Vermont youths declare war on nuclear weapons
While some youngsters gleefully roll Easter eggs on the White House lawn, other young people would like the mansion's chief resident to end the grave prospect of nuclear war.
Members of the Children's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CCND) plan to demonstrate Easter weekend outside the White House's tall black railing.
Last May, two sisters from Plainfield, Vt., Hannah, 16, and Nessa, 13, Rabin were talking with three lifelong friends about the stockpile of nuclear arms when the group decided they had to take action. It was the beginning of the CCND.
Since then, the five youths who make up the organization have received donations from individuals and groups who support their cause. The group operates out of an office in the Rabin home.
Hannah Rabin agrees with the notion that children should be sheltered and protected. ''But since we aren't,'' she says,''we need to do something.''
In June, CCND began collecting letters to President Reagan protesting reliance on nuclear arms. Its solicitation, which piggybacked with mailings from peace and church organizations, brought 2,832 letters, mostly from 7- and 8-year old children.
Max Schumann, 17, of Glover, Vt., joined CCND after seeing his sisters help in its founding. He says children should ask for discussion of nuclear weapons to be included in their school curricula. ''It doesn't matter if you're a kid,'' he says in urging children to organize locally.
This grass-roots level is where Hannah sees the most leverage because ''the political system takes so long and the arms race is gaining so fast,'' she says.
Nevertheless, the youths have moved through political channels. Four of the five who make up the planning committee - one had to stay in school - took the letters to Washington in October.
Spending a day on Capitol Hill, they met with congressmen sympathetic to their viewpoint. But Max says they were discouraged to see how quickly congressmen backed off by saying disarmament ''is a political unreality at this point in history.''
Another day in the capital was given to contacting the press.
The following day, after they were denied a request to present the letters to Mr. Reagan, or Vice-President George Bush, ''or someone,'' according to Nessa Rabin, they were told Thelma Duggin, White House liaison for youth, would accept the mail. At 8:00 a.m. they started reading the letters aloud in front of the White House gate. At 12:45 p.m. a White House official told them the presence of TV cameras precluded Ms. Duggin from meeting with them.
Sprinklers came on, but the young protesters' enthusiasm wasn't dampened. ''We have good reason to believe that sprinklers are not turneL on every October afternoon, especially so hard that they spray the sidewalk,'' Nessa says. To which a White House spokesperson responds, ''The sprinklers were probably turned on to water the lawn.''
At 6:00 p.m. members of the group read the last letter and delivered the load to the White House mail officer.
''President Reagan's machine wrote us a letter,'' Nessa says of the response to their protest. Members of the CCND saw a contradiction in the reply, which referred to ''strengthening our defenses'' while bringing about ''verifiable reductions in armaments.''
Admitting that nuclear disarmament is unlikely to be achieved soon, the five youths persist in their campaign. They've gathered 1,100 more letters of protest and plan to carry their message to Washington in June after rallying at the UN's second special session on disarmament.
While some may consider those who favor disarmament to be naive, CCND founders say it is the letters' guilelessness that makes them powerful.
''They address the issue in a very direct way which is refreshing,'' Max says.
Nuclear weapons are frequently discussed in political terms but ''for children it's life or death - nothing to do with politics,'' Hannah says. ''Communism and capitalism, and arguments between the US and the USSR are really irrelevant when you think about the destruction in a nuclear war.''