With the U.S. Constitution and our First Amendment Right to peaceably assemble as our only permit, organizers with Katuah Earth First! continued the No Nukes Summer Days of Action with a rally, parade and nonviolent direct action in Asheville on July 15.
Katuah Earth First! collaborated in this effort with organizers from the Nuclear Information & Resource Service (NIRS), New South Network of War Resisters, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL), Proposition One, WNC Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Mountain Protectors for a Nuclear Free WNC. We gathered to say:
"Keep high-level radioactive waste at the commercial nuclear power plants where it is made. Do not ship it through Asheville and these mountains to the S.C. Savannah River Site. Do not recover the weapons grade plutonium, and do not return this deadly, toxic waste to Madison County, N.C. for permanent burial."
Big Nasty, a marching band recruited from their bussing spot on a nearby corner, led the way with lively drumming, banjo and brass as we stepped off nearly one hundred strong from downtown Pritchard Park. It was an empowering show of resistance to the escalating threat in Atomic Appalachia of the nuclear power, weapons and waste industries.
The day was cool, a welcome break from the heat of the previous week. The streets were filling with a curious crowd of tourists and sidewalk cafes were busy. We captured the attention of all with well crafted signs and banners. Designer Coleman Smith coordinated days of effort turning recycled cardboard into the colorful messages that we carried along the route. Multi-colored wooden peace signs on tall poles, crafted by Ole Sorensen, added the historic touch of the symbol for nuclear disarmament.
The giant and prophetic NIRS banner carried our mantra -- "Carbon Free/Nuclear Free." Our first stop was the Federal Building with the message that President Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future is a tragic misnomer. There is no safe future for America if we persist with this nuclear madness. There are safe, clean, and economic alternatives to dangerous, dirty, and expensive nuclear power.
The Asheville Police Department, "dedicated to providing public safety and maintaining order; enforcing the laws of North Carolina, upholding the United States Constitution and enhancing national security," were present on bicycles, on foot, in cars, and vans. Our police liaison Coleman Smith spoke with the APD at the rally. "They seemed satisfied with our peaceful intent and worked with us as we paraded towards the Federal Building." When APD Sergeant Lance asked, "Will you be going into the Federal offices?" Smith replied "Not today." The police behaved with courteous professionalism as they managed the automobile traffic at intersections and generally facilitated our practice of feisty free speech.
Asheville area residents have been active for decades working to protect our mountains from the devastation of the nuclear industry. In recent years a coalition called Common Sense at the Nuclear Crossroads, have provided well-researched reports to educate residents of the threat to Western North Carolina. As of yet, the Asheville City Council has not seen the purpose or rationale to adopt a nuclear non-transport ordinance, similar to the Nevada ordinance, to keep the predicted 10,000 truckloads of RAD Waste out of our town.
With social media now a large part of the tool box for activists and organizers, an ad hoc group known as Mountain Protectors Action Alliance used Facebook to organize a "flash mob" in the Pack Square area downtown on the same afternoon. We extended our parade route from the Federal Building to Vance monument and coordinated via cell phone with drivers Julius Kerr and his relief driver Bill, to reroute BREDL's mock Nuclear Waste Cask to Pack Square to participate.
People on both sides of the street began falling to the sidewalks in a domino effect as the mock radioactive waste cask passed by.
The threat to our ancient mountains and the communities of life that flourish here is real and great. Folks came from throughout the region to stand together. One woman, in an impromptu speech jumped up on the wall and told the crowd:
"I was born in Western North Carolina. My people have been here a long time. We love these mountains and we won't let them be ruined by this nuclear waste."
Echoing that sentiment was Cherokee-Lakota healer Amy Walker, who came to Asheville with her nephew Tyson. Elder Walker wanted us to know as we organize resistance to the nuclear threat, that there are allies in the nearby Cherokee nation. There is already evidence of radioactive contamination of the air and water and an increase of cancer on the Eastern Band Cherokee Reservation, they said, which may be from activities at the Oak Ridge, Tenn. Y-12 National Security Complex and Nuclear Fuel Services in Erwin, Tenn. The Cherokee reservation is about 100 miles downwind of Oak Ridge.
In an impromptu meeting with organizers from Katuah Earth First! the conversation swung to how all affected by this nuclear tragedy could come together. "It is long overdue for our peoples to be working together," the Cherokee elder said.
Katauh Earth First! Road Kill Faction is part of the global radical environmental movement. As a nonviolent direct action and education group KEF! acts as part of nature, believing there can be no compromise in defense of the Earth. KEF! has been acting to defend and protect these mountains and the Katuah Bio-region for over 20 years.
New South Network of War Resisters is an Asheville-based regional initiative for Action, Collaboration &Training In Organized Nonviolence. Clare Hanrahan & Coleman Smith are lead organizers.