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New York City Makes Progress on Divestment from Nukes, Advisory Council to Keep NYC Nuclear Free

Dr. Ellen Ferranti of PSR New York.

On January 28, the New York City Council held a joint committee hearing in City Hall on two important pieces of nuclear weapons-related legislation, Res. 976 and Int. 1621. Res. 976 calls on the City Comptroller to divest NYC public employee pension funds from “companies involved in the production and maintenance of nuclear weapons” and expresses support for the historic U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, a.k.a. the nuclear ban, and the International Campaign to Abolition Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) Cities Appeal. Int. 1621 establishes an Advisory Committee on nuclear disarmament that will investigate and ensure NYC’s status as a “nuclear weapons-free zone.” 

At the hearing, the only opposition to either bill came from the Mayor’s Office, which voiced a technicality-based argument that the office would be unable to fulfill the obligations of the legislation based on its scope. Around 60 people, many of whom represented prominent local and national organizations, turned out to testify in favor of the bills and spoke passionately about the legislation’s impact on local communities and New Yorkers. Several Council Members spoke out eloquently in support as well. At the end of the testimony, the Mayor’s Office announced that they would “find a way” to address the technicality. Council Member Fernando Cabrera also announced his support for both bills, ensuring that they each now have a veto-proof majority.

Both Res. 976 and Int. 1621 are expected to achieve passage soon. Read coverage of the hearing via The New York Daily News here

Dr. Ellen Ferranti of PSR New York attended the pre-hearing press conference and hearing and wrote the following blog post for PSR.

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It was a cool, crisp morning on January 28 here in lower Manhattan, when we gathered for a press conference on the steps of City Hall—in our winter coats, hats, gloves—holding banners, signs…I couldn’t remember the last time I did this—the last time I came out of my world of medicine to stand up publicly for a cause such as this.

Dozens of individual supporters and organizations gathered in support of the NYC City Council bills.

We are teachers, lawyers, doctors, students, mothers, fathers, sons ,daughters, activists and advocates—from all walks of life—gathering in solidarity, as advocates for the NY Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (NYCAN), a campaign for nuclear disarmament and divestment of New York City pension funds from companies that promote nuclear weapons.

NYCAN banner on City Hall steps.

New York City has played a major role in the nuclear weapons industry, but we also have a history of opposing them.

The NYCAN team has been diligently working to encourage NYC Council Members to support two important pieces of legislation, Resolution 976 and Introduction 1621.

According to a description by United for Peace,  “this proposed package of legislation represents a powerful and progressive declaration of NYC’s support for nuclear disarmament and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (endorsing the ICAN Cities Appeal)”  and provides a “mechanism for policy and education related to NYC’s nuclear weapons legacy and subsequent nuclear weapons – free zone status.” It also calls for NYC to divest public pension funds from producers and manufacturers of nuclear weapons.This package of legislation on nuclear disarmament was introduced by City Council Member Daniel Dromm and co-sponsored by other Council Members.

And this press conference/rally seemed to empower and inspire many to speak out here at the Press Conference and to give testimony at the City Council hearing that followed inside City Hall. Many spoke at this press conference: Seth Shelden (UN Liaison, ICAN), Ray Acheson (WILPF/ICAN)( who held aloft the ICAN 2017 Nobel Peace Prize medal) and others from the NYCAN team, who worked so hard on this effort: Dr. Kathleen Sullivan (NYCAN/Hibakusha Stories), Robert Croonquist (Youth Arts New York), Brendan Fay (St. Pat’s for All), and so many others.

At the City Council joint hearing.

After the press conference came to a close, we gathered inside City Hall for the Council hearing on each bill. City Council Member Dromm engaged in dialogue with a representative from the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs, who testified that the agency was ill-prepared to accept the proposed legislation, and expressed multiple reasons why the agency was not the right “fit” for the proposed legislation on nuclear weapons. Other Council Members questioned why the office wasn’t on board, making remarks like, “We need to support this legislation” and “We need to be prepared.”

“This is a domestic bill on an international issue,” one Council Member said. It was strongly held that the “correct” government office/agency would be found to implement the proposed bills.

And so the hearings began in earnest to demonstrate to the City Council that New Yorkers (either native to or supportive of) represented the experts, the advisory pool, task force members, who would work for free to “provide education and policy” to support nuclear disarmament and “have NYC be the leader for the world.”

Seth Shelden (UN Liaison, ICAN) delivers remarks on City Hall steps.

Panels of speakers/advocates were from the Indigenous community, the ecumenical community, NYC municipal workers, financial sector, military community, labor community, Hibakusha, UN/ICAN/NYCAN/NGOs, peace community, climate, science and environmental communities, healthcare, medical,and legal communities, arts community and student voices. The list of speakers included: the Shoshone Nation, Hibakusha, Kings Bay Plowshares, Pax Christi, NYCT, US Labor Against the War, Youth Arts New York, Veterans for Peace,Vietnam Veteran, Teamsters, Peace Boat, St. Pat’s for All, WILPF, Mayors for Peace, ICAN, Rise and Resist, Peace Action, War Resisters League, NAPF, former FBI agent, Nuclear Ban US, Union of Concerned Scientists, People’s Climate Movement, PSR, IPPNW, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, Manhattan Project for a Nuclear Free World, artists and  filmmakers, PEAC Institute, Peace Action and Hibakusha Stories. Their words were inspiring, their messages empowering, and collectively, their resolve undeniable.

Several of the interns from Peace Boat read statements from survivors of the Hiroshima bombings. I was struck by the testimony quoting Setsuko Thurlow: “Don’t give up, keep pushing, see the light, crawl towards it. These resolutions are part of that light- I urge you to vote in favor of the nuclear ban and nuclear weapons divestment.”

Nuclear weapons are indeed a threat to human health and survival. Are we prepared for this here in NYC? Several Council Members spoke about being instructed in school to crawl under their desks during air raid drills. I, too, remember those drills. Why did we ever think that would protect us?

As a New York physician from the former St. Vincent’s Hospital, I remember 9/11 so vividly…I remember our feelings of helplessness and hopelessness—we couldn’t do what we were trained to do as doctors—too few survivors…

We have an opportunity, a duty here, as doctors, as volunteers with PSR and as New Yorkers—yes, I was born and raised here, trained here, practice here and have raised my children here—to get more involved, to “engage/educate/empower,” and to endorse these City Council bills to form an advisory committee/task force on nuclear disarmament and divest NYC pension funds.

And, as PSR-NY’s mission statement proudly states, “preventing what we cannot cure.”

I encourage everyone to join this effort.

Ellen J. Ferranti, MD practices internal medicine and is a member of PSR NY.