Anti-war and anti-nuclear activists drew the connection between international conflicts, profits and death on the streets outside a local Navy nuclear-weapons lab ... just one part of a weekend-long teach-in and gathering Aug. 4-6.
The event, marking the anniversary of the World War II bombing of Hiroshima, targeted the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory in West Mifflin. The facility is owned by the federal government but operated by Bechtel Corporation, which has been instrumental in developing both the civilian and defense nuclear industries. Bechtel's leaders have also been highly influential in the U.S.'s dealings with Saddam Hussein in Iraq ... first in the oil business, then in war, and now in business again, as a multi-billion-dollar contractor in Iraq's reconstruction.
"This was the first time that these groups ... anti-war and anti-nuclear ... came together to organize locally," at least in recent years, says event organizer David Meieran. "Nationally, this is the first time there was a concerted effort to organize around a corporation ... and the first time we marched on Bettis."
Antonia Juhasz, author of a new book detailing the relationship between war and profit at Bechtel and elsewhere (The Bush Agenda: Invading the world one economy at a time), was a featured speaker at the weekend's teach-in (see July 27 News Briefs section).
Protesters closed the weekend with a march to the Bettis Lab behind a banner that read, "From Hiroshima to the Middle East: Stop Bechtel," carrying large white cranes ... a symbol of peace after their adoption by a young victim of the Hiroshima bombing. They held a die-in on Luscomb Lane, lying corpse-like just outside the police-barricaded entrance to the plant.
Meieran and other organizers had spent a few weeks prior to the event distributing leaflets in the neighborhood, near Kennywood and nearby malls. "It was a revelation to some people how far Bechtel's reach had been," Meieran reports. "We went fliering in the neighborhood, and the response from local residents varied from 'Oh, I wondered what that facility does,'" to speculation about the cause of local cancer rates.
"We actually had some people come out of their houses and give us peace signs and thumbs up" during the march, he says. The group encountered a group of American flag-waving nay-sayers as well.
The Pittsburgh event was one of many across the nation that included protests at other facilities where business and the military connect. Local organizers included the chapter of the Abolition 2000 Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, the Quaker-affiliated American Friends Service Committee, the women's peace group CodePink, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Anti-War Committee of the Garfield-based social justice group, the Thomas Merton Center.
According to Meieran, organizers plan to continue targeting Bechtel, which has another Navy facility in Wilkins Township.
"From Hiroshima to ... the Middle East," he concludes, "Bechtel illustrates the connections between profiteering and war, between nuclear power and nuclear weapons proliferation, between 'free trade' and the exploitation of indigenous peoples, and between corporate power-brokers and decision-makers at the highest levels of government."