Seaside summit

Elise T. Chisolm

August 13, 1991|By Elise T. Chisolm

We were sitting on the beach looking out over the tranqui ocean. It was sunset. The ocean sparkled with shades of pink and red. For miles there was nothing but water, no bathers, no boats just the sea. So generous.

I said: ''Dear God, I hope it will always be here ...'' It was both a benediction and a fear.

My guest said: ''Well, it's up to us.''

And then we had a long talk.

Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush had signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), the first accord of the nuclear age to reduce nuclear arsenals. What a dichotomy, because at the same time the U.S. Senate was debating a measure that amounts to a big escalation of the arms race.

Gerry Weiss, 41, a husband and father from Amherst, Mass., is worried and START hasn't helped him worry less.

He and his wife are clinical social workers. They are active in 20/20 Vision, a 4-year-old watchdog organization with 75 chapters across the nation advocating nuclear arms reduction, elimination of unnecessary military spending, protecting the planet and more support for human needs.

''There can be no peace until we stop nuclear proliferation,'' he says as we both look oceanward.

I can agree with that.

He explains his interest in 20/20 Vision and its machinations.

''During the Reagan reign I would wake up depressed about the destruction of the world as we know it. And then I would think about the defense budget, and the 300 billion that we were spending," he says. "My concerns took me to a chapter meeting in Amherst of 20/20 Vision where they talked about a nuclear freeze and how to go about it, and other environmental issues. I was hooked. I'd been searching to find a way to help.''

Gerry was not a flower child and the group he joined is not fanatical or militant. It's a mix of all ages meeting together to take action via the phone and the mail in order to influence key policy makers and voters.

''Our group is more about democracy,'' says Gerry. ''That if we elect the right people, who believe in freedom from destruction, we will survive.

''We don't agitate," he says.

For $20 a year, members receive a monthly postcard spelling out action they can take to work toward the organization's goals.

There are more than 10,000 members and 75 chapters organized by congressional districts. Members are asked to give 20 minutes a month.

''Our government has been trying to sell us on the idea that a nuclear weapon is a deterrent. But as long as we have them, the whole point of deterrence is ridiculous,'' Gerry says.

But, I ask him, should Iraq or Iran or some angry nation deploy nuclear bombs on our cities, would he advocate hitting back?

''I would not retaliate," he says. "If a bomb is dropped on us then the millions we have spent on building our nuclear weapons would prove that weapons don't work. It would simply be the beginning of the end of the world.''

I like the sound of his advocacy group. I personally believe we do not need Star Wars or Sen. Sam Nunn's grandiose anti-ballistic missile plans.

I also feel that America needs stronger energy policies - and a national health-care plan and better schools. The real ball game is in our cities, across our farmlands. Groups such as 20/20 Vision feel that these are first priorities. So when I hear that intelligent young people are advocating changes - peacefully - I applaud.

The sun has gone down and the tide is going out. My friend and I both know that the ocean is not as eternal as some think. The beautiful sea has darkened as we head homeward.

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