A call to action can be planted at a very young age.
Such was the case with Ellen Thomas who spoke, at the Ethical Society in Clayton on Sunday night, on the need to abolish both nuclear weapons and nuclear energy.
“It was the Cold War,” Thomas said. “One of the things that teachers had to do was teach kids to duck and cover. When the bell went off we would have to crawl under our desks and put our hands over our head. I asked the teacher why we did this and she said if the bomb drops then the glass won’t strike you. I had seen Hiroshima and Nagasaki in a magazine my parents had. It didn’t make any sense to me, it never made any sense to me. Finally, when my kids didn’t need me anymore, I decided I was going to try to make their kids safe.”
Thomas worked a variety of jobs while she raised children – paralegal, real estate saleswoman and also executive assistant for the National Wildlife Federation.
“None were very satisfying until I started working on this,” she said.
In 1984, when in Washington D.C., she saw a vigil outside the White House.
“I was walking through Lafayette Park and I saw a little women in a sky suit,” Thomas said. “She was in between two signs and one of the signs said ‘Mr. President why don’t you come out with the forced homeless’ and the other side was a mushroom cloud and it said ‘this need not be our end.’”
With her children out of the house, she gave her daughter everything she had and joined the vigil against nuclear weapons in front of the White House. No part-time job – she participated in the vigil seven days a week, 365 days a year for 18 years. She eventually married the founder of the vigil – William Thomas.
“We set an example of commitment,” Thomas said. “A lot of people would walk away and say ‘I’m not going to do that,’ but they would start thinking about what they could do. I think that the occupy (Wall Street) movement was influenced by the vigil.”
From the time she started thinking about nuclear weapons, Thomas favored abolition. She feels the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980’s, a movement that advocated the United States and Soviet Russia freeze their nuclear arsenals at their current levels, and former President Barack Obama’s Start First Treaty didn’t go far enough.
“In 2010, President Obama made the mistake of agreeing to the trillion dollar boondoggle of modernizing the nuclear weapons program in exchange for the Congress approving the New Start Treaty with Russia,” she said. “It was a really bad idea and the reason for it was for corporations to make a lot of money.”
But the activist has seen some of her ideas play out on a bigger scale. In June, the United Nations General Assembly will negotiate a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. Thomas currently lives in the mountains outside of Ashville, N.C. She lives as simply as possible and dedicates her time to the cause of nuclear abolition and also volunteers for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Her speaking tour was funded by a grant.
During her speech at the Ethical Society, she said she wanted the United States government to play a lead in getting rid of both nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. She also said the money saved could be used for renewable energy, healthcare and education. She voiced support for the U.N. General Assembly planned Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty in June. Thomas said demonstrations in support of the treaty would be held in New York City, on June 17, and that she hoped satellite demonstrations would be held in other cities.