this document, which outlines the history of the organization and the steps leading up to the creation of the Treaty.
  • ICAN’s page on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons outlines the Treaty’s content and provides links to its full text and signatories.
  • Watch ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn’s and anti-nuclear activist and hibakusha Setsuko Thurlow’s speeches at the ceremony.

In Hiroshima

Emiko Okada speaks at the Hibakusha Voices event. (photo by Takeo Nakaoku)

Hibakusha Voices: On 9 December, Hibakusha Voices, an event organized by ANT-Hiroshima and held at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, gave Hiroshima citizens, and youth in particular, an opportunity to hear six hibakusha voice their thoughts on ICAN being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The speakers shared some of their experiences as hibakusha, as well as called on younger generations to take on their stories and continue working for a nuclear-free world. Although they were pleased with ICAN’s Peace Prize and the creation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the majority of the speakers emphasized that the prize and the treaty represent the rebirth of their cause, not its ending.

Candle message to ICAN (photo by Takeo Nakaoku)

Candle Message: People of all ages from various organizations joined forces to send a candle message of support to ICAN. The event organizers, young people of Hiroshima (with financial support from ANT), intended the message of “ICAN with you” to convey both partnership with hibakusha and a call for everyone to join the international anti-nuclear movement. Participants and speakers from the Hibakusha Voices event also took part in the candle message group photo. Photos were shared on social media with the hashtag #YesICAN, and the event was also given both local and national media coverage. NHK World broadcast and posted online a news story about the event.

Hiroshima Joint Action: Representatives from a number of civil society organizations gathered in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome on 10 December to congratulate ICAN on its Peace Prize and affirm their continued support. The group took photos with three banners, which read “United with global people, let’s achieve a nuke-free world with nuclear ban treaty!” “Setsuko Thurlow, many thanks and cheers!” and “Congrats, ICAN, for nuclear ban treaty & receiving Nobel Peace Prize!” Speakers included students and members of civil society organizations.

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Hiroshima Citizens Collect Signatures for Nuclear Ban Treaty

ANT-Hiroshima supports the Hibakusha Appeal, an international signature campaign calling for the ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by all nations.

However, rather than always focusing on the activities of NGOs, activists, or international organizations, today we would like to highlight the work of individual Hiroshima citizens who contribute to the campaign.

Kyōko Fujitaka

Kyōko Fujitaka works at an apparel shop in the Mitsukoshi department store. Two years ago, she began talking with Takako Morii, a regular customer and ANT-Hiroshima volunteer. Inspired by Morii-san’s stories of her work with The Clouds in Summer Won’t ForgetFujitaka-san felt she too wanted to do something for Hiroshima and peace.

Fujitaka-san (left) with Morii-san

Around the beginning of 2017, the two spoke about another peace activity Morii-san was participating in, the Hibakusha Appeal signature campaign. Fujitaka-san agreed to lend a hand. She asked family members, friends, coworkers, and regular customers to sign, as well as acquaintances from her job at a cosmetics company and people she met at work parties. When others wanted to participate, Fujitaka-san gave them blank forms so they could go collect signatures themselves.

Until then, Fujitaka-san had never participated in peace- or disarmament-related activities. She was born and raised in Hiroshima, and her mother and grandmother are hibakusha. Her grandfather, who worked near what is now the Atomic Bomb Dome, died the day of the bombing. Although her grandmother took her to ring the Peace Bell in Peace Memorial Park every summer, Fujitaka-san didn’t think seriously about the atomic bombing or her own connection to it until she was an adult.

Fujitaka-san said the vast majority of people she talks to about the Hibakusha Appeal agree to sign. To her, the strong point of a signature campaign is its simplicity. Everyone can participate. Fujitaka-san asks for signatures without going into too much detail about the campaign and without being part of any official group. She began her work because of her connection to Morii-san, and she believes people agree to sign from similarly simple motives — they are from Hiroshima, and they support nuclear disarmament.

Currently, Fujitaka-san has collected over 200 signatures. She humbly said she is not satisfied with that number, and she will continue doing what she can to support the campaign.

Mie Higashi and Yoshiko Tanaka

Higashi-san and Tanaka-san began collecting signatures two months ago, after ANT-Hiroshima Executive Director Tomoko Watanabe encouraged them participate in the campaign.

The pair run a hair salon in Hiroshima’s Misasa neighborhood, and Tomoko-san has been their client for the past 30 years. As one does at a salon, the three chatted whenever Tomoko-san would come for a haircut, and naturally the conversation would turn to work. After sharing that ANT-Hiroshima was supporting the Hibakusha Appeal campaign, Tomoko-san asked Higashi-san and Tanaka-san if they would participate too.

(From right to left) Higashi-san and Tanaka-san with Tomoko-san

Wishing to do more than just collect family members’ signatures, the two placed blank forms on the front counter of their salon. They ask regular customers, people they already have established relationships with, to sign. So far, no one has refused. Some offer to write the names of their family members as well, while others take home a form to share with acquaintances.

Like Fujitaka-san, this is the first time Higashi-san and Tanaka-san have participated in peace activities. When I asked, “Why now?” Higashi-san responded, “Because of Tomoko-san. We trust her.”

The two also think most people living in Hiroshima, no matter where they were born, would be willing to sign because peace-related issues are part of Hiroshima daily life. Whether or not to actively engage is up to the individual, but there’s no denying that peace education in schools, news coverage around August 6, and a host of other events and institutions have an impact on citizens’ consciousness and identity.

When asked whether they had anything else they wished to convey, Higashi-san and Tanaka-san looked pensive, then simply stated, “We don’t want war.”

 *    *   *

A signature campaign is largely built on trust. As Higashi-san and Tanaka-san pointed out, without it, no one would write their address on the petition form.

A simple act with simple motives is the heart of these citizens’ work. Any attempt there might have been on the part of the interviewer to fish for a more complex story or a hot take on activism was rebuffed. Trust built on personal relationships and the potential for cooperation therein was the message, loud and clear.

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Green Legacy Hiroshima