Kansas City, Mo., is in a unique position — it's the only city in the country where, this November, local voters will have a say over U.S. nuclear weapons policy.
That’s because the city council arranged a deal to finance a new nuclear weapons parts plant there; local bonds were issued and a local agency (the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority, PIEA) owns the plant. This is entirely unprecedented; nowhere else in the world has any entity other than a national government had direct financial involvement in nuclear weapons production.
Several years ago, the federal government decided to close and replace an earlier plant in Kansas City which made nuclear weapons parts — to “modernize” nuclear weapons rather than phasing them out. The old plant, like the new one, makes non-nuclear components, such as fuses and casings, which constitute about 85 percent of the weapons. The city council, anxious about losing jobs if the new plant were to be built elsewhere, arranged the local financing.
This unique set-up offers a unique opportunity. Unlike anywhere else in the U.S., the arrangements enable voters to influence national nuclear weapons policy. A first attempt was made by a local coalition called Kansas City Peace Planters to give city voters a say over the plant, and that hit a roadblock. A second attempt was to give city voters a say over the financing, but the law had placed the bureaucracy which was in charge (PIEA) out of reach of the voters.
One attempt was successful — a proposal that the city make conversion plans for a new product or products to safeguard the jobs in the event that the federal government did decide to abandon the plant. Once the signatures were verified, that one didn’t even have to go to ballot — the City Council passed it unanimously. This could be a good strategy for other cities of the nuclear weapons complex as well.
But while previous contracts can’t be undone, the third round of petition signatures collected enough to put on an initiative on the November 6 ballot. It would prevent Kansas City from doing local financing in the future for any proposed expansions or improvements at the plant. More importantly, a winning vote would also send a powerful message to decision-makers in Washington, D.C.
Plant opponents can anticipate being badly outspent, of course. Being a grassroots group with little money is one of their greatest weaknesses — and one of their greatest strengths. The no-vote government agencies and corporations have one kind of power, but plant opponents have another: person-to-person contact, a chance to frame the issue first, and to put the focus where it belongs — before the barrage of ads with distractions. Local churches are among the most vocal supporters of the measure, and the signature-gathering couldn’t have succeeded without them. Along with colleges, libraries, and civic organizations, there are many gathered groups for the face-to-face contact.
There is also one other major opportunity: the final election before November, the state-wide primary for state-wide offices comes on August 7. This should have high turnout, and offers the last chance to reach and persuade a concentration of people we know vote at a time when they’re interested in information on the next election. This coincides nicely with the annual Hiroshima-Nagasaki anniversaries, a high point for nuclear weapons protest. The schedule includes leafleting voters on August 6, mass leafleting of government workers on August 8, and leafleting of factory workers on August 9; people are welcome for all or any part. Anyone who comes to Kansas City for the three-day event will be commemorating the anniversaries in the best possible way — taking effective action to say: never again!
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