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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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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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Green Legacy Hiroshima