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ICPJ Letter: Slowing The Arms Race, March 12, 2007

Mary Hathaway
Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice
Rights Held By
Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice
OCR Text

Slowing the Arms Race, One Congressman at a Time
A History of the Coalition for Arms Control
of the Second Congressional District of Michigan
On a beautiful day in May, 1983, a group of students went from their campus at the
University of Michigan to the edge of town where Congressman Carl Pursell had his
office. The students carried signs protesting Pursell's recent vote to fund a powerful new
intercontinental missile, the MX. This vote had agitated many people in the community.
It came at a time when the President and the Department of Defense were speaking of
nuclear war as not only " thinkable" but "winnable."
The students had picketed the office for only a short time when a staff person invited two
of them inside to discuss a plan. The two emerged shortly. One of them, Will Hathaway,
announced to his fellow demonstrators that the Congressman would meet on July 7 to
hear their concerns. They should select no more than ten people to attend the meeting, as
the office was small.
Nobody imagined that this was the beginning of a sustained effort that would continue as
long as Pursell remained in office. It would bring together a large and diverse group of
people who would give uncounted hours to strategizing, studying, writing letters, and
meeting with their Congressman- all with the intent to reduce the danger of nuclear war.
The students, of course, would soon disperse for the summer. Our son Will had a summer
job that took him away from Ann Arbor. So he handed off to his parents the planning of
the July 7 meeting. This actually made sense. John and I were well acquainted with many
in the "peace community." John had been active in opposition to the VietNam war. I had
become active in 1981 against the nuclear arms race, working through my church and the
Interfaith Council for Peace. John was also prominent in Republican politics and was
personally acquainted with Rep. Pursell.
The group that we recruited to persuade our Congressman included, besides John and me:
• another well-known Republican (elected member of City Council),
• a retired U.S. Army Colonel,
• a professor of physics,
• a professor of political science who specialized in causes of war and prevention of
• the chair of the recent successful Nuclear Freeze campaign in the Second
Congressional District,
• the coordinator of that campaign in Pursell's hometown, Plymouth,
• a churchwoman who was the founder and leader of the Interfaith Council for
• three additional observers who did not enter the discuSsion.
We were confident that Pursell could not ignore these people and that each of them
would have something important to say to him.
We were right. He listened. At the end of the meeting he invited the group to a second
meeting at his home two weeks later, where he would also invite three people who
supported his vote for the MX. These people were:
• Presidential Advisor Ron Lehman,
• a retired Rear Admiral,
• a vice-president of Bendix Corporation.
Not all of our original group could attend, but a new participant was Dr. Arthur Vander,
who had observed the earlier meeting. He represented the local chapter of Physicians for
Social Responsibility.
After both meetings I later reconstructed the discussion from my notes and from memory
and shared this compressed record with all participants. Copies are preserved. The
dialogue was intelligent and spirited and makes good reading today.
But it did not end the controversy.
Early in 1984 our son Will called us from Washington D.C. where he was employed by
the Federation of American Scientists. Part of his job was to meet with a "Monday Lobby
Group" devoted to stopping the MX. His assignment was to work with people in our
district to persuade Carl Pursell to change his vote. Would we assemble a group of
activists to do this?
We called together the group from the previous July, asking them to invite others. Each
was already a member of at least one peace group, so we were an instant coalition. From
Washington Will sent names of additional organizations and their membership lists for us
to contact. We appealed to every member of every organization to write a letter to
Pursell. Through letters to the editor we urged the public to write. Although Pursell's
office did not respond to our request for a meeting, we knew he was getting a lot of mail
on the issue.
When the House authorized the MX in May, Carl voted for a cap on the number of
missiles and an understanding that the appropriation would be dependent on resumption
of arms negotiations with the Soviets. It wasn' t the "No" vote we had wanted, but we
were learning that Congress uses a palette with many shades of gray, and this vote was
better than many of the possible alternatives. We thanked Mr.Pursell.
