Nuclear freeze plans; Keeping the weapons debate alive

As the proposal for a nuclear weapons freeze snowballs into a major national issue, grass-roots activists across the country are grappling with the campaign's second phase: how to keep the freeze debate hot.

Although the dialogue on how to curtail the nuclear arms race now reaches every level of American society, from discussions at the family dinner table to presidential press conferences, some observers have speculated that the movement may be a passing political fad.

It is a possibility that has not been overlooked by freeze activists. They have already begun mapping long-term strategies aimed at weaving the freeze into the fabric of mainstream American politics - and of mainstream American life.

''We're laying the foundations,'' says Tim Button, state coordinator of the Iowa freeze campaign. ''We're preparing for the long haul. Whether we're in the limelight now or not doesn't keep us from the task of taking root.''

Because the movement has grown at the local, grassroots level - with no national organization to lead the way - freeze strategies are being developed on a state-by-state, and sometimes city-by-city, basis. Although those strategies vary, they have at least one common goal: to make the freeze, and the nuclear arms race, a major issue in the 1982 elections and, if necessary, in the 1984 presidential campaign.

Already, freeze activists from California to New England have begun organizing by congressional districts and have made plans to sponsor candidate forums focused solely on the arms race. In Minnesota, for example, Madge Micheels-Cyrus, a freeze campaign organizer, says that activists will try to force the state's US Senate, House, and local elections into being decided ''on a freeze issue basis.''

''The freeze is already shaping the political debate,'' says California pollster Mervin Field. ''It will be in the political dialogue in this year's races. It's forcing candidates to take a stand on the issue.''

Freeze strategists also are planning to move beyond the political arena into streets, homes, and Rotary clubs. Events now planned in communities across the country include Mother's Day marches, bus trips to the June United Nations conference on disarmament, talks to community service clubs, street theater productions, and passing out leaflets at county fairs.

Almost every week, it seems, a new group forms in the name of halting the arms race - architects, lawyers, and even a group of Minnesota sport fishermen who call themselves ''Anglers for Nuclear Disarmament.''

The movement, however, may find a channel for its most powerful impact in Hollywood. A growing number of writers, producers, actors, and actresses from both film and television have begun meeting regularly to learn more about the arms race and to discuss ways to present the issue on television and in film.

So far, little has made its way to the TV screen - although a ''Lou Grant'' show to be aired May 3 will focus on the subject. In addition, ABC announced April 26 that it will air next year a graphic, four-hour television movie about the devastation wreaked if three nuclear bombs fell on Kansas City.

Although Brandon Stoddard, president of ABC Motion Pictures Inc., insists that the movie will not make any political statements, he also contends that television programmers have ''a direct responsibility'' to increase public awareness about ''the unthinkable.''

Freeze activists say they don't expect the issue to be resolved overnight. Nor do they think the movement will continue without carefully crafted, grass-roots strategies and goals. They argue, however, that the movement is not a flash-in-the-pan demonstration of concern. Rather, they say, it represents a marked change in citizen attitudes about nuclear war - a change that has come as old beliefs about the survivability of a nuclear confrontation give way to the conviction that no nuclear war is winnable or survivable.

''I speak to a lot of groups,'' says Minnesota organizer Madge Micheels-Cyrus. ''I'm finding that the people who're coming to hear me aren't coming because they're doing their peace thing of the year. They're coming because they want to do something. They want to get involved.''

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