Antinuclear ranks swell with new professional coalition
A new strategy is sprouting from the grass roots of the antinuclear movement in New England. Not only have the ranks of some 100 groups based in the region swelled dramatically in the past six months, but the colorful array of activists in the antinuclear spectrum now have been joined by a solid political coalition of white coats and white collars - rather than disparate professional groups acting in uncoordinated yet common cause.
The Professionals Coalition for Nuclear Arms Control, which formed last week in Boston, plans to lobby in Washington using its national and international contacts. Its backers hope this will add respectability and credibility to a movement that has often been dismissed as a radical, rebellious protest left over from the Vietnam war era.
The Professionals Coalition includes the Lawyers Alliance for Nuclear Arms Control; Physicians for Social Responsibility; and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Each profession plans to bring its particular expertise to the coalition, which will begin its lobbying efforts in Washington in January 1984. (The Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign also recently announced a political action group to be known as Freeze Voter '84.) The coalition plans to lobby Congress for:
* A nuclear weapons freeze.
* A reduction of first-strike weapons.
* A comprehensive nuclear test-ban treaty.
* A stand against research and development of space-based defensive weapons.
Looking out onto a brick courtyard from his Beacon Hill office, Alan B. Sherr , president of the Lawyers Alliance, says he is very excited about the new coalition. ''We are bringing organizations very close together. It focuses our energies, and it involves professionals in a community in a way that has never been organized before - and it's bound to have an effect on Congress,'' Mr. Sherr states.
Indeed, while professionals from various fields have been involved in educating the public about different aspects of nuclear war, there has been little formalized political activity until now.
''Doctors, lawyers, and scientists are not traditionally mobilized,'' Mr. Sherr says, ''and this is not just the heads of the organizations but the professional grass roots across the country. The establishment is organizing and demanding to be heard. We understand the strategy, we understand the politics, and we are not intimidated by the experts.''
Sherr adds that ''when you have prominent doctors, lawyers, and scientists, or a group of such people, the chances are they will have entry and good access to the Congress. Their opinions are taken seriously or at least they are heard. Our message is that negotiations between the Soviet Union and the United States are just not good enough right now. We've gone beyond the point of debating whether nuclear war is bad or good. Now we are debating what to do about it.''
''The more policy oriented, the more organized, the better,'' says Jane Wales , director of Physicians for Social Responsibility. ''To the extent we can speak in one voice and have a consistent yet strong strategy, we will be successful.''
While some antinuclear groups continue to make their voices heard through rallies, marches, and protests, Mrs. Wales believes ''it is always more effective as far as Washington, D.C., goes, to work within the system rather than on the outside. Legislation is better understood than civil disobedience by members of Congress.''
Eric Van Loon, executive director of the Union of Concerned Scientists, the third group in the coalition, believes ''there is enormous vitality and strength in grass roots'' and expands on the comparison between antinuclear strategies.
''There is a distinction in tactics involving civil disobedience and risking arrest and working in democracy to change laws. As in the civil rights and antiwar movements there can be people working toward the same goals - even advancing them - even though they are at different ends of the spectrum. I see them as complimentary.''
The number of people actively involved in this ''antinuclear spectrum'' has risen in recent months, observers say, as a response to US medium-range missile deployment in Europe, no progress in arms talks, what is perceived as an unstable world climate, and public fallout from ''The Day After,'' a much-publicized TV movie of a nuclear attack on Kansas City.
While the thousands of grass-roots groups don't always have exact membership figures, Physicians for Social Responsibility now counts some 30,000 members. The Union of Concerned Scientists counts public support at 100,000 contributors, and the Lawyers Alliance has doubled membership in one year to 5,500.
Such professional interest is also burgeoning on the international level. The Boston-based International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) works through international forums such as the United Nations.
The IPPNW is a two-year-old federation of groups (of which Physicians for Social Responsibility is a member), now comprising some 75,000 doctors in over 45 nations - a figure that has more than doubled in a year, according to Claire Baker of the IPPNW. This includes almost 20,000 Soviet doctors, which IPPNW secretary James Muller says represent ''the best link between East and West that we have. No governments are involved in the discussions, yet we see eye to eye.''
Dr. Muller, an associate professor at the Harvard Medical School, has been involved in the antinuclear movement for 16 years. He says the movement around the world is like ''a lot of different springs coming up all over the place - although there is a tendency to look for a waterfall because it's easier to see.''
The antinuclear movement ''is not like the Vietnam protests,'' he says, ''but more like the abolition of slavery. This was a phenomenon that started from the grass roots up. It was an educational process in the minds of people all over the world.
''What we need now, is a change of that magnitude.''