Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance
OREPA’s primary programmatic goals are two-fold. We work to stop nuclear weapons production in Oak Ridge (and for the abolition of nuclear weapons worldwide), and we work to create and nurture nonviolent community in East Tennessee. OREPA was founded in 1988 as an alliance of groups/organizations from Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina to address nuclear weapons production in Oak Ridge, TN at the Y-12 National Security Complex.
Over the years, our work has focused on public education and demonstrations including nonviolent direct action/civil disobedience. After the Department of Energy announced in 1992 that Oak Ridge was no longer making nuclear weapons components, our work shifted almost entirely to environmental issues. However, in 1997 we learned that the Y-12 Nuclear Weapons Plant was in fact still manufacturing weapons components under the Life Extension Program, and we launched the Stop the Bombs campaign, a series of actions in which more than 100 people were arrested for civil disobedience. OREPA’s focus shifted back to its original goal: stopping weapons production at Y-12 in Oak Ridge. Since 2006, OREPA has focused much of its attention on stopping the construction of the Uranium Processing Facility bomb plant (UPF), a facility which will, if built, produce thermonuclear secondaries for US nuclear bombs and warheads for decades to come.
Our long campaign has included participating in public hearings/meetings/comment opportunities; engaging with the Government Accountability Office, Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board and other agencies with information about Y-12/UPF activities; engaging with Congressional leaders and staff of key committees; making hundreds of public presentations; conducting street demonstrations; and eventually filing (and winning a partial victory) a federal NEPA lawsuit in 2017.
OREPA is governed by a hands-on, active Board of Directors, and run by a single staff person, the Coordinator. OREPA is an active member of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability since 1989.
Stop the UPF bomb plant at Y-12.
Develop an international collaborative strategy to leverage the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to achieve nuclear abolition (including a major conference in May 2020).
Continue our local/regional work to create and nurture nonviolent community (this includes bi-monthly publication of a reflection booklet; participation in Knoxville’s extensive annual MLK commemorative activities, including service on the MLK Commission; sponsoring an annual Peacemaker Award celebration; recognizing International Peace Day with a 1,000 Cranes event, and more).
Succession planning: our long-time coordinator is slated to retire in 2022, and we are engaging in a deliberate process to facilitate a smooth and successful transition of leadership.
A Next Generation effort: we are engaged in a fundraising campaign to raise money to hire a youth organizer and to provide resource support to Next Generation activities.
Continue to be active in the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR COLLABORATION
In the near-term, OREPA sees opportunities to collaborate in addressing budget items every year. We would like to see a vehicle for developing and implementing collaborative budget strategies. More broadly, OREPA is open to collaboration with both grassroots groups and “inside the beltway groups,” and sees the potential for powerful synergy.
However, we also see a number of barriers to meaningful collaboration: A major lack of understanding, communication and information sharing from both sides. Due to this, these groups do not have shared priorities, even on issues where it would make sense to work together.
An example of this for OREPA specifically is why stopping the UPF bomb plant has not been a continued budget priority for beltway groups. In general, beltway groups largely focus on arms control, and support, even if begrudgingly, the theory of deterrence. And on the other side, grassroots groups reject this and call instead for abolition of nuclear weapons. From my view, success will require a political analysis that is sophisticated enough to recognize the value of—and validate—positions all along the spectrum of “insiders” and “outsiders.” If for no other reason than, as Malcolm X once famously said to Coretta King, “I make your husband possible.” Her wise response: “I know you do.”
The majority of funding for nuclear weapons work is controlled by a few key foundations, that therefore largely set the agenda for funded work. This makes it challenging for groups to undertake diverse work and priorities. Overall, this is not sustainable or healthy for the field. If there is a solution to this, it starts with communication and understanding, some of which can only happen, in my experience, if people are in the same room with one another and have an opportunity to develop mutual respect and appreciation for one another’s goals, positions and strategies. Even if we end up realizing we are not quite on the same page, we will be in a better position to work collaboratively where our goals coincide and our strategies overlap.