Will US warm to a nuclear 'freeze'?
Spurred by the staging of what's claimed to be the biggest disarmament rally in US history, plans are being made for a whole new series of protests and behind-the-scenes efforts aimed at ending the nuclear arms race.Skip to next paragraph
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''This is just the beginning,'' said US Rep. Edward J. Markey (D) of Massachusetts, just before he rose to address a cheering throng, estimated by police at about 500,000, in the 18-acre Great Lawn of New York City's Central Park. (Police estimated another 250,000 people might have taken part in other events leading up to the Central Park rally.)
''This issue (of nuclear disarmament) has the staying power, 'the legs,' to be the most powerful issue in the world,'' added Representative Markey.
''The rally is going to send a very powerful signal to Washington. This is not just a radical movement. It has a has a middle-class base. . .''
The rally did draw from a fairly wide cross section of people. There were a number of long-time anti-war activitists, such as Abbie Hoffman and Coretta Scott King, widow of the late Martin Luther King Jr. But there were others, too - ranging from church leaders to New York actors to children attending their very first political demonstation. However, some who attended said they were protesting as much against the cut in federal jobs programs and high unemployment as much as against nuclear weapons.
Now many of the rally's organizers and speakers are looking ahead for ways to keep their national campaign for a freeze and reduction of nuclear weapons worldwide alive and growing. They are already planning another massive rally on October 15 - just three weeks before this year's Congressional elections - to take advantage of what they maintain is a rising tide of anti-nuclear sentiment in the US.
In addition, Markey - along with other federal lawmakers - have a more immediate hope that the energy and convictions expressed so vociferously and colorfully in New York's Central Park will generate new support in Congress for a nuclear weapons freeze. So far, some 171 House members have co-sponsored legislation calling for a freeze.
And, yet, while it may be a substantive springboard, the rally here will not have any major impact on US weapons strategy in the foreseeable future, according to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. In a public television station interview taped the day before the rally, Weinberger acknowledged that although the rally ''is certainly something people will notice, I don't think anybody rushes back and says, 'We have to change our policy.' ''
Many of the demonstration's organizers conceded that such a policy change will not come quickly or, for that matter, easily.
''There are long and difficult years ahead before we find nuclear disarmament and peace,'' Espiscopal Bishop Paul Moore Jr. of New York told more than 10,000 people at an interfaith service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine June 11.
One notable thing about the American campaign for nuclear disarmament, according to many observers as well as participants here, is that the movement has fairly ''exploded'' in the last few months. And, as a result, it seems to lack some of the organization and internal discipline of earlier mass movements.