Not just another roadside attraction

Craig Wood

Driving a bus with ABOLISH WAR painted on the back of it from south Minneapolis through rural Minnesota can turn heads. Ask Steve Mckeown.

Mckeown, a Vietnam Vet and local member of Veterans For Peace (VFP) is part of a collaborative effort between Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) and VFP collecting signatures from residents of all 851 incorporated Minnesota towns on a petition to ban nuclear weapons globally. Armed with a clipboard and map of Minnesota mounted on cardboard, he usually drove alone around the hinterlands to sign up folks he’d meet at county fairs or in small towns. He kept accurate tallies and was careful to put stickpins in towns on the map after receiving signatures from its citizens.

Other times, he’d roam the state with buddies in the newly renovated VFP Chapter 27 bus — stopping to prowl through laundromats, bars, cafes and bait shops. If there wasn’t anything open, they’d ring doorbells, bang on grain elevator doors or stroll up to homeowners weeding gardens and working on cars. If that didn’t work, they’d try a community recycling center or look for willing participants gassing up their cars or stopped at a railroad crossing. One time, a woman painting a building came down from scaffolding to sign - there was always a plan B.

McKeown believes most of the people he talked with supported nuclear disarmament, but didn’t think it was very likely. So, there were no shortage of discussions between naysayers and petitioners - with reluctant listeners sometimes capitulating and signing with a shrug of the shoulders. There were also heated discussions inside bars punctuated by snarky laughs and shaky voices from rattled customers — nobody was ever threatened. Most people not in agreement just said no.

Others happily took the pen. A woman from Bemidji who had been an anti-war activist in North Dakota even came down stairs from her motel room in her pajamas to thank and hug VFP members on the bus - “It’s so good to see the peace movement is still alive” she said with watery eyes.

Reasons for signing or not signing varied given the huge cross section of people involved. There were no shortage of Christian enthusiasts who were torn between a dedication to the principles of their faith and an allegiance to their country. One concerned father stopped his riding lawnmower to talk for nearly 20 minutes about his only son in the military overseas who kept re-enlisting to make sure his three daughters would have health insurance. He was so sick of war he signed.

The only objection to obtaining signatures came from a public employee in a small conservative town who took it upon himself to get off his riding lawnmower to tell petitioners they needed a local permit. Mckeown didn’t believe he needed permission to petition his government about grievances and another VFP member suggested to the citizen that he call a cop if he was so concerned. After fuming a bit, he went back to the lawnmower and McKeown and his friend headed to an auto parts/ repair garage which was the only place open - they left town with five signatures. 

WAMM member and long time activist Marie Braun is also on board with worldwide nuclear disarmament - nuclear weapons have been a concern for WAMM since it was formed in 1982. She’s not only appalled by the potential effects of these weapons, her organization also believes they make the world less safe because of the fear and mistrust they create between countries.

Braun and her likeminded friends became more involved with a movement to eliminate nuclear weapons after reading in 2016 about the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). This organization was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 for bringing awareness to the horrific consequences of nuclear warheads, while pioneering a global plan to get rid of them. Not coincidentally - the same year the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was endorsed by 122 countries at the United Nations (UN) in New York. The agreement seeks to prohibit nuclear weapons worldwide and becomes international law when it’s signed and ratified by 50 countries. So far, 32 nations have provided signatures and ratified the treaty.

This was impetus enough for WAMM to spearhead the local campaign supporting the treaty. Soon they were asking US Senators and US House members to weigh in on the proposed nuclear weapons ban, organizing discussions or mailing out information while combing forces with other peace and justice groups to gather signatures on petitions.

"We began this Campaign to add our voices to those around the world calling for the passage of an international treaty to ban nuclear weapons. This will soon be a reality, but there is still much work to be done to rid the world of these horrendous weapons.  We will continue to be a part of the struggle." — Marie Braun

By late October of this year, over 22,600 residents from all 851 incorporated Minnesota towns had signed this petition calling for the abolishment of nuclear weapons. Mckeown (who has by far, obtained the most signatures) thinks the number should be 25,000.

In the meantime, those who have an interest in banning nuclear weapons are encouraged to call members of Congress, especially their two Senators and make statements in support of the UN treaty.



Disclosure - Craig Wood is a member of Veterans For Peace

Marie Braun - 612 275 2720

Steve McKeown - 612 434 0522

Craig Wood - 612 245 1627


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