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Posted by Erin Bechtol

By Catherine Kreuter // A CNV Action Organizer in Utah

Sarah Fox, modern day author and historian, came to Utah this week! Speaking at nine different venues in five days, she was generous with her time, quickly engaging her audiences with her eloquence and command of her topic—a veritable whirlwind of information. Notable was her omission of fear-mongering and her faith in community action to bring about change nonviolently.

Sarah hales from the state of Washington and moved to Utah to attend Utah State University.   She originally planned to study water policy, but stumbled onto the story of Utah downwinders (those downwind of the Nevada nuclear weapons testing site, eighty miles northwest of Las Vegas).  From that point on she wanted to continue to learn more especially since she grew up in Washington State where the Hanford nuclear site is located. 

Authoring Downwind: A People’s History of the Nuclear West became her academic achievement, and it was published in 2014 by the University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln). Soon—this Fall—it will be available in paperback.

Sarah’s visit was sponsored by the Utah Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (UCAN), the United Nations Association of Utah (UNAU), and the University of Utah (U of U). She spoke at numerous venues including the U of U School of Communication, Kol Ami Synagogue, St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, U of U Hinckley Institute of Politics and others.

At the final presentation to a group of mostly senior citizens Sarah told us that the overwhelming response of students on campuses was indignation and shock that they had never been told this history—not in high school, not in college. Sarah, now a faculty member of Puget Sound University in Tacoma, is currently working on curricula for both these levels of education.

The following is taken from the University of Nebraska Press description of Downwind:

An unflinching tale that reveals the intentional disregard for human and animal life through nuclear testing by the federal government and uranium extraction by mining corporations during and after the Cold War. Sarah Alisabeth Fox highlights the personal cost of nuclear testing and uranium extraction in the American West through extensive interviews with “downwinders”: the Native American and non-Native residents of the Great Basin region affected by nuclear environmental contamination and nuclear testing fallout. These Downwinders tell tales of communities ravaged by epidemics, farmers and ranchers economically ruined by massive crop and animal deaths, and Native miners working in dangerous conditions without proper safety equipment—so that the government could surreptitiously study the radiation effects on humans. In chilling detail Fox brings to light the stories and concerns of these groups, whose voices have been silenced and marginalized for decades in the name of “patriotism” and “national security”.

Correction: We originally stated that Sarah grew up near Hanford, WA and identified as a downwinder, but she actually lived near Seattle so she does not consider herself a downwinder. She is still very concerned about the issue of nuclear testing.

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