History of the national Peace Action organization

Ban the Bomb

Peace Action has its roots in the “ban the bomb” movement of the 1950s. Citizens, alarmed by the spiraling nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, formed the Committee for a SANE nuclear policy “to develop public support for a boldly conceived and executed policy which will lead mankind away from war and toward peace and justice.”

Beginning with a full page advertisement in the New York Times, SANE spokespeople like Schweitzer, Eleanor Roosevelt, Norman Thomas, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Bertrand Russell, Pablo Casals, Roger Baldwin, Paul Tillich and Erich Fromm helped SANE became an effective national voice for nuclear disarmament. From the beginning, SANE saw peace and justice as linked; supporters like Dr. Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott King, Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis connected SANE with civil and human rights movements across the nation. As its reputation grew, artists and entertainers like Steve Allen, Marlon Brando, Henry Fonda, Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller joined Harry Belafonte and Ossie Davis to form Hollywood’s Stars for SANE.

Our First Victory and Confronting the Vietnam War

In 1963, members led the effort for our first major victory, the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. SANE was an early leader in the anti-Vietnam War movement. Ben Spock and Seymour Melman, as well as current Board members David Cortright, Marcus Raskin, Robert Schwartz and President Emeritus William Sloane Coffin were all deeply involved in this movement. SANE’s public education campaigns linked Vietnam with nuclear spending–for example, through its anti-ABM (anti-ballistic missile) campaign slogan: “From the people who brought you Vietnam!” In 1978, SANE led the successful fight against MX mobile missile deployment–avoiding massive environmental damage in Utah and Nevada. New alliances with labor were formed through work with the International Association of Machinists, whose President, William Winpisinger, served as Board Co-Chair.

The Freeze

In the early 1980s, President Ronald Reagan’s nuclear war-fighting policies reignited public outrage once again, and the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign was born–initiated by Randall Forsberg’s call to “freeze and reverse the nuclear arms race.” The Freeze was a grassroots-based confederation of groups with offices in St. Louis and Washington, D.C. Their 1982 ballot initiatives in towns and cities across the nation gave voice to a public desire for nuclear sanity–a voice that eventually attracted attention from the great nuclear warrior himself. Throughout the 1980s Freeze leaders Randall Forsberg, Pam Solo and Randy Kehler worked tirelessly with SANE Director David Cortright to push for nuclear reductions. Elected officials such as Rep. Patricia Schroeder and Sen. Ted Kennedy joined us to lead the fight in Congress. And when the U.S. government began to hold the line on nuclear weapons, Vice President Bush felt compelled to remind voters that it was not “those Freeze folks” who brought about this change … handing us a backhanded (if thoroughly unintentional) compliment.

In 1987, leadership from the two groups initiated negotiations for a merger. With great effort, in a political context dominated by right-wing Republicanism and increased militarism, SANE and The Freeze joined to become SANE/FREEZE, and in 1993, Peace Action.

Peace Action Today

Today, Peace Action has broadened its original nuclear disarmament mission to include the elimination of the trade in conventional weapons at home and abroad, support for a peace economy that funds human rather than corporate/military needs, and advocacy for peacemaking in local communities as well as foreign conflicts. Of course, we still work for the global abolition of nuclear weapons.

Peace Action has also launched the Peace Voter issue advocacy campaign that reaches millions of voters in Congressional Districts across the nation. Peace Action members have worked successfully for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the World Court Advisory Opinion against the legality nuclear weapons, military budget cuts, and landmine legislation. Peace Action members serve as NGO representatives at the United Nations, advocating for peace and justice with citizens from around the world. Coalitions with labor as well as with community anti-violence groups and the Congressional Black Caucus have strengthened the connections between disarmament and social justice.

After more than 50 years of struggle and success, Peace Action continues to educate, lobby, mobilize and act. We began with a call to help lead the world “away from war and toward peace and justice.” Now we are building a campaign for a new century. We know that people in communities around the world can help abolish nuclear and conventional war–just as they ended slavery in the United States and apartheid in South Africa. And we plan to do exactly that, with programs that honor our history, and build a future worthy of our children.

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