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A VISIT TO ST. GEORGE

Posted by Erin Bechtol
06.07.17

by Catherine Kreuter with Utah Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a Campaign Nonviolence action organizer

On May 19, 2017, ten members of the Utah Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (UCAN) met in St. George (Southern Utah) with seven residents of St. George and vicinity. We all gathered that evening at New Promise Lutheran Church to Remember Downwinders in a beautiful hour-long service.

Our service acknowledged the pain and confusion of those who suffered medical problems (cancers, birth defects, early deaths–including Utah’s beloved Governor Matheson), those who suffered family and financial fracturing due to those illnesses and deaths, and all whose suffering was only made worse by the long period of denial of responsibility for radioactive fallout.

UCAN in Salt Lake City meets twice a month at the main branch of the public library. Our 6th annual Downwinders Memorial Service was held January this year. Planners named it a time for Mourning and Warning. These services are no1 only to grieve but also to demand an end to the arms race. We wanted to share a service with those Utahns whose families were most directly downwind of the nuclear weapons tests. Thus our travel south.

May 19 was a purposeful date. It is the anniversary of Upshot-Knothole Harry, a 1953 nuclear weapon tested in the Nevada desert. Southern Utahns refer to this bomb as Dirty Harry because of the unusually high amount of fallout, which rained down as ash. It was, in fact, the greatest amount of fallout from any test in the continental United States, and it centered in and around St. George. There were 67 above ground nuclear weapons tests in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. People, animals, and plant life were repeatedly subjected to radioactive fallout. Even decades later, Downwinders were largely ignored victims of toxic exposure.

You can Google lots of info about the related diagnoses which accumulated overtime. Cancers can develop slowly, and more and more  western states reported victims. The growing body of evidence persuaded the national Congress to set aside funds for restitution. Applications for restitution are still available today.

The history of nuclear weapons is over seventy years old, and during all that time there were men and women who protested mightily. I’m not an historian, so I cannot tell you about all of them. But I would like to tell you about three contemporary women protestors I am grateful to call friends.

In Utah in the 1980’s Dee Rowland founded Women Concerned About Nuclear War, and in October 1987 traveled with nine of the members to the former Soviet Union.  They met with government officials to ask for an end to the nuclear arms race and the Cold War.  Dee returned in 1990 with a group sponsored by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War held in Almaty, Kazakhstan near the retired Soviet test site.

Deb Sawyer and friends founded the Utah organization, Gandhi Alliance for Peace (GAP), in 1999. In 2007 Deb founded the Utah Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (UCAN). Both GAP and UCAN work in friendship with Campaign Nonviolence as often as possible.

Mary Dickson is a playwright and KUED Channel 7 public television staff member. Her play, Exposed, which chronicles what downwind populations experienced, was published in 2007. She is an advocate and patron of the University of Utah’s Marriott Library Downwinders of Utah Archive. Archive staff will visit Southern Utah communities very soon:  St. George, Cedar City, and Kanab.  For three days, June 12, 13, and 14, they will be recording Downwinder oral histories.  Nice convergence!

I wanted to mention Dee, Deb, and Mary because their work has educated me over decades and certainly paved my way to our St. George visit. Our numbers at our three events were small – seventeen, but all of them are hard workers. I believe that the time we spent together offered each of us a gift of empowerment. It might have looked like preaching to the choir, but appearances can be deceiving. It was empowering the choir!

Special thanks to Rev. Lorrie Gaffney’s strong commitment to our gathering at New Promise Lutheran Church, the St. George Cemetery and St. George Catholic Church. We so much appreciated her loving leadership and warm hospitality, as well as her fun walking tours of Snow Canyon and wild cactus gardens (blooming so audaciously this year!). I consider the time we spent in St. George to have been something sacred.  I loved every minute! Thanks to everyone!

Catherine Kreuter May 31, 2017

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