Associate Director Denise Duffield receives Bill Mitchell Grassroots Activist of the Year Award
By Alex Jasset, Nuclear Threats Program Associate
Last month, PSR-LA participated in the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability’s annual DC Days, where community members and organizations working on nuclear weapons and waste issues gather in Washington, DC to speak with members of Congress and administration officials about safer nuclear policies.
PSR-LA’s DC Days team included myself, Associate Director Denise Duffield, and two community members who live near the contaminated Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL): Jeni Knack, a Simi Valley resident who will soon join PSR-LA as a Field Organizer, and Melissa Bumstead, founder of Parents vs SSFL. Melissa became involved in the SSFL cleanup after her young daughter was diagnosed with a rare leukemia and she met other families at Children’s Hospital who lived near her and were similarly impacted. Her Change.org petition calling for full cleanup now has over 650,000 signatures!
This year, ANA’s policy recommendations included opposing funding for new nuclear weapons and bomb plants and supporting legislation to restrict any President’s sole authority to launch a first nuclear strike and make it U.S. policy to not launch a nuclear strike first. We were especially excited to also advocate for H. Res. 302, a resolution that includes all of the Back from the Brink campaign’s package of policies to prevent nuclear war. Policy recommendations on nuclear waste included advocating for the Dept. of Energy to comply with the law and cleanup agreements, and opposing funding for consolidated storage of spent nuclear fuel, Yucca Mountain, and “advanced” nuclear reactors.
Heading into the week, I was a little nervous about the scope of the meetings because ANA’s policy recommendations were thoughtful, detailed, and comprehensive in terms of protecting communities from the harmful effects of the nuclear-industrial complex, and I am relatively new to some of these issues. However, my anxieties faded quickly after the first day of training where ANA leaders broke down the key issues and made sure that everyone had a basic understanding of them, even if they weren’t directly related to specific site challenges back home.
As the week progressed, I realized that this was one of the most important strengths of ANA: everyone’s an expert on something, but no one needs to be an expert on everything. And this chorus of voices, speaking on the issues that are most important to each of our communities, has a collective strength that is greater than the sum of its parts.
ANA scheduled over 70 meetings with legislative and executive officials from around the country. The PSR-LA team was involved in 12 meetings, most of which were with the offices of California representatives. Overall we had a great slate of meetings, and came away with new information and commitments from many of the offices.
On the second night of the gathering, ANA hosted an awards dinner, where they acknowledged the hard work of both community activists as well as elected officials who are committed to safer nuclear policies. Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA) was honored for his leadership on nuclear disarmament, particularly for his No First Use legislation.
Patricia Mellen, attorney, was honored for her steadfast work around plutonium contamination at the Rocky Flats site in Colorado. Rose Gardner, an activist with Alliance for Environmental Strategies, was honored for her efforts to oppose consolidated interim storage facilities for nuclear waste in Texas and New Mexico.
PSR-LA’s Denise Duffield was awarded the Bill Mitchell Grassroots Activist of the Year Award for her “tireless advocacy and outstanding leadership in pursuit of environmental justice in Southern California, comprehensive cleanup of Santa Susana nuclear site, and nuclear disarmament throughout the world.” Being relatively new to PSR-LA (and very aware of Denise’s hard work), it was a highlight of my trip to see such esteemed colleagues celebrate Denise’s accomplishments and dedication to our shared cause.
In some of our downtime, we were able to visit the Museum of the American Indian, which was an important moment for me as well. Having written my MA thesis about energy development on indigenous land and learned about the historical and continued injustices forced upon indigenous communities, particularly with respect to nuclear energy and weapons, the museum was a sobering reminder of the added burdens placed on communities of color, and the work that we still have to do to rectify past injustices and prevent future ones.
The week wrapped up with the ANA Spring Meeting, where we debriefed some of the new information we learned from our meetings and discussed opportunities for collaboration going forward to address issues related to the dual interests of ANA: radioactive waste cleanup and nuclear disarmament, which were nicknamed the Green Pod and the Peace Pod, respectively. Given that most of my work at PSR-LA is centered around nuclear weapons, I was in the Peace Pod, although I gained tremendous insight from conversations and interactions with the members of the Green Pod.
I’m so thankful for the opportunity to spend time with such talented and inspirational colleagues, and I’m looking forward to forging stronger ties with ANA members and continuing to learn from and share information with them to strengthen our collective work.