The Common Good
July-August 1999

A Different New Year's Eve

by Chris Montesano | July-August 1999

Gathering for disarmament in the Nevada desert.

There are times in our lives when the power of God’s love breaks through our brokenness and moves us to take action. The Nevada Desert Experience (NDE) is an interfaith organization that for many years has organized protests and nonviolent direct action at the Nevada nuclear test site, 90 miles from Las Vegas. At a NDE board meeting last year, one person brought a leaflet signed by 14 Nobel Peace Laureates calling for a year of nonviolence to bring in the new millennium as a millennium of peace. There was a sense of being part of a larger movement inspired by the Spirit inviting us to make nonviolence a priority as the year 2000 approaches.

The Nevada Desert Experience is now extending an invitation for people of faith to come and join "Millennium 2000: Walking the Ways of Peace," welcoming the new millennium at the test site, the most-often bombed place on the planet. As Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara once said there, "This is the site of the greatest violence on earth. It should be the site of the greatest nonviolence."

Many people are not aware that Congress just passed the largest military budget since the end of the Cold War. Billions of dollars are allocated for research and development of nuclear weapons. Despite the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty passed in 1996, the country continues research under the guise of the "Stockpile Stewardship Program." Five "sub-critical" tests have been conducted at the Nevada test site since President Clinton signed the treaty. India and Pakistan used this continued research to justify their tests last year. At Lawrence Livermore Labs in California, scientists and engineers are working on fusion technology and other means to miniaturize nuclear weapons, which would allow the possibility for even more rapid spread of these implements of mass destruction.

FOR THE MILLENNIUM 2000 event, NDE is mobilizing people of faith to support the immediate goal of ending sub-critical nuclear tests. On Wednesday, December 29, we are inviting people to join us in Las Vegas for the Bishops’ Dialogue on Disarmament and youth workshops on nonviolence. Jonathan Schell, author of The Gift of Time: The Case for Abolishing Nuclear Weapons Now, will be the keynote speaker on Thursday, December 30. On Friday, December 31, we will have responses from various faith traditions to the previous day’s presentations.

An alternative New Year’s Eve party will be held that evening, with a presentation by Dan Berrigan, SJ. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit will lead a candlelight procession to enter the test site, an act of civil disobedience. The next day, workshops will explore the relationship between our own brokenness and violence. The Millennium 2000 gathering will conclude Sunday, January 2, with exploration of the theme, "Where do we go from here?" Several religious leaders and organizations will address this topic.

Theologian Hans Kung wrote, "Until we can have peace between different religious traditions, we will not be able to have peace between nations." Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book Living Buddha, Living Christ, discusses how his first experience of Christianity was as the arm of an imperialist power during the Vietnam War. However, when he met Christians who were active in stopping that war, he then encountered Christianity as a living tradition. It is the hope of the Millennium 2000 organizers that this event might be such an encounter for many people of different faiths, working together to close the Nevada test site and end nuclear testing in this country.

Chris Montesano is a board member of Nevada Desert Experience and has been with the Catholic Worker movement for 30 years. This event is co-sponsored by Fellowship of Reconciliation, Pax Christi USA, Healing Global Wounds, and the Los Angeles Catholic Worker. Healing Global Wounds is a Native American organization working to close the test site and return the lands to the Native people who first inhabited it. For more information, contact NDE, P.O. Box 4487, Las Vegas, NV 89127-0487; (702) 646-4814.

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