President Obama makes a historic visit to Hiroshima, Japan this week. He is the first sitting president of the United States to visit the site of the first atomic bomb dropped on Japan during World War II. The threat of this ultimate weapon of mass destruction has loomed over mankind ever since the war. Leading the charge today for nuclear disarmament is a group called Global Zero.
I recently interviewed Mary Popeo, an activist who started the Boston chapter of Global Zero. She talks about getting the group started, what role they will play in this year’s presidential election, and how you can get involved.
What inspired you to join Global Zero and start the Boston chapter?
While at Boston College, I had the opportunity to spend two summers in Hiroshima and Nagasaki where I was first introduced to the stories of Japanese bomb victims. My experience working with these incredible people and immersing myself in the Japanese peace movement led me to begin volunteering with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Cambridge. Joseph Gerson, AFSC’s disarmament coordinator, really took me under his wing and gave me the resources and tools I needed to begin learning about nuclear issues and taking concrete action to eliminate nuclear weapons.
A few years later, when the prospect to join Global Zero as an Action Corps leader presented itself, I jumped at the opportunity. Global Zero is a youth-led international movement to eliminate nuclear weapons and has successfully engaged youth across the country and around the world on nuclear weapons issues. Global Zero has honed the skills I learned at AFSC, and provided me with a veritable family of like-minded young people with which to rally and work. As an Action Corps leader, I was charged with creating a chapter of Global Zero in my community – so here we are.
Can you describe some of the challenges you experienced organizing Global Zero Boston?
There have been many. Getting the chapter started took a lot of effort off the get-go. The majority of Global Zero Action Corps leaders are college students, organizing in their campus communities. Since I am a college graduate, I formed a Boston-wide community chapter, which proved to be quite different. For the first few months I would take time off of work to give talks to university classes or community groups, organized general meetings to gather interested folks, and schlepped across the city collecting postcards and petition signatures. Now that a year has passed and I have some amazing, committed, and passionate young people helping me, things are a lot more manageable!
Along that same vein, avoiding burn-out has been a challenge. Since forming Global Zero Boston, the Global Zero staff in Washington, D.C. has been a huge support. I am in conversation with the Global Zero field organizers weekly. My mentors at AFSC and other peace groups in Boston have also been there for me whenever I had questions. I’ve had to learn the balance between work, life, and volunteerism, and I’m happy to say that I think my self-care tactics have improved since I began this journey last year.
What are some of the events you have held around Boston?
Since we founded the chapter in July 2015, Global Zero Boston has organized a bunch of events in the area. Some of my favorites include No2Nukes, Yes2Peace (a peace rally with dozens of local speakers and musicians), a lecture by Ward Wilson (author of Five Myths about Nuclear Weapons) as part of the Remembering Hiroshima series at the Cambridge Public Library, and a holiday party which brought together Global Zero Boston members and Japanese students from Showa Boston Institute for Language and Culture.
After North Korea’s nuclear test, the threat of terrorism and proposed nuclear arms spending do you think more people are paying attention to the threat of these weapons?
Yes, I think so – although I think that President Obama’s imminent trip to Hiroshima has provoked more conversation recently. Having spent three summers in Hiroshima and Nagasaki working with the Japanese bomb victims and the Japanese peace movement, I can tell you that Obama’s trip is a huge deal!
What do you see as Global Zero Boston’s role in this election year?
Global Zero’s main campaign at the moment is called Race to Zero and aims to engage presidential candidates on nuclear weapons issues in an effort to make nuclear weapons a key issue in this year’s election cycle. As the most visible youth-led NGO in America working on nuclear weapons abolition, I think that Global Zero has the unique role of giving the youth a voice on this issue and giving young people the tools they need to access policy makers, politicians, and the general public.
As for the role of Global Zero Boston specifically, I see our role as collaborating with other groups in the area like the American Friends Service Committee and Massachusetts Peace Action to education our neighbors through letters to the editor, tabling, etc.
You have met some presidential candidates to talk nukes?
Yes! During the primaries in New Hampshire and Iowa, Global Zero teamed up with AFSC to birddog, which entails following presidential candidates on the campaign trail to ask them questions about nuclear weapons.
I had the opportunity of attending a barbeque at Scott Brown’s house where I met Carly Fiorina and asked her whether, as president, she would eliminate nuclear weapons. This year, my fellow Global Zero volunteers and I attended 106 candidate events where we successfully intercepted candidates 68 times! Pretty cool!
Someone reading this might want to get involved with Global Zero. What would recommend to them?
I would urge them to apply to Global Zero Action Corps! Global Zero is currently accepting applications. Action Corps is a year-long leadership development program designed to train and empower young leaders across the country and has allowed me to meet former secretary of defense William Perry, lobby missions to the UN, and participate in the NPT Review Conference. If you have a deep desire to eliminate nuclear weapons and want to take your activism to the next level, this program is for you!