Peace vigil goes online - Albuquerque Journal

Peace vigil goes online

Maria Decsy, from Connecticut, hangs some of the 70,000 peace cranes during the remembrance of Hiroshima Day at Ashley Pond in Los Alamos in 2015. Around 250 people attended the event marking the 70th anniversary of a atomic bomb being dropped on the Japanese city. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Like almost everything else in the year of COVID-19, the peace vigil in Los Alamos held annually on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, will be a virtual event this year.

“We had been planning this for three-and-a-half years. It never occurred to us that we would have to cancel it,” said Rev. John Dear, a Catholic priest, author and lecturer who has led a gathering at Ashley Pond that has typically drawn hundreds of peace-loving, anti-nuke petitioners for the past 17 years.

Dear said organizers planned a huge gathering this year, as 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the first war use of an atomic bomb, which was developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Actor Martin Sheen was going to be there to speak. So was civil rights activist and New Mexico native Dolores Huerta. Jackson Brown and Joan Baez were invited, too, in an effort to bring attention to nuclear weapon production at LANL.

“There are always rallies at the Pentagon and at Livermore Labs, but nobody comes to Los Alamos because it’s so remote and hard to get to,” Dear said.

But, this year, a massive throng of demonstrators were expected to march from Ashley Pond to the lab’s entrance on Diamond Drive on the diamond anniversary on Thursday – Aug. 6, 1945, the date of the Hiroshima bombing.

In conjunction with the peace vigil, a national conference on nonviolence was to be held in Albuquerque two days later, drawing other national and internationally known faith leaders, political scientists and peace activists.

“But then the pandemic hit and we were forced to move everything online,” Dear said in a phone interview last week from his home base in Big Sur, California.

So planners scrambled to reorganize the event, now condensed into a one-hour video that serves as the finale to a daylong webinar commemorating Hiroshima, which along with the bombing of Nagasaki three days later, killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese – and ultimately led to the end of World War II.

A pacifist who has been arrested 75 times for acts of civil disobedience – but who has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize multiple times and called “the embodiment of a peacemaker” by Archbishop Desmond Tutu – Dear believes there are better ways to settle differences between nations.

“We’re trying to create the imagination for peace,” he said. “We’re saying, ‘Hey, we don’t have to have nuclear weapons. We can end this.’ Because it has to stop.”

Father John Dear, center, and dozens of other protesters wore burlap sacks as they made the annual Peace March in Los Alamos in 2007. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Dear will host the portion of the program put together with the help of Pace e Bene Nonviolence Services, a Corvallis, Oregon-based nondenominational nonprofit whose mission is to “foster justice, peace and the well-being of all.”

The video will open with a Native American blessing from Evelyn Naranjo of San Ildefonso Pueblo, which is adjacent to where the U.S. government established Project Y, the secret lab that carried out the Manhattan Project’s mission to design and build the atomic bomb on Pajarito Plateau.

Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico will then speak about the history of the lab, the Manhattan Project and the role LANL continues to play in the production of nuclear weapons.

A reflection and remembrance led by Roshi Joan Halifax, founder of the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, will follow Coghan’s talk.

The keynote speaker will be two-time Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Ira Helfand, who will discuss the need to build a global grassroots movement in order to eradicate nuclear weapons.

“This is how change happens, through a global, people-powered movement,” Dear said.

The program will conclude with what Dear said is a not-to-be-missed address by John Wester, Archbishop of Santa Fe, who will speak about the morality of nuclear weapons and also deliver a blessing.

“He (Wester) heard about what we were doing and wrote us to ask, ‘How can I help? I want to be a part of it,’ ” Dear said.

The video will air on several platforms at 6 p.m. on Thursday.

People interested in attending the free webinar can register online at

The daylong Campaign Nonviolence national conference on nonviolence that was planned for Albuquerque will also move online.

The conference will feature Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar and spiritual writer from Duke City, and Erica Chenoweth, a professor of public policy at Harvard whose focus is nonviolent resistance movements.

The conference will begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 8. Registration for the event, which does require a $50 fee to attend, can also be found at the Pace e Bene website.

Aside from COVID-19 disrupting the annual peace vigil, Dear said the movement to eliminate nuclear weapons has changed since he first led the rally in Los Alamos.

“These aren’t just peaceniks; that’s not what’s happening any more,” he said. “Like Jay Coghlan says, we’re the new abolitionists.”



While anti-nuclear activists canceled their annual peace vigil and march in Los Alamos, held each year on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Los Alamos County is urging people to celebrate World War II-era anniversaries online or, in some instances, in person.

In a news release last week, the Los Alamos Economic Development Department invited people to get educated – and a little exercise – about the role Los Alamos played in bringing an end to the war 75 years ago.

August 6 marks the anniversary of the first use of the atomic bomb, Aug. 14 (or 15, depending on your location) is recognized as V-J (Victory over Japan) Day, and Sept. 2 is the date Japan formally surrendered.

“Each of these dates had a huge impact on the world as a whole,” Kelly Stewart, marketing manager for Los Alamos County, says in the news release. “In Los Alamos, we’re proud to have been the home of groundbreaking science that led to the end of the war, as well as groundbreaking science that continues to this day, and we invite everyone to celebrate these anniversaries with us – either socially distanced, or virtually.”

Folks can physically visit the site of the Manhattan Project and learn some of its secrets by taking a self-guided walking tour. The Los Alamos History Museum also offers a list of “History Hikes,” allowing people to learn about the history of the “Secret City” while enjoying the outdoors.

But Stewart also urges people to explore the city and its attractions online.

“We can’t wait to welcome out-of-state visitors again, once it’s safe to do so,” she said. “However, our community has been hard at work to ensure that those who would like to visit can still enjoy some of the incredible attractions and see some of the spaces virtually.”

The Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos

Among them are the History Museum’s online overview of the Trinity Site, where the bomb was first tested, and the Bradbury Science Museum’s website.

There’s also a recently released YouTube video titled “Project Trinity: The Myth, the Legend, the Legacy” presented by Los Alamos National Laboratory historian Alan Carr that debuted at last month’s Los Alamos ScienceFest.

People are invited to visit the Manhattan Project National Historical Park’s 75th commemoration website, or its Facebook page, to learn the history behind the design and development of the first atomic bomb.

The women who make up the Atomic City’s history are also recognized.

“Celebrating the incredible historical contributions of women in Los Alamos, as well as the centennial anniversary of women’s right to vote, Pioneering Women in Los Alamos offers an incredible lesson on the powerful women of the area’s history,” according to the news release.

Finally, people can participate in the Messages of Peace program, where they can follow directions to make their own paper origami crane and submit their own message. The messages are placed in a time capsule to be opened in 2045, the 100th anniversary of the atomic bomb.

“Until visits can resume, we encourage those from out of state to join us virtually, and learn about the history and science that shaped our town – and the history of the world,” Stewart said.

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