We were also learning that in Congress an issue is almost never settled. It comes back
twice a year, first for authorization, then for appropriation. Our coalition could not
Our son Will returned to Ann Arbor from 1985 to 1988 and took an active role in our
planning meetings, often presiding. I continued to write the minutes. I began my notes
each time with "Stop-MX meeting", but our lobbying efforts encompassed much more.
By October of 1985 we were writing to Pursell about the Comprehensive Test Ban
{CTB), the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), Star Wars (SDI), Anti-satellite weapons
{ASATS) nerve gas, and US policy in Central America.
We had called ourselves at various times the Coalition Against the MX and the Coalition
Against SO!. In 1986 we held a "summit meeting" of our member groups to consider the
path ahead and decided to call ourselves the Coalition for Arms Control (CAC).
That year Pursell agreed to meet with us twice yearly. This pattern was kept in 1987 also.
We prepared for each meeting by sending to him, in advance, a list of the questions we
wanted to ask him, a list of our members who would participate, and a packet of materials
that would illuminate each subject. (Arthur Vander was a copious reader and selected the
strongest articles for this purpose.) At the meeting, after greetings and introductions, each
topic would be presented by a member who had studied it, leading to a question for Carl.
Often a discussion would follow. Then the next topic and question. We hoped we were
educating Carl. He was also educating us. We learned how complicated and nuanced
were the choices a Congressman had to make.
We felt that our work might be nudging Pursell to make better choices than he might
otherwise make. But his votes often fell short of what we wanted. So when the election
campaign of 1988 began, most of our members wanted to help his opponent. We
considered carefully what was appropriate for the CAC to do as an organization, and we
decided it should remain neutral. We reasoned that there was use for an organization
devoted to dialogue with whoever was the elected representative; we did not want to
abandon that role. If individual members wished to campaign for one side or the other,
that was ok, but they would have to withdraw from leadership in the CAC until the
election was over.
(The district had been redrawn in 1982 to be a safe Republican district; thus Pursell won
re-election every time.)
In 1989 Pursell avoided scheduling any meetings with us. We kept up our contact
through the mail, commending some votes, taking issue with others. At our monthly
planning meetings we added a new function. We had decided to become an arm of a
national lobbying organization called "20/20 Vision." Individuals paid $20 yearly to
receive a monthly postcard informing them about an urgent issue and asking them to
spend 20 minutes writing a letter to an appropriate official. As a "core group," our job
was to choose among several issues presented by the national office, tailor a postcard to
our members, print it and mail it. We started doing this in 1989 and continued for about
ten years. It was a good stimulus. Nowadays e-mail brings the same sort of prod on
almost a daily basis.
By the end of 1989 the Berlin wall had fallen; the Soviet Union was crumbling.
"Economic Conversion" became a topic at our meetings. We actually hoped to lobby for
the transition from a military economy to a peaceful one.
But no. In 1990 the MX was back. The Administration wanted to mount the missiles on
rail cars and shuttle them around Michigan and several other states. They would go
through our town. We mobilized a strong effort to defeat this, including a successful
campaign to persuade City Council to pass a resolution opposed to the plan.
The other urgent issue in 1990 was the looming Gulf War. Iraq invaded Kuwait in
August. We had been preparing for a meeting with Pursell on August 28. The list of
topics to be covered included the MX, the B2 bomber, SDI and ASA TS, chemical
weapons, the CTB, the Plutonium Control Act, clean-up of contaminated sites, and
economic conversion. To this list we added Iraq. Pursell sparred with us on all topics
except clean-up of contaminated sites. When we told him that 2 sites on the government's
list were in his district, he demanded to know where they were and immediately
instructed his aide to find out more about them and report to him.
Preventing war in the Persian Gulf was the overriding concern of the peace community
through the rest of 1990 and into 1991. All peace groups and coalitions were subsumed in
a new Coalition Against War in the Gulf whose core members met practically every day,
sometimes twice a day, planning letter campaigns, flyers, teach-ins, buttons, buses to
Washington, arm bands, rallies, demonstrations. When our efforts failed, we were
devastated. During the period of celebration following the war, confronted with yellow
plastic ribbons everywhere, we felt like aliens in our own country.
