As a student who is still relatively new to what many organizations refer to as “getting to Zero”- or nuclear abolition- I have found that the information on this topic is overwhelming.
Sure, when I write, I want to sound like I know what I am talking about. And to some extent I do. But my dad always had a saying that I am becoming more and more familiar with: “I have learned just enough to know how ignorant I am.” When I was young, this confused me. It just seems like a contradiction. But now I know.
When I began this journey, I realized that I was oblivious to the facts. But now, I admit that I had also been unaware of this framework that led up to all of these problems. I feel like I almost have to go back to my high school history class and dedicate the entire school day to just understand the foundation. This is a scary feeling. I am graduating college and until recently, I have been totally unprepared to dig into this issue I am so passionate about.
To sum it up, “overwhelming” didn’t even begin to cover it.
But when I sit down with these veterans of nuclear abolition movements, I feel at ease because while I do not know everything there is to know, they began the same way I did. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Terry Clark, President of the Western North Carolina chapter of the Physicians for Social Responsibility and psychiatrist by trade. He began to break down the steps it takes to be successful in efforts for social change.
As a part of a group that established itself in the same time frame as the Non Proliferation Treaty, I valued these seeds of wisdom.
1. Follow the principles of The Listening Project
The Listening Project is a non-profit organization founded in 1981 by Herb Walters. This organization dedicates itself to training communities to just learn how to listen. We never really think of this as an important skill to possess, but listening is a unique commodity to come by in a world full of voices.
Clark argues that if you can become a listener, you can make a more powerful impact. This teaches you how to interact with others, whether they are from the side you agree with or you cannot stand being around them because of their views. “Nothing comes from criticizing.” It’s useless, Clark reiterated. So clearly, there has to be another way and if people can learn to listen, this way might become clear.
2. You have to have a philosophy
For example: “Act Local, Think Global” is a common mantra that many, especially around Asheville, are accustomed to hearing.
You have all of these great goals in mind. But you cannot all of a sudden decide to address the United Nations. You have to build a foundation first and make a ripple-effect in your community. Write a Letter to the Editor. It seems simple, but your words will reach more people than you realize.
This is fairly self explanatory. But I will give a short summary.
I have said time and time again that it wasn’t until college that I became aware of these issues. If we can get into the education system so that future generations will be armed with this knowledge, we are already making an enormous impact.
4. Believe in a model and work as a group
You cannot accomplish anything on your own. This does not have to be a group of 20, but a team of four or five dedicated activists can stir up a movement. Once you have your team, however big, stick to an effective model. Sit down and make a plan. Write letters, lobby decision makers, whatever you choose, consistency is key.
There were so many valuable lessons I took away from our conversation. But the most important thing Clark helped me realize was bringing all of the steps of nuclear abolition into perspective.
***WARNING: CLICHE ALERT***
It does not have to be an overwhelming task if you just take it one step at a time.