For my family, the year took another very dark tum in April when my husband, John,
suffered a stroke which paralyzed his left side. I dropped out of peace activities altogether
for several months, and would return at a much lowered level of involvement. While I
was out of action, the CAC held a meeting with Carl Pursell on August 6, which I did not
attend. The meeting went badly. From the notes that were given to me, it appears that
Carl was hostile, scolding our members for focussing only on armaments, asking which
of them had voted for his opponent, shaming them for driving foreign cars.
Perhaps Carl was just having a bad day. Or perhaps he had already decided that he would
not run for re-election in 1992. So there was no longer a reason to be nice to these
constituents who-most of them- were not Republicans. I think our relationship with
him did not ever regain the respectful and even friendly tone it once had had. My files
relating to Carl Pursell peter out at this point, partly because I was less active than before,
but mainly because our work with Carl was over.
The Coalition for Arms Control continued to be active for ten more years. We met once
with our next Congressman, Bill Ford, in the newly re-drawn Congressional District. We
had occasional contacts with Lynn Rivers when she succeeded Ford. However, because
she voted so reliably for the positions we favored, we never asked for a meeting to
"lobby" her. In 1998 the coalition changed its name to "Peace and Environmental
Coalition Against Nuclear Weapons," or PECANW.
I do hope that these files may be useful to a future historian who wants to know how
citizens responded to the danger of nuclear annihilation at the height of the Cold War.
Some of us lobbied our government. We did it the old-fashioned way with countless
meetings around a table; letters written by typewriter--n paper; mass mailings folded,
addressed, and stamped by volunteer work parties. Computers were just coming in. We
spent a lot of time raising money to own a computer, then drawing up rules for accessing
the mailinglists it would contain. But we never envisioned using it for anything but
cranking out address labels that we would stick on paper envelopes.
What we accomplished with our primitive tools is hard to measure. But the fact that we
tried so hard is significant. Our coalition was a certain kind of community, and as such
may be interesting from various angles to students of human behavior. In 1990 our son
Will wrote about the CAC as part of his masters' thesis in Public Policy at Tufts. He
addressed questions such as what motivated us to begin? How did we share tasks? Why
did our group survive so long when others faded away? I'll include a portion of his paper
in this box of files. (A complete copy of his thesis can be found among his papers which
are donated separately to the Bentley Library.)
This box also includes a packet for each year from 1983 to 1992, containing minutes of
our planning meetings, "transcripts" of our meetings with Pursell, letters, clippings,
background information sent to us by my son in Washington or gathered from other
sources. In other boxes there are packets about activities of CAC I PECANW after
Pursell's retirement, and packets about actions in which the CAC was not the main or
only engine. These include:
• Plans for a conference on economic conversion in 1985 to be sponsored jointly by
peace groups, University researchers, and local high tech industrialists. It was an
unusual coming-together and remains memorable although the conference was
• The campaign against the rail-based MX in 1990.
• The campaign for a City-Council resolution against the MX.
• Records of the actions taken by the local members of20/20 Vision.
• The Economic Conversion Task Force which met during the 1990' s.
• My years in the steering committee of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice.
• Local efforts to address children's anxieties about nuclear war.
• Efforts to connect with people in other countries.
• Chemobyl 1986: meetings and letters responding to disaster.
• Delivery Day 1983, to inform local people about the shortcomings of Civil
• Protests and Civil Disobedience at the Walled Lake Cruise Missile Plant, I983-
• Disarmament Working Group of Interfaith Council for Peace, 1984-1986.
• ICP newsletters.
Soon to be added are packets about the following subjects .. I am still assembling and
sorting these materials:
• My activities in the Peace Task Force of the First Presbyterian Church.
• The Coalition Against War in the Gulf(l990-1991).
• Forum: What is National Security? (1981).
Mary Hathaway
March 12, 2007